If you ride a bike, chances are, at some point, you have fallen off that bike. We do everything we can to be so careful, but sometimes something just goes wrong.
You take a corner and your bike slides out from under you. You are riding in a group and go into the back of someone’s wheel. A motorist doesn’t see you, and turns right into you. You are in a race, there is jostling, and someone goes down and takes you with them. Unfortunately the cycling crash possibilities are virtually endless.
In my case, I was riding in a group and there were a couple people who were brand new to group riding. They stopped short and I went right into the back of the wheel of the rider in front of me. I recall yelling something (I think it was relatively inappropriate) as I went down. My head bounced off the pavement, and I rolled onto my back.
I know this is cliche, but I kid you not, my first words were, “Is My Bike, OK?”
My lovely friend Sara said yes (woohoo!), and that she was calling me an ambulance (ouch!).
As I lay on the pavement and wait for the ambulance (and my husband, who was at least a town away on his bike and STILL managed to get to me before the ambulance left), I bled through my friend Tracy’s glove, hoped the damage wasn’t too bad, and vowed never to ride in a group ever again (spoiler, I was back with the group within a week).
Day Of The Author’s Crash
Having a crash almost seems like an initiation of sorts in some cycling circles. Cyclists love to share their cycling battle scars and photos of their wounds, almost as a rite of passage. When I stopped by my bike shop afterwards to pick up my bike, everyone there pretty much shrugged and acted like I was part of the club, and that I was lucky to have my first big fall behind me.
Their first question was “when are you getting back on the bike?”
I looked at them like they had 80 heads or so. I mean, I had bandages everywhere, stitches right above my eye, and was still actively bleeding, for crying out loud!
“Uh, when should I?” I asked.
“As soon as possible…group ride next week, maybe?” they said.
It’s important to note here that though I had bruises and stitches, nothing was broken, and they were responding to my crash specifically. Everyone’s situation is different. Their point was to not delay in getting back on the bike. That the longer I wait, the harder physically and mentally it would be.
As I left the shop with my intact bike (my bike fared much better than I did in the crash), I was left to ponder how to best tackle my recovery. Was I really going to be ready mentally and physically to ride again in a week? Did I even WANT to get on a bike again that soon?
In this article I will share some essential tips and suggestions to help you regain your strength and confidence on the bike after a crash.
#1 Consider Your Physical Condition
The most important first step is to take stock of where your body is at physically. How damaged is your body? Do you have broken bones, open wounds? Are you bruised? Are you able to move around?
If you have been to the doctor or to the hospital, be sure to ask your doctors how long you should wait, and what your physical recovery should look like. Everyone’s physical situation is different, and you absolutely should listen to the advice of professionals.
Getting back on the bike before you are physically ready can really set back your recovery, and result in your being off the bike even longer that you would have if you had heeded professional advice.
If your crash is relatively minor, like mine, you might not need to wait all that long to spin those wheels again. My emergency room doctor that stitched me up said I could ride again as soon as I felt up to it. Therefore, it was pretty much up to me to figure out what that meant, and when I would ride.
#2 Give Some Serious Thought to Where You’re At Mentally, and Give Yourself Some Grace
Just because your body is healed, it doesn’t mean your head is, and I am not talking about a concussion (though if you have a concussion PLEASE wait until your doctors have cleared you to ride AND you’re no longer experiencing symptoms).
I had an amazing helmet, a Botranger WaveCel, and even though my head hit the pavement, I was very fortunate that I was not concussed.
The fear of getting back on the bike can be real, and you want to be mentally prepared for this. It is not unusual for riders to experience PTSD from a crash.
The crash I have described thus far was not actually my first bike incident. When I was ten-years-old I was hit by a truck on my bike.
I came around the corner and was staring at the grill of a pickup. I have never had a moment in my life before or since that was truly that scary, and it kept me off the bike literally for decades.
There is nothing like knowing a vehicle is coming straight at you, that it will hit you, and that there is nothing you can do about it. I will never, ever forget that feeling.
That crash destroyed my bike (I was incredibly fortunate and came away with just some cuts and bruises), and it destroyed any and all desire to ever ride again.
It actually took decades before, at the urging of my husband, I attempted to ride, and at first every single car that passed me absolutely terrified me.
For me it took time. The more times I got out there and didn’t get hit, the more comfortable I became. The compound interest of each successful, crash free ride helped. It didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen. I can honestly say that after several years of riding on the road and making safe choices that my confidence has been restored.
I know sometimes that cyclists get hit, and there is sometimes nothing they can do to prevent it, but I also know that by riding safely I am improving my chances of avoiding a crash.
This process is different for everyone, and everyone’s experience is unique. There is no “right time” or “right way” for you to “get over it” and get back on the bike. Give yourself some grace and understanding, and don’t push it.
If you feel your mental recovery is not going the way you would like, if getting on the bike terrifies you, and you find yourself having panic attacks, please get help. Talk to a friend, a family member, spend some time journaling, and/or consult a therapist.
There is no shame in working through your anxiety about returning to cycling in any of these ways. In fact, I highly recommend being proactive if you are struggling, so that you can more effectively cope with your experiences and put your mental recovery on the right trajectory.
#3 Plan Your Recovery Like You Plan Your Training
You need to play your recovery from a crash the same way you would plan your training, or your usual rides, and give it the same consideration. If you are physically damaged from the crash, give your body time to heal, and consult with professionals on the best way to formulate your recovery plan.
Plan your meals like you would plan fuel for rides. Your body needs food to recover and heal, so don’t freak out about not being on the bike and feel that you can’t eat because you aren’t burning any calories. You will possibly lose muscle mass depending on how long you are sedentary, so when you are cleared to move around take some short walks if it’s OK with your doctor/physical therapist.
Also, consider strength training if you are able to move some parts of your body, and again, if this is something that you discuss with your doctor/physical therapist. Yoga is another wonderful option if you are experiencing muscle soreness or tightening after your crash.
Do not neglect your mental recovery, either. As I mentioned above, I highly recommend talking to family, friends, a therapist, and/or journaling. Your mental recovery is just as, if not more, important than the physical. You don’t want to try to convince yourself you will “tough it out” and “get right back on the bike” if you are gripped with anxiety and fear.
If you plan for your recovery the same way you plan your training, and focus on recovering the best way possible, your recovery will likely be quicker, and your time off the bike will likely be less of a detriment, both mentally and physically.
#4: Consider Doing Your First Ride Indoors
If your body is not quite 100% but getting there, or you’re still feeling uneasy about getting back on the bike (or a combination of the two), consider doing your first ride or two on an indoor trainer.
The awesome thing about the trainer is that it takes falling out of the equation (I mean, I fall a LOT on my bike and even I haven’t managed to fall off the trainer). This way, you can just focus on spinning your legs. If anything feels off, you can easily stop at any time and not need to call for a ride/try to limp your way home.
You can just hop on for 10 minutes that first day, see how it feels, and then slowly start increasing your time. Take it easy, and just get a feel for what it’s like to go through the motions.
#5 Ride with a Trusted Friend or Group Your First Time Out
I strongly suggest not riding alone your first time out, and riding with someone who knows what happened to you, and someone who is a safe rider you can trust.
My first substantial ride after my crash was with my Wednesday night women’s cycling group. This group has seasoned riders and friends, and people that I can comfortably follow that I know will be super safe. A few of them had been behind me when I fell the week prior, so they knew what I had been through.
I had already done a spin around the neighborhood so I knew I was physically up to being on a bike, and this allowed me to hang on the wheel of a trusted friend for my first longer ride since the fall.
I am not going to lie, I had moments of fear. For a long time after the initial fall, I was very careful to only be behind people I knew and trusted for a long time after that initial fall. But again, over time, riding with people I trust who were careful, didn’t take unnecessary cycling risks, and were courteous to drivers, went a long way in restoring my cycling confidence.
The author 30 days after her crash, back on the bike.
Overall, recover in your own time, in your own way, and understand every crash, and everyone is different
It is so important to give yourself grace and understand that everyone, and every crash is different. Your physical and emotional circumstances will never be exactly the same as anyone else’s. This is why it is so important to listen to your doctors, to your therapists, and to yourself when formulating your unique recovery plan for getting back on the bike.
For me personally, it was really important to get on as soon as possible after my second big crash. I wanted to maintain my physical fitness, and I didn’t want to put it off for decades and develop an aversion to being on the bike like I did after my first major crash. After just 9 days I was back on the bike, and on the 10th day was riding with a group again.
Still, it was truly a disruption. I was at my strongest ever as a cyclist when I crashed (probably why I was so impatient and ended up in the wheel of the person in front of me!).
Seriously, though, It took some time for me to regain the physical and mental strength and the confidence that I had before the crash. Often, I found that I didn’t want to ride as often as I did before because I was anxious and constantly second guessing myself.
I would panic a bit when I perceived another rider or a car was getting too close. Or, I would struggle with whether or not I was close enough or too close to the wheel in front of me.
I had to really be understanding with myself, and give myself the time and experience to heal. While I made an effort to keep getting out there, it took months before I really felt like myself again on the bike.
It took time, but it did happen. With proper planning and consideration for your own personal situation, and an understanding that recovery means different things for different people, you will absolutely recover from your cycling crash too.
More Stuff For You
- 9 Ways To Increase Your Confidence
- Loving Yourself and Your Body as an Overweight Cyclist
- Cycling After Surgery: How I Got Back On The Bike
About The Author
Stacy Ann Smith is a New England-based cyclist who strives to stay upright on her bike. She is the founder of Sascy Cycling, and her mission is to encourage women to love their body and focus on what it can do, not what it looks like. When Stacy’s not cycling she is teaching high school history and eating pizza with her husband and son. For awesome women’s cycling tips and to learn more about Stacy, visit Sascy Cycling at www.sascy.com or find her on Instagram and Facebook.