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I was taking my usual morning ride before dawn on an 'adventure' road bike. It is a very steep hill with bends (Ditchling Beacon, East Sussex, England). I was descending and noticed (too late) some debris on the road and applied the brakes on the first corner. My front wheel skidded, and I hit the road and slid quite some distance with very unpleasant consequences. No bones broken but a cracked helmet, torn clothes and some very nasty grazes and bruising. I have been riding a road bike for less than a year and obviously this is down to my lack of skill and judgement as a rider. I would like to learn from this experience. Factors I have considered are:

  • Light. A better front light may have allowed me to see the debris earlier thereby braking before the bend, maybe not. Can you recommend a good front light?
  • Braking technique. Perhaps I should not have used the front brake at all. I didn't think I applied it excessively, the bike just seemed to go before I realised it.
  • Tyres. The tyres I have are mainly smooth with a very slight tread at the edges. Are there tyres that would prevent this kind of accident more than others?
  • Clothes. My head hit the road very hard and the helmet saved me from serious injury I'm sure. However, as I was going downhill at speed I slid for some distance. When I came to rest I had large holes in my cycling trousers, gloves, tops and skin. Are there clothes that offer more protection without limiting movement or comfort?
  • Experience. Assuming I want to continue riding downhill, in the dark, on less than perfectly clean and dry roads, what techniques should I aim to learn and how best should I learn them?
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    We don't do product rec here, but our own nhinkle has the bikelight database (bikelightdatabase.com) which reviews lights. – Batman Dec 21 '15 at 20:40
  • I'm sorry to hear about your accident - good work for wearing the helmet and not suffering worse consequences. – Criggie Dec 21 '15 at 20:45
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    Fundamentally you were going too fast. This is something a lot of people have to learn and I have a groove in my elbow-bone from where I learned that. I lost more than skin. Better lights, clothing and technique will help, but slowing down will be the main thing. – Móż Dec 21 '15 at 22:05
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    Locking the front wheel in a corner will rarely end well especially if the road surface is not perfectly dry. Learn to slow down using the rear brake. This may not end well either but you have a better chance. – user400 Dec 22 '15 at 10:02
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    Something I was told when learning either to drive a car or ride a motorcycle (I forget which) is that you should go slow enough that your visible distance is further than your stopping distance. Actually in the case where you might meet other road users head on it should be half of that distance and hope the other person does the same! You can increase your visible distance with a better light at night and by thinking about your position in the road, can you see round the corner further in a different position? – Stephen Paulger Dec 22 '15 at 17:39
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To ride in the dark is difficult. You should have a decent head light on your helmet so it tracks your vision, and a handlebar light that tracks where your front wheel is aiming. In addition you should have a secondary front light and two back lights for redundancy. We don't make product recommendations here, but that would be the minimum.

To increase your awareness, consider riding UP the track that you plan on coming down later. This way you'll be moving much slower and have a better chance of spotting obstructions before you come through.

Also consider not doing crazy speeds on downhills. The road rules say "Don't outdrive your lights" so you should be able to stop in the distance illuminated. Perhaps you should leave the downhill leg until the sun is higher ?

Braking technique - if you were doing a hard brake on a turn, and your front wheel slid out from under you then its all over, you're going down. Some more tread on your front tyre may have helped, as would lower pressure in the front tube. Another technique, you could overweight the front wheel to make the side lugs dig in and regain grip, or you could unweight the front wheel and try to stop it pushing, and therefore regain grip. All this has to happen really quickly, we don't generally react fast enough.

Clothes - your outerwear did its job, and took all/most of the sliding damage. I suggest you slap some patches on the damaged bits, and on the knees, and call it your Riding Gear. No point dressing up all pretty for a ride (unless you're into that sort of thing) My favourite riding pants have canvas on the knees, over a patch of woollen blanket, and some light cotton on the inside of the knee, They're butt-ugly but totally comfortable.

Finally experience - you've just acquired some. Sadly it was painful.

You should also give your bike a close look and service. Standard crash damage to look for includes:

  • Wheels out of true, rim damage, broken spokes and loosened nipples.

  • Disk Brake rotors no longer flat, or rim brake pads slightly out of position

  • Gears out of whack - bent derailleuruer hanger is very common.

  • Mudguards/fenders out of position, or plastic bits cracked.

Also give the bike a service and lube, and look for damage while doing it.

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    +1 for 2 lights. I like my cheap narrow-beam headtorch for filling in ahead of my main light. It doesn't dazzle oncoming traffic because all the light is pointed at the road well in front of me. Riding winding, paved, unlit bike paths after dark it's indispensible (if you're going to go faster than even about 20km/h). – Chris H Dec 22 '15 at 9:26
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    One other thing to check::grips/barends. I was knocked of by another cyclist, low speed, barely a bruise, but one or my barends took a knock which left the ergo grip just barely gripping the bar. When I lent on the pad braking downhill it suddenly shifted round the bar. If it had happened 100m later I'd have been signalling and would likely have come off again. – Chris H Dec 22 '15 at 9:28
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    The tyre pressure was at max for the tyre. I'd just topped it up the night before, so as you say, this wouldn't have helped. Some excellent advice here (and in other responses). Thanks. – fractor Dec 22 '15 at 12:12
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    @fractor max tire pressure isn't necessarily the optimal pressure. As the answer say, you probably want to go lower to get more grip. Also, I disagree with the answer on the point that tread on your tires might have helped. All things equal, slicks will grip asphalt better than knobs and knobs won't bite into the asphalt if you encounter e.g., sand or gravel on the road. – Paul H Dec 23 '15 at 0:17
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At some point you are still on the bike, but the mistake has already been made and you are looking for the exit option that will minimise damage. Jamming the front brake on while in a tight corner does not 'minimise damage'

Experience rider would have probably seen the debris earlier or not been riding as fast, and is always thinking what alternatives they have if things go wrong. The rear brake is best in corners, it will induce a rear wheel slide which is much easier to control and ends in a fall and slide rather than tumble that tends to happen with a front wheel lock up. Only use the front once you have lost some speed with the rear, straightened up and are ready for the front wheel to be loaded by the braking action.

To a point, equipment such as tires won't help much - with better equipment, you will just be going faster. Lights will help in this instance, as it sounds like you were riding faster than your visibility allowed to do so safely.

In the future:

  • Don't out ride your visibility
  • In an emergency Corner or brake, never both.
  • Start with back Brake in emergency
  • Always have a Plan B (a C is often useful)
  • If you are going to fall, minimise damage -off sideways and slide, don't tumble off the bike.
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Your front brake is your most effective stopper but there's a fine line between slowing down and sliding out. The technique to practise is applying enough pressure to your front brake lever without applying too much. Too much depends on the road surface as well as your bike. Learning how to drift a bit is a very useful skill, not to mention the most fun ever, but it's dicey.

On a DH mountain bike we do all our stopping with the front brake and we ride helter skelter on super loose and rough surfaces! So it's definitely possible to learn how to control your front brake but it takes practise. DH bikes are more suited to this obviously (big tires, suspension, hydraulic disc brakes, etc) but the principle is the same.

I've had a few nasty tumbles myself, ain't pretty :)

  • Gidday and welcome to SE Bicycles. That's a good first answer. – Criggie Dec 22 '15 at 2:12
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For that level of damage you were carrying a lot of speed. If you cannot see the road you need to assume it is less than perfect.

What you can do in the future is better speed control.

Debris is little ball bearings. If you are going too fast there is not much you can do about it. Touch the rear easy first to see where you are in traction but you need to quickly get on the front as it has most of the stopping power. You may have been better off trying to ride it out.

Wide, soft rubber tires, at lower pressure. But still in the proper pressure range.

Downhill clothes have more protection but they have limited movement.

A good helmet firmly buckled.

Cyclocross will teach you braking as they almost always have an off camber downhill and you get to fall slow on grass. There is it almost all front as the rear will wash out easily.

Not sure it would work on the road but in CX uncleat uphill lets you keep the bike more upright and an easier bail. At speed already in the lean this probably would not be effective. But I have seen road pros uncleat at speed when it looked like things were going south.

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two other things to consider. While braking in a turn is always dicey, counter steering may give you more control. Second, consider whether running off the road may give you a softer landing if you have to crash.

  • Nice idea, but its too late to think by the time something is sliding - you can only react. Aiming for a softer spot would be wonderful, if you had that level of control then you would stop the slide in the first place. – Criggie Dec 23 '15 at 1:44

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