I've been riding bikes since I was a child but my partner only started when she was in her 20's. She's had one fall where she lost teeth and is keen to avoid future injuries. I've broken bones twice and had innumerable grazes and scrapes but the frequency of those has been dropping for a while.

We live in Melbourne, no snow in the winter but 45 degree days in the summer are becoming more common (115F). We both commute and generally ride for transport, mostly in urban/suburban streets and bike paths but very rarely on busy multilane roads. Mostly at 20-25kph (25-25kph for me, but it's mostly her I'm concerned with).

My problem is that I've got enough wrestling experience that I automatically bounce, roll and run when I come off my bike. Saying "just study aikido for a few years" is not really what she wants to hear, but we expect she will need to train or practice something. Ideally something specific to cycling rather than just suggesting something like aikido.

She has gloves and wears them sometimes. I almost always wear gloves while riding. So other suggestions for protective clothing etc would also be handy.

I'd like suggestions as to what she can do to minimise future injuries. This is not "how to avoid crashes" but "what to do when you crash".

  • What kind of riding? Why are you / is she crashing, on what and at what speed?
    – ChrisW
    Commented Mar 18, 2011 at 4:06
  • @ChrisW: edited to answer
    – Мסž
    Commented Mar 18, 2011 at 4:17
  • 3
    on the "how to avoid crashes" on urban streets: thicker tires. Using "serious" (i.e., thin) road tires makes you much more dependent on good roads. Also, "just study aikido for a few years" :) Commented Mar 19, 2011 at 16:03
  • This video shows how to protect your bike against a crash. Perhaps you could apply the same technique to yourself. ;-) Commented Mar 20, 2011 at 0:39

7 Answers 7


Wear a helmet (not wanting to start the compulsory helmet debate), and gloves - every little bit helps.

In theory let go of the handlebars would be good. I have had some painful long lasting wrist injuries from the wrenching of the handlbars as the other side of the bar hits the ground. Although you would have to have good reflexes to do it.

I'm normally clipped in so a roll off a bike isn't really an option - but I have seen some impressive acrobatic dismounts off mountain bikes.

  • we're in Australia, one of the "special" countries where helmets are compulsory. And I'm familiar with the arguments. I haven't found rolling our of clipless pedals especially difficult, even with the old Look cleats. But yes, she has the tension on her pedals wound way down.
    – Мסž
    Commented Mar 18, 2011 at 5:11
  • I've found that with SpeedPlay pedals, if you pull hard enough (like you will naturally when about to crash/fall) that you CAN make them unlock even when twisted in the lock position. Doesn't seem to hurt them any either (as you would normally clip in from the "lock" position anyways). Appears that twisting to the unlock position just decreases the effort needed to unclip. Commented Mar 18, 2011 at 18:12
  • Bars that let you grip loosely from the sides are invaluable for maintaining control while going over rough pavement without hurting your wrists. Drops, barends on flat bars, H-bars -- all these will do the job. Commented Apr 15, 2011 at 1:28
  • @NeilFein is there a trick to getting from bar ends to brakes quickly without letting go completely - I find I can't use my bar ends much on rough stuff because I either have to work my way to the brakes or let go with one hand at a time. Of course thick winter gloves don't help with this.
    – Chris H
    Commented Nov 15, 2013 at 16:32
  • @ChrisH - I try to keep a light grip on the bars, easy to do when you're holding them from the side. It lets you "walk" from brake to shifter, using your fingertips to keep contact with the bars. I'm guessing that you're using drop bars, though, and I don't know if that's doable there. My only bike with barend shifters uses H bars, and the brake levers and shifters are fairly close to each other. If this is a serious problem for you, you may want to look into getting brifters, which integrate the brake lever and shifter. Commented Nov 16, 2013 at 20:13

In my experience dealing with crashes and bounces is like a lot of other aspects of, especially urban, cycling in that anticipation and prediction are the key attributes to getting away with less damage.

After all, if you don't crash, you won't damage yourself (whether you're lidded or not). It's a variant on Gary Player's infamous quote, "The more I practice, the luckier I get" - the more you think about what could happen, rather than just letting the world happen to you, you'll be better at predicting dangers and avoiding them: speed into corners, visibility around bends, road surfaces, car doors, cars appearing at junctions, and so on.

Learn to look a little further ahead - that red light 50 metres in front? React to it when you're 100 metres away (and more importantly, consider what others might do). My last crash was when I cycled into the back of a delivery van while looking over my shoulder to see if it was clear to move to the outside of the lane - while I was looking round, the van was slowing for some traffic lights I hadn't considered, so I piled into the back of him unawares.

I know that this isn't a "what to do when you crash", but I think that there is more to crash preparation as a part urban cycling than how to fall. Cycling has a mostly undeserved reputation as being a dangerous pastime. Most accidents I hear about (definitely the handful I've had in the last few years) have been utterly avoidable and not actually that accidental.

  • After 10years with no accidents I've had a run of them. They are doing roadworks where 2 highways merge into a single lane onto a bridge (!) - every day they is a new hazard, piles of gravel across the footpath, 6in wide slits paralel with the edge of the road, missing drain covers, a 6ft section where they had removed the cycle lane surface giving a 6" drop. And they never put any warning signs on the path
    – mgb
    Commented Mar 18, 2011 at 15:40
  • excellent advice. If you do advanced motorbike training it's all about hazard awareness (all car drivers are trying to kill you) on a bicycle it's the same - except you also have to worry more about the road surface, and all pedestrians are also trying to kill you!
    – mgb
    Commented Mar 18, 2011 at 15:51
  • "looking over my shoulder to see if it was clear to move to the outside of the lane"... I cannot imagine riding with cars without a mirror on my bike. Otherwise the "cost" of knowing what's behind you is just to high, and you'll only check when you need the information, which is too late. Commented Mar 19, 2011 at 16:02
  • @Yar - that's a fair comment, although never having ridden with a mirror on my bike, I would ordinarily question if you can see enough. Although given that apparently is also true of me without a mirror, that doesn't seem like a fair question ...
    – Unsliced
    Commented Mar 19, 2011 at 22:55
  • @Unsliced, I have a Take-A-Look mirror and it gives superb visibility to the rear. I don't go anywhere without it.
    – Reid
    Commented Jun 16, 2012 at 22:25

I do two things.

1) I have some experience(very limited) in martial arts. Just several sessions of falling with rolling over the shoulder. Also keeping a guard.

2) I always carry a backpack.

When shit hits the fan, I try to detach myself from the bike (all of my damaging falls were due to getting stuck with the frame or the handlebars). Then I assume a fetus position, with the hands over my head, forearms protecting the face (I haven't had a helmet, but then - I ride cross-country), navigate my body weight to hit the ground backpack-first and then roll, avoiding hitting the ground with elbows(and breaking them).

With this technique, I have ruined several backpacks, but have walked away from flying several meters and then hitting the stones. I never learned how to jump and run off the fall, however :(

Also, while being aware of your surroundings, in the city it is essential to be aware where the sidewalk is. Falling on the street isn't dangerous, it's the speeding car behind that can be fatal.

So if you have the martial arts experience and she does not, just teach her! Forward and backwards roll, over left or right shoulder. Over level grassy field should take no more than several tens of hours! And being able to run, then jump face-down, then stand up unharmed is such a confidence builder.


I mostly mountain bike (or maybe mountain crash) and one thing I always try and remember is to NOT stick my arm out to break my fall. Many a friend has snapped a collar bone doing that. I often end up almost balling up, and while it is more out of fear of impending doom than any thought of protection I have been pretty lucky so far.

She can also wear long sleeve wicking shirts and tights, would give some protection from road rash and also help with sunburns.

  • I've always been told that there are 2 types of cyclists. Those that have broken a collarbone and those that are about to. Luckily I'm still on the "about to" category. Unfortunately, my wife (girlfriend at the time) switched categories 2 years ago. It's a serious injury, best avoided if possible... Commented Mar 18, 2011 at 18:14
  • I've been surprised at what tarmac will do to skin even through wicking tops/cycling leggings, without even doing much damage to the fabric.
    – Chris H
    Commented Nov 15, 2013 at 16:34

I've had a couple of road crashes in the last 3 years. One I hit a patch of ice and ended up sliding sideways down the tarmac. In the other I was clipped by the rear wheel of the guy in front (ok, maybe I clipped him, hard to say) and went down clipped in and over the bars.

In neither case, nor most of my mountain bike crashes, do I remember having any time to react - I was aware that I was in trouble, and then on the ground bleeding.

So I'm not sure that any strategy would have helped me out. Ironically, this is coming from someone with 20 years experience of aikido! I think that my last crash was a pretty perfect ukemi, judging from injuries I received, but it sure wasn't a deliberate act.

  • Yes whatever you do has to be before you're falling: to avoid the fall, to wear protectvive clothing, ...
    – ChrisW
    Commented Mar 20, 2011 at 1:26
  • I have grooves on my bones from two nasty crashes. The points of both elbows from a face-down fall at speed, and a set all around from an aikido roll done onto coarse chipseal at about 70kph. Aikido does those falls better than Judo IMO although you do end up spinning at quite a rate. But, as they say, it's better than the alternative.
    – Мסž
    Commented Apr 15, 2011 at 1:00
  • @ChrisW: you mean ablative clothing, I'm sure :) I do prefer shorts-over-kicks stuff whith fairly robust cloth, just so that somewhere I have something that I can sacrifice. I've been surprised in the past at having no real recollection of the what I did during the 1-5 seconds of impact but the damage suggesting I reacted quite sensibly.
    – Мסž
    Commented Apr 15, 2011 at 1:02

If you're going to crash and it's un-avoidable, aim for a bush or something, or even a wall you can 'scrape' along - as long as you're wearing clothes you shouldn't get too beaten up.

The only accidents I've had were when I first got my bike, came to a stop and forgot to unclip. I wasn't hurt, but I looked very silly.


After about 15 years of accident-free riding, I recently broke my scaphoid (a wrist bone, on the thumb side) while trying to take off my jacket while riding, which obviously would have been best prevented by stopping and then taking off the jacket.

I was curious what else can be done to prevent similar fractures, though, and two items of interest I've found are:

(1) if you have to put your hand out, slap the ground, which is often taught in martial arts. That distributes the impact across your hand, so that all the force doesn't go up into your wrist and arm. Like Duncan, though, I don't recall having any time to react at all so I'm not sure how much that would have helped.

(2) There are these gloves by Knox that are designed with a "scaphoid protection system". They have a hard plastic pad near the base, so that the part of your hand that you reach out with instinctively -- the base of the palm -- slides on the ground, reducing the impact. Kinda pricey though.

But agreed that situational alertness and caution are better than any other technique. I'll be stopping from now on for any clothing changes I need to make while riding.

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