How to crash your mountain bike safer

Bellingham and Whatcom County are becoming increasingly well known as meccas for mountain bikers. As all experienced bikers know, even if you manage to get through your first ride unscathed, you will eventually crash. Though the more rides under your belt you've accumulated the less likely you are to crash, even the most experienced riders crash occasionally. Knowing what to do in case of a crash will help you minimize the severity of injuries and damage to your bike.

How to crash

If you’re going to fall, then you might as well learn some tips and tricks on how to do it correctly. Below is a step-by-step plan:

1. Assume the proper position

Your position will be a key to how quickly you recover afterwards. Try not to let go of the handlebars. Keep your body upright. Hopefully this maneuver will be just enough to prevent a crash altogether. Even if the fall is inevitable, do your best to hang on tight. If you determine that a crash is no doubt coming, then do the following:

  • hold onto the handlebars
  • tuck the knee closest to the ground tight against the bike
  • push on the inside of the handlebars
  • bend your elbows, but don't lock them
  • This will help your bike absorb some of the impact, rather than your body. 

2. Manage the slide

Wheels slide when the force from your brakes exceeds the tire's grip. Corners are a common situation where this takes place. It sounds scary, but with a little practice, you can build quick reflexes that could help you course correct. Just like if your car goes into a slid, and even though it sounds counter intuitive, release the brakes. This can let the wheel gain traction. If you feel the wheel regain its grip, then feather your brakes. Might as well have a quick refresher on how to keep your car from crashing in a slide. 

3. Spot the exit

Mountain bike riders know that it's imperative to be aware of your surroundings. See that cliff to your left? Good to know if you happen to go into a slide right beside it. 

4. Pick a safe landing spot

What goes up (or out of control) must go down, so if you crash, you'll eventually land. Your landing spot is an important place to consider in the split seconds of a crash. Try to avoid falling onto concrete or other very hard surfaces. You don't want to hit a tree. Dirt or grass is better. If you're riding on a public road, steer yourself and direct your fall away from the path of vehicles. 

5. Tuck and roll

Remember how I recommended you keep your elbows bent but unlocked? Here's why. Locked elbows will transfer the force of your fall to your collarbone. You don't want that. Tuck and roll. When rolling, this means keep your chin tucked into your chest, and pull your shoulder closest to the ground forward. You should eventually roll onto your side, and end up on your thigh and butt. The painful picture I've included shows this technique. 

6. Don’t rush

A crash will send a shot of adrenaline through you, which can make you feel as though you're ready to jump up and assure everyone you're just fine. Wait for the adrenaline to subside before riding onwards. While you're taking this much-needed break, check your body and your bike. Test your limbs for sensation and movement. Stand up slowly and with support if needed, and avoid lifting your bike until you're sure you're in the clear. If your head hit the ground, the effects of a concussion can be hard to determine immediately. Please check that link for signs, seriousness and symptoms of a head injury. Lastly, if you have been seriously injured, call for help and wait for EMTs. The EMTs here in Bellingham are pretty familiar with Galby, as Galbraith Mountain is fondly called. Again, give yourself at least a few minutes after a crash to get a solid assessment of your condition.

And... a word about concussions:

Concussions are all too common in the world of cycling, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t serious. In fact, the average recovery time for a mild concussion is five to seven days. The first thing you should do is familiarize yourself with symptoms of a concussion so you know what signs to look for. Take a look at your head and your helmet. If you see abrasions or cracks on your helmet, these are likely impact marks. A concussion can leave you feeling dizzy or confused, but not necessarily. Even if you feel completely fine, if you have hit your head, go to the doctor soon after your crash. Here's a saying to help you understand the importance of checking your head: "Getting off the bike won’t kill you, but if you’re concussed, staying on it might.”

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