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A Crash: It's Not If, But When

By Natalie Kirchhoff | May 24, 2012, 12 a.m. (ET)

I'm the rider in the blue suit and white helmet on the right side of this pack (CIMAGES).

The probability of crashing on your bike increases with the time you spend training. Cyclists say: “there are those who have crashed and those who have yet to crash.” There's something to be said about riding inside on the trainer, riding solo on back roads and playing it safe. And then on the other hand, there’s something to getting out there on the roads, riding in a big group and jumping in head first. There's a balance to be sure.

You don't want to be a daredevil all the time, you want to be smart. But at the same time there’s an exhilarating feeling that only comes when you are out there in the middle of a fast group ride kicking butt, heart pounding out of your chest and you’re going for it hanging on for dear life. (Do you know what I’m talking about?)

Crashes, falls, scrapes, bruises and broken bones are bound to happen. It's part of the game. The more riders out there, the more variables there are. And I know plenty of cyclists that have gotten into scrapes biking alone minding their own business when pesky things cross their paths--animals (squirrels, anyone?) or inanimate objects (trees, potholes, curbs...). So there’s risk whichever way you look at it. Heck, I bet there are some athletes out there who have fallen off their trainer! When you bike, there’s risk, period!

I understand the dangers of cycling and do not take it lightly. It is a risky sport. You should take it seriously every time you hop on your bike. Don’t take your safety for granted. When you ride in a group, ride with experienced cyclists. Be cautious and aware that other cyclists may not know (or obey) the rules of the road. Be prepared! Be alert!

Why put yourself out there in a group ride? Well, for the International Triathlon Union (ITU) style of racing (the kind done in the Olympic Games) the bike portion is draft legal. You ride in packs at fast speeds around sharp turns and need to be able to handle your bike well. Group riding can help athletes become more comfortable riding in a pack and more proficient at bike handling skills. In addition, riding with others requires you to anticipate their moves and react accordingly. A large focus of the USAT Collegiate Recruitment Program is to help athletes develop strong cycling skills to compete in draft-legal races.

Road rash from my recent crash.

This topic rings close to home for me as I took a fall last weekend. I was on a group ride with about 20-30 other cyclists who were all pretty strong and road savvy. We were going along at a good clip when I got out of my saddle on a small roller. A rider next to me got out of his saddle and we must have been going for the same opening because before I knew it, he collided into my left side sending me and my bike airborne.

I landed hard on my right side and tucked thinking I was going to get plowed into by the other riders. Thankfully they had enough time to react to avoid a pile up. I landed on my joints (ankle, knee, hip and elbow), but must have evenly spread out the weight of the impact because nothing shattered or broke (hooray! My last crash put me in the ER with a broken rib). I have some nice road rash to show for it, some scrapes and lovely colored bruises (so attractive I know!).

The bike took more damage than I did. The force of impact crushed my pedal, bent my cleat, rubbed a hole in my shoe, bent the derailer, bent my front shifters (and not to mention, injured my pride). Needless to say, the bike wasn't road worthy. I think every athlete wants to fall, shake it off and hop back on and keep on riding, but I couldn't do that this time. I had to swallow my pride and take a kind rider up on his offer to drive me home.

My shoes after my crash.

Now a couple days removed from the incident, I’m feeling better, getting the bike fixed, and planning to race at the Capital of Texas event on Memorial Day followed by an ITU Continental Cup in Dallas. I might look a bit battered and bruised, but it's a part of the ball game. If the game were easy, everyone would do it. I’m excited to get back out there and face the challenges of the road.

As Mark Twain so eloquently said: “It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog.” When an accident happens it can be hard to get back out there. Small and big fears can creep in and set up house in our minds replaying over and over the fall, the crash, the accident. I find that the best thing there is to counteract this is to visualize the accident, but then re-visualize it going the way you wanted it to go (staying up instead of falling, reacting sooner, anticipating the other cyclist’s move...). And then physically get back out there and start riding. The longer we sit on our fears and let them “keep house” in our minds, the harder it is for us to face them.

Mistakes happen out there and accidents come with the territory of cycling and training. It's a miracle we don't get hurt more often considering the amount of miles we put in. When you do take a fall, it’s a good time to give your body some extra TLC (as I’m learning!). If you treat your body well, it will treat you well.

Ride safe, ride confident, and face your fears. See you at the races!