Crashing, Part 4: A Post-Fall Protocol

A healthy respect for potential — or even likely problems, combined with a solid plan, is the best way to convert fear and worry into Mindful Excitement. Having a post-fall protocol will make you a more confident racer.

We’ve reached the end of our 5-step plan surrounding the topic of race crashes:

[content_box type=”with-header” title=”StartConfident Summary” text_color=”dark” color=”default” animation=”fade-in”]
  • Develop Mindful Excitement
  • know the course
  • understand the event
  • develop core fitness
  • acquire handling skills
  • have a post-fall protocol

So, what DO you do after you hit the deck?

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We’re going to go through this

[/dropcap] assuming you’re in a race situation, as opposed to being out on the road training, so…first thing:

Proper ID, insurance, etc.
Assuming you’re riding in a USA Cycling sanctioned event, you’ll have already filled out information that would include an emergency contact in the event of a particularly tough spill. But if you have allergies or other special needs, I encourage you — if you haven’t already — to get a Road ID*. Durable and stylish, it could speak for you when you can’t speak for yourself.

Try to protect yourself from other riders
Chances are that when you go down, you’ll be in close proximity to others. Assuming you’ve learned how to fall (if you have a “beater bike,” head out on to a grassy field with a buddy or two and practice elbow bumping. Learn to NOT reach out with your hands and arms to break your fall) your next danger is other racers plowing in. Tuck the head in and pull the arms in if at all possible. This is something you’ll HAVE to practice; no way you’ll remember to do it in a race situation if you haven’t internalized it first.

Get you — and your bike — off the course
With fellow riders having passed you, quickly get your body and your bike off the course. This includes your bounced water bottles, articles that may have shaken loose from your jersey pockets, sunglasses, etc. The last thing you want is for other riders to be taken out by your shrapnel, potentially running in or on to you.

Is your head OK?
You need to be able to check your helmet. Head trauma can mean you loose bits of memory. If you think you’re OK but your helmet is shattered, you may need to think again. If your head or neck is sore, if you have blurry vision, or if you’ve damaged your helmet — game over. Stop, and get examined by a medical professional. DO NOT continue to race.

Additionally, if you’re cut so badly that it’s clear that you need to be stitched up, PULL OUT. It’s not risking permanent scarring, infection, or worse to continue.

Can you stand?
OK. So far, so good. Your helmet’s in tact, you’ve retained head flexibility, but you have a rip in your shorts and a bit of road rash.

Ahh. Road rash. This brings up a discussion of the low-speed versus the high-speed crash. Although it seems completely counter intuitive, low-speed crashes that leave little or no road rash or other indicators often do the most damage. Road rash is often an indicator that you slid along the road, dissipating the effects of the impact. If you’ve had a low speed drop, pay extra attention to your hips, knees, collarbones, and wrists. If you’re in doubt about your own structural soundness, your day at the races is done.

If you cannot stand, don’t try. Let a race official know that you can’t right yourself. Otherwise you could aggravate an already difficult situation.

Additionally, if someone arrives to tend to you and they’re telling you NOT to move…heed their advice. They likely are tuned in to something you’re not.

Bike check

OK. You can stand, you’ve got your sunglasses back on and you want to re-enter the race. Time to take a breath and check your bike.

  • Right the bike and bounce it. Check the frame. Look for obvious cracks.
  • Spin the wheels and check for brake pad contact. If your wheel(s) have broken spokes, game over. If it’s severely out of true, ditto, unless your race offers some kind of on the fly wheel swap (and at the beginner level, it most likely won’t). If you’ve got just a slight wobble, you can slacken your brake cable to open up a little space between rim and brake pad.
  • Squeeze the brake levers. You must be able to stop solidly.
  • Get the chain back on the chainrings. It’s quite likely bounced off or inbetween the small ring and your bottom bracket
  • Check alignment of handlebar and brake levers. Brake levers can often be force-pulled back into position. Misalignment of the stem not-so-much.
  • Straighten out your saddle
  • Computer back on it’s mount?


Remount and review
Your cage has been rattled, but you’re all together.

DO NOT simply pop up and off you go. Watch the pros on TV in the various grand tours: they always take their time in getting back into the fray. Self-assessment is vital after you’ve fallen off. Don’t dally, but don’t rush.

Some races — usually crits — will have a neutral area where a rider experiencing a mechanical or a crash can cash in on a “free lap.” Take advantage of this. If you can get back on the bike, get yourself to that neutral area and allow yourself — or those appointed to do checks — to quickly access your situation to make sure you’re OK and your bike is race-ready.

If you’re on your own, then you have to make some value judgements:

  • Are the wheels rolling sound?
  • Can you brake safely?
  • Are you able to control your bike (meaning, you’re physically able and the bike is mechanically sound enough to continue?)


If the answers to all of these questions is a clear and resounding “yes,” then get back in there, while maintaining a watchful sense of your body and your bike. Completing a race, even if you’re dead last will pay huge psychological dividends, but only if you and your bike are sound enough to do so. If you suspect anything is amiss, other than the dull numbness of the road rash reminding you of your mishap, call it a day.

There will be other races, road warrior.

Speaking of Road Rash

Road Rash is the badge of honor of the road racer. Part bruise, part scrape, part lost layers of epidermis, it’s what happens when forward momentum meets falling on asphalt. Nerve endings get smashed, you bleed sub dermal, and because you are wearing some little bit of protection with your bib shorts, you don’t get reduced to sheer hamburger meat.

This subject demands a post of it’s own. But just to bring this topic to a close, once you’ve completed the race — in whatever position — you’ll want to:

  • Clean the wound. I always travel with a spare gallon of distilled water. Mostly, it’s purpose it to fuel my recovery mix. It’s other purpose is to be a wound cleanser in the event of “the rash.”
  • DON’T SCRUB. DON’T USE HYDROGEN PEROXIDE. This aggravates an already unpleasant situation. Rinse. Use your hands. Use a very gentle liquid soap. Pat dry.
  • Dress the wound and keep it moist until new skin forms — up to 2 weeks. I use a non-petroleum jelly that I buy from Whole Foods. I arrived at this after experimenting with a number of “antibacterial” types of dressings that are purportedly impregnated with “pain relieving” substances. (Neosporin, for example.) In my experience, these ointments simply prolonged the discomfort. I apply liberally to a Johnson & Johnson non-stick wound pad, which comes in a box of 10. I’ll go through 2 boxes over the course of 2 weeks. Apply the jelly-infused pad to your freshly-cleaned badge, er…wound.
  • Keep the pad from shifting. You can use a variety of methods. The time-honored white adhesive tape made by Johnson & Johnson works. You can use an Ace bandage. But the best solution I came across is a cut section of women’s hosiery. Light, breathable, and “ouch less” for changing dressings. Fishnet? Well, no one’s judging you here at StartConfident if that works for you.


[icon_box icon=”hb-moon-bike” icon_position=”left” align=”left”] Question: Tell us about what works for you after a fall? What’s your post-tumble routine? How do you care for road rash? [/icon_box]
Sam Lowe

I've been a road cyclist with a penchant for speed ever since my first-ever paycheck holiday. I blew the whole wad on a turquoise Schwinn Tempo with then-new Shimano 105 indexed shifting way back in 1985. I've been a voracious consumer of racing-oriented information ever since. Training, nutrition, bike fit, racing techniques, and all manner of "kit." Between nearly 30 years of riding, racing, and reading about racing, I'm ready to help you get ready to race.

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