How to Fall off a Bike and Not Get Hurt

by Marc Lindsay
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How to Fall off a Bike and Not Get Hurt

If you’ve ever watched the pros in the Tour de France, you’re probably aware that even the most serious cyclists take a tumble every now and then. While injuries during a high-speed crash can’t often be avoided with little to no time to react, recreational cyclists traveling at slower speeds can reduce their injury chances by learning to fall correctly.

Keep these basic tips in mind to prevent injuries the next time your wheels slide out from under you.

DON’T BRACE FOR THE FALL

Instead of crashing at 40 mph in a sprint to the line like a pro, an amateur cyclist is more likely to fall in the 15–20 mph range when crossing wet train tracks or getting a wheel caught in a drain cover. Since there’s more time to react, the instinct is to let go of the handlebars and brace for the fall with your hands.

A fall on an outstretched hand (FOOSH) is one of the more common ways to break bones in your hand, wrist, elbow and clavicle. To avoid this, it’s better to either keep your hands on the bars or as close to your body as possible to protect your face and chest. If you can roll with the impact instead of bracing against it with your hands, you’ll spread the forces of the impact across a larger surface area, reducing your chances of a fracture.

LEARN HOW TO FALL

Getting ejected over the handlebars is quite different from having your wheels slide out from under you. While getting yourself into a ball and using the tuck-and-roll method will definitely work on an over-the-handlebar accident, when the bike slides out from under you, this technique might not — particularly if you’re traveling at slow speeds.

In a situation where you’re falling to the side, the best practice is to turn the front of your body away from the road and absorb the impact with the back of your body. Here are a few other tips you can use to fall correctly:

  • For spills from the side, use the back of your shoulder, hip and butt to absorb the impact instead of your arm as you hit the road.
  • Always keep your chin tucked to your chest to avoid head trauma. If your head touches the ground, you’ll need to get checked for a concussion.
  • For over-the-handlebar falls, use your arms to protect your face as you tuck and roll. Keep your chin tucked and try to roll over your shoulders.
  • Before impact let your body go limp. Tensing up just before a crash makes a fracture more likely.
  • If you can manage to get your feet free from the pedals in time, getting them on the ground can help stop your momentum (sort of like a brake). This will also buy you more time to roll to your back as you hit the ground.

PICK A GOOD LANDING SPOT

Unfortunately, these tips are all easy to talk about but can be harder to put into practice when you’ve only got a split second before you’re on the ground. In a situation where you’ve got little to no time to react, picking a safer landing spot can make the difference between serious injury and saving your skin and bones.

In those situations when you know you’re going down but can’t do anything to stop it, aim for as safe a spot as you can to land. A grassy shoulder is always going to be easier on your skin and absorb more impact than the road.


READ MORE > 7 MUST-DOS AFTER A BIKE CRASH


Keep in mind, though, that there are some instances when you’ll need to use your better judgment — such as a high-speed descent down a mountain. Aiming for a soft shoulder when a cliff awaits you on the other side will be significantly more dangerous than laying your bike down on the asphalt and dealing with the consequences.

No matter what happens, after you take a spill move to the side of the road, away from traffic when possible, and use these tips to take the proper precautions immediately.


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Related

  • Wayne Swickley

    My trip over the handlebars happened so quickly that the only thing that I had time for was to notice that the front wheel had stopped and everything else was still moving. The next thing I noticed, maybe ten minutes later, I was sitting in the back of an ambulance, with a broken radial neck, a whole lot of cuts and bruises, and the need to replace a saved-my-life helmet. I don’t believe there is a way to prepare for something like this.

    • Bart Segall

      Can’t agree with more. I am a 72 year old avid cyclist. Fortunately, the only falls I have had revolved around loose sand on the road as I ride along the beach. The times I have gone down were on turns and the bike slides out so quickly, with so little warning that preparing to do anything is impossible. You are on your side, sliding. This doesn’t happen but when it does it is a very painful event with major road rash and bruising. Keeps me off the bike for a week or so. I also have had Total Knee Replacement and not a hint of an issue.

  • Bill Rapalee

    I agree with Wayne Swickley below. I crashed at approx. 20 mph on 11/2. I was on my back wondering what happened because it was so quick! My other crash was about 15 mph and I remember flying in the air that time. The end result is the usual road rash on knee, hip and elbow…..and a broken pelvis. GAH!! The cause was wet RR track I’ve crossed 100’s of times that I was too slow to adjust my angle for and front wheel caught in second rail My fault entirely. My helmet was unscathed somehow…not so my body. 😉

  • pete

    Totally agree with Wayne. I was clipped by a hit & runner, one moment I was deciding whether to go clockwise or anti clockwise round the park – the next someone was leaning over me saying ‘ don’t move I’ve called an ambulance’ 4 broken ribs, collar bone & cracked shoulder. Choose where you land? I wish.

  • Lionel Mills

    At 77 and still riding every day, I have had plenty of accidents but it was only last year that I worked out that many were because I was habitually using my rear brake in dicey conditions to avoid a front wheel skid. If you do the maths, you will see that because of the weight transfer, you must pull the front brake twice as hard as the rear and then neither wheel will lock up and you will stop as fast as possible. To achieve this revolution despite my instinctive reactions, I swapped my brake levers so that I can still instinctive grab the left brake and it will apply the front instead of the rear brake!
    One final observation is that when my mountain bike wheel suddenly disappears into a hole and I am ejected over the handlebars when going fast downhill, I usually find myself running with the bike cartwheeling behind. So clearly having my Shimano clip in pedals wound back is a good idea worth passing on (I have hardly ever pulled a foot out in normal riding).

  • Cagri Tanyol

    Well. Slowing down with legs might not be the best idea. I tried that a couple of months ago and now I’m having acl reconstruction and meniscectomy in 10 days. Might wanna protect your knees…

  • James Thurber

    I hit a gate (I didn’t see it – stupid me) and went down, hard. I lay still evaluating my injuries (scrapes and a broken nose) while automobile after automobile drove PAST me without bothering to stop – on a small road adjacent to a park. My comment, “Thanks guys!” (NOT)

  • John_Schubert

    Minimizing the injury is great, but avoiding the fall in the first place is even better. We gleefully teach crash avoidance, both through your own bike handling and through teaching how traffic works, and how to work traffic, at cyciingsavvy.org