Crash! Here’s What You Should Do Next.

The more you ride, the more you are likely to crash. Here's what you should do in the moments and minutes after hitting the deck.

By Molly Hurford |

If you ride a bike, you’re almost guaranteed to fall off of it at some point. And while that sounds like bad news, we’ve got all the info you need on how to handle the inevitable crash in the smartest, safest way possible, so you’re back up and pedalling ASAP.

We spoke with Amanda Sin, a physiotherapist and former mountain bike pro racer who’s had her share of bad crashes over the years, along with former pro mechanic Scott Kelly—who was actually Sin’s mechanic during her pro years!—to explain what you need to check on your bike (and your body!) post crash and before you start riding again.

Your Physical Post-Crash Checklist

1. Assess the Situation—from the Ground

First and foremost, check and make sure you don’t have any major injuries—before you even get off the ground. If you have the wherewithal to think about doing this assessment, you’re not in too bad of shape. Assuming you can move, that all of your limbs are attached and intact, and you’re not seeing three bikes where there’s only one, move quickly to a safe spot off the road or out of the way of other riders and start a more thorough assessment.

2. Slow Down

After you assess the situation, Sin says the best thing you can do is take your time getting up and moving around, assuming you’re off the trail and not at risk for a car or other rider crashing into you. It’s tempting to try to get up and moving as fast as possible—especially if you’re with friends—but give yourself a moment.

Take a few deep breaths, and as you do, Sin recommends doing a body scan. “Does anything feel unusual? Try to take stock of that. And then after that scan, see if you can wiggle your hands, feet, arms, legs. If that feels okay, then you can try to get up or, depending on the situation you’re in, scoot to a more comfortable position,” she says.

Once you’re up, try walking around a bit before you hop back onto your bike. Take a minute and pay attention to how everything feels, then decide whether you can pedal—or need to wait for help.

Remember: There’s no shame in calling a friend or an Uber for a pickup, even if you’re able to get up and ride. It’s better to cut a ride short than to ride on with a wrenched knee, bad road rash, or a potential concussion.

3. Practice Basic First Aid

If you do feel seriously injured, don’t risk moving too much. Instead, call for help and seek medical attention.

Here’s where you do need to make a tough call: If you’re injured in a remote area (whether it’s a gravel road in an area with no cell reception or on a mountain bike trail that’s a few kilometres from the nearest road), you need to decide whether you’re able to walk or pedal your way to a spot where you can call for help.

If you’re dealing with “flesh wounds” like a scrape from a tree or a bit of road rash, you can bandage them as well as you can with what you have in order to staunch any bleeding. Ideally this would be gauze from your first aid kit, but in a pinch, your base layer, a buff, or even a sports bra will do.

If you think something is broken, call for help if at all possible rather than trying to splint it yourself.

4. Consider a Concussion

Hits to the head can often go unnoticed as you assess for other injuries, and even if you don’t hit your head directly, a jarring impact can still lead to a concussion.

If you’re not sure if you knocked your head, it’s worth pausing and checking to see if you bent, scratched, or cracked your helmet in the crash. It’s imperfect, but it is a quick way to assess head injuries, Sin says. Even a small scuff can indicate that your head took a hit, and if that’s the case, pay attention to potential symptoms of a concussion for the next couple of days.

If you have a bad concussion, you’ll probably feel disoriented and confused; if you don’t know where you are right away, it’s likely you’ve got one. If you have a headache, struggle to find your balance, feel nauseous (or actually vomit), or simply feel off, assume you have a concussion and cut your ride short.

If you even suspect you have a concussion, try to get a friend to come pick you up rather than continuing with your ride.

Your Bike Post-Crash Checklist

If your body is okay—just bruised or slightly banged up—and you know you can physically make it home, you can move on to assessing your bike.

Don’t skip this step, as a cracked frame may not be immediately obvious but could lead to an even worse crash if you ride away on it. When Kelly is working the pit at a race and a rider comes running in with a banged-up bike, he looks for a few key things.

1. Wheels

Typically, the wheels take the brunt of the crash and incur the easiest problems to diagnose. Regardless of how you crashed, Kelly recommends checking that the tires hold air, that the wheels are true, that there are no broken spokes sticking out. Also, check that the brakes—cantilever or disc—haven’t jammed up. Once that’s done, you can give components a once-over.

2. Components

Kelly always checks the position of the brake levers and shifters on any bike after a crash. He says it’s usually easy to push them back into place, but you don’t want to ride away only to realize your lever is so tilted that it’s hard to grab.

He also checks for a bent derailleur hanger before he shifts gears, since it could snap as soon you click the shifter. Your derailleur hanger is the tiny piece that connects your derailleur (which shifts your chain up and down your cassette) to the bike frame. The hanger is designed to bend or break in a crash in order to save the pricey derailleur and not crack your frame, but that means the piece does bend very easily. Try shifting up and down while holding the rear wheel aloft and pedaling with your hand to make sure that your bike is still shifting properly before you start riding.

Then, examine the chain: Is it jammed, are there any frozen links, and is it still in one piece?

Finally, just do a quick check on your saddle to make sure it’s still firmly attached to your seatpost.

3. Frame

The last thing Kelly checks is the bike frame, inspecting carefully for cracks or deep scratches. This becomes more important on a carbon frame, because a crack can quickly turn into a serious problem as you pedal away, whereas bends and cracks in aluminum or steel frames tend to be more forgiving.

How to Prepare for a Crash Ahead of Time

It’s important to have everything you’ll need in case of a bike crash—especially when you’re planning an adventure to the middle of nowhere. Sin is a big fan of making a small first aid kit that permanently lives in your saddle bag, fanny pack, or hydration pack.

You know you should carry basic bike tools—a multitool, chain link, spare tube, and mini-pump, at the least. Those few basic first-aid supplies include a large bandage and elastic bandage you can use to create a splint or secure gauze (or a wadded-up baselayer) when you need to cover a wound. Even an emergency blanket stashed in your pack can be a literal lifesaver if you’re stuck waiting for help for a few hours.

The goal: Mitigate your risks so that when you do crash, it’s not a cause for blind panic.

When to Seek Help After a Crash

After you make it home, it can be tempting to put a crash behind you and just ignore any lingering aches or pains. But putting off medical help can delay or hinder the healing process, says Sin.

First and foremost, if you’re worried you broke something, may have internal injuries, are unsure if your gnarly road rash needs professional attention, or you’re dealing with concussion symptoms, seek medical attention STAT once you’re back in civilization.

Whether or not you hit your head in the crash, pay attention to signs of a concussion for a few days. Symptoms may take a while to develop—and as Sin mentioned, even a crash that jars the rest of your body but doesn’t include an actual direct hit to the head can still leave you with a concussion. Symptoms can include things like sensitivity to light or sound, balance issues, headaches, and even nausea.

For less obvious injuries, like knee pain, monitor your healing process if you don’t go straight to a doctor. A bit of soreness for a couple of days is normal, but you should feel like it’s getting better.

“If you’re having difficulty doing your regular daily activities after a day or two, I would suggest getting assessed,” says Sin. “I’ve seen clients who thought they just wretched an ankle but actually broke it pretty badly. Cyclists in particular tend to try to walk it off or work through the pain, but that’s often not helpful.”

“The sooner you get help for an injury, the sooner you’re going to be back on your bike and enjoying the ride again,” she adds.

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