Whether you ride a road,mountain,TT bike or a penny-farthing and have been riding one week, one month or longer, you will eventually fall off of your bike.
Most of us started riding as kids, and if you are like me, probably gave your parents more than a headache or two coming home scratched up and dealing with your injuries.
Without going into too much detail, I recall at 7 years of age,riding my 3-speed into a ditch, leading to a dental visit and numerous stitches below my lower lip.
The following year, my friend and I decided to make a jump over fallen logs that was unrealistically far, which ended in a few nights in hospital with a concussion.
Needless to say, transitioning to road cycling decades later, where my bottle cages were more expensive than my entire childhood bike, reminded me quite quickly, that I was either a shockingly poor cyclist or that by and large, cycling is a sport with inherent dangers attached to it.
Cycling crashes come in all forms and severities.
Some are minor and damage our egos more than anything else.
Many years ago, I bought my first ever proper road bike.
I had never ridden with clip-in pedals before and was riding my new Fondriest Megalu back from the bike shop.
Having never used STI shifters either, I was wise enough to ride the majority of the 7-8km ride on sidewalks as I barely knew how to change between the large and small crank or even the effects in doing so !
I remember pulling up to a traffic light in the lane, and being unable to unclip fast enough !
As there were only about 15 cars that witnessed my stupidity whilst waiting for the light to change, I managed to avoid making the local news that night.
Fortunately, my ego was bruised more than my body, which led to my first hour of cycling being on a football field, practicing clipping in and out !
If you have been cycling for any extended period of time, you will likely have had some nasty falls and maybe even some that have required medical treatment, or even hospitalization.
Either way, crashes are never pretty and a constant reminder that the asphalt, no matter whether it is smooth or bumpy, is very hard and unforgiving, especially when you hit it from 1-2 meters high at speeds sometimes exceeding 40 km/hr.
For mountain bikers, crashes may be slower, but often involve additional threats such as rocks, twigs and branches, or even worse steep descents with cliffs and ravines.
In this article we will dig into some strategies to help us get back into the saddle and ride again.
The road to recovery
Fortunately, most falls are minor enough that we can brush ourselves off and at least make it back home to clean the scrapes and superficial wounds sufficiently, to ride the next day.
Other times, our injuries may require medical care.
It is usually in these circumstances, where confidence may be eroded and a mental plan is needed to assist us in getting back to our pre-crash mental state, and riding form.
Crashes may cause widespread damage beyond physical injuries.
An emotional response is not rare, especially if the crash leads to extended time away from training for a particular event or the inability to participate in an event.
The attached depression and frustration, can often surpass the trauma of the injury itself.
Failure to adequately confront the mental ‘block’ or anxiety, can not only manifest itself into fear, but can seriously sidetrack our future performance in competitive events.
Just as a physical injury may require physiotherapy to recuperate the injury, a mental injury may require self or professional therapy, to enable us to reach our mental objective.
Depending upon the athlete and timing of the crash, a relatively minor crash may have some positive benefits for an athlete.
Provided recovery does not exceed 2-3 weeks of sedentary recovery, an athlete who has already put in a solid block of training for the months prior to an upcoming event in 2-4 weeks, may reap benefits from a 10-14 day period with feet up.
This could allow the body to absorb the months of prior training, enabling the athlete to ‘taper’ per se, before a week or two of ‘freshening-up’ before the competitive event.
Confronting the crash
The old saying of getting back on the horse is as applicable to cycling as it is to horse riding.
It is inbuilt within our human nature to be fearful, wary and cautious when approaching any event that has caused us harm. Failure to do so would be akin to not understanding a threat.
Getting back on the bike, preferably with a small group of friends who are familiar with your recent experience may prove helpful and beneficial.
Maintaining a calm mindset is always paramount to success.
There is no rush. The objective is to learn from the experience and use it to empower ourselves to become better athletes because of the event.
Learning from the crash is a good start in building a foundation to confront and overcome the fear.
As long as we are able to clearly identify the fear, we can construct the best method to overcome the fear.
Educating ourselves through our network and by practicing areas of weakness, especially in skills where we lack self confidence, in an environment that we are comfortable with, is a great starting point.
Friends, riding partners and coaches, can all assist in helping us in areas where we lack skills or confidence, regardless of the specific discipline, be it cornering, descending, riding in packs or whatever the discipline
Confidence is crucial in helping us to relax whilst riding.
We are all aware that white-knuckling the handlebars is not the best method for bike handling, nor for energy management, amongst other negative factors.
Like any mentally traumatic event, discussing it can only help. There is no strength in hiding a fear, as opposed to discussing the mental block with a professional.
Sports psychologists that specialize in helping athletes, can assist in a variety of ways, not limited to getting us back to cycling with confidence.
Some tips related to handling crashes
Immediately after crashing, try to calm down if possible and look at the big picture of what has happened.
If there is a serious injury, wait for medical assistance and remain as stationary as possible, especially as there could be internal damage such as brain, spine or rib damage that could further exacerbate the situation.
Getting a comprehensive medical overview as soon as possible is highly recommended.
Treat road rash seriously. It needs to be properly cleaned and disinfected as infection could even be fatal in extreme circumstances.
Eating a small snack or protein bar, once panic is reduced or absent, will rapidly raise blood sugar and minimize trembling and panic attacks.
Most of you are probably aware that the real damage shows up 2-3 days post-crash. Train gently or hop on the trainer, but focus on recovering your body as a whole.