At some point in your cycling life, you’ll take a spill. It’s the hard truth that falls happen, and they are never pleasant. You should be able to avoid the vast majority of falls by riding smart, being aware of your surroundings, and reacting to changing road conditions, but it is important to simply know how to fall.
Know how to fall?
It might sound like nonsense, but anyone who has studied martial arts knows that one of the first things that is taught in many of these disciplines is the basic skill of falling. All bicyclists should think about this as well; it’s a good skill to develop.
Be prepared to fall and fall well.
By definition, a fall is at least partially uncontrolled. If you had full control of the situation, you wouldn’t be falling, right? Falling correctly is about regaining what control you can, reacting to the circumstances of the fall, and acting in a manner to reduce the injuries you will sustain.
In general, you should try to stay loose as you fall. In practice, this will be hard, as most falls happen so fast that your reflexes take over. To build good reflexes, take the time to imagine what you would do if you fell in a certain situation. Do this while riding to begin to instill muscle memory and visualization of good reaction patterns.
And a piece on falling wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t encourage you to wear a bike helmet. After all, impact to the head can be deadly, no matter how gracefully you go down.
Cyclists generally see the same sorts of falls. The most feared is the “endo,” when the bike suddenly stops and the rider is catapulted over the handlebars. The endo can often be avoided by good riding technique. Be sure that when you are descending steep hills (or in any situation where swift braking might be required) that your weight is far back on the bicycle. Often, this will even mean scooting your butt behind the saddle. It might feel awkward, but it’s definitely the recommended (and safest) position.
The other thing you can do to prevent an endo is to practice braking quickly, especially with the front brake. In any situation where you will be moving quickly, the rear brake isn’t going to do much — your momentum is too far forward. Practice using the front brake to stop, starting slow and working up to higher speeds and quicker stops. Use your arms to absorb the force of the momentum and keep your weight back.
Your reflex will be to absorb the force of the fall with your arms, but unless they bend quickly to absorb the force and you tuck into a roll, you can break or injure your hands, wrists, or arms. Try to stay loose as you land.
If all this fails and you do go over the bike’s handlebars, try follow these precautions: Tuck your head slightly in towards your chest to protect it. Curl your upper body to prepare to roll. Be very careful of extending your arms; your reflex will be to absorb the force of the fall with your arms, but unless they bend quickly to absorb the force and you tuck into a roll, you can break or injure your hands, wrists, or arms. Try to stay loose as you land.
Another common type of fall is the slide-out. This occurs when a rider is coming around a bend, leaning over steeply, and the wheel slides out from underneath you. As before, preparation is key. Make sure to keep your wheels underneath you as much as possible while cornering. Unless you are on an inclined velodrome track, this means not leaning wildly into the curve.
As usual when cornering, keep your head up to look towards your destination, have your weight on your outside leg (left leg for a right-hand turn, right leg for a left-hand turn), and try to point the knee of your inside leg toward the direction of the turn. This keeps your weight over the wheels, makes sure that your pedal is clear of scraping on the ground, and puts your inside leg in a good position.
If you do start to slide, this position will give you a little time to react. First, steer into the slide and stop braking. Just like if you are driving a car in icy conditions and begin to slide, this will help you regain traction. Don’t try to steer back sharply once you have traction again; you could simply fall again. Now, try to find a good place to crash (if such a thing exists). Look for grass, or at least an area without curbs and other large obstacles.
The Side Fall
The third common type of crash is a simple side fall. This often occurs to folks who are just getting used to clipless pedals, but it can happen to others as well. Despite the low speed, this can be a painful fall, since the force usually goes straight onto your hip and arm. To make this as soft as possible, try to stay upright to the last moment; this will allow you to roll slightly as you fall, to gradually absorb the force of the fall through your torso.
Like with all the other types of falls, it is very important to protect your head by tucking your chin towards your chest. Stay relaxed, avoid stiffening up, and try to avoid planting your hand out to try to absorb the force of the fall. It won’t work, and could result in serious injury. If you do plant your hand (it can be very hard to avoid) make sure that you keep your elbow bent and your fingers pointing forwards, which will help avoid locked elbows.