It’s going to happen, so be prepared. It’s virtually impossible to be a cyclist and not fall. That’s the bad news. The good news is that falling doesn’t have to be a major crisis. Most injuries you’ll experience, as a cyclist won’t be serious.
Personal First Aid Kit
Most crashes don’t result in serious injuries that require a trip to the doctor. Keep these items around for immediate home treatment of any injuries you sustain.
• Aloe gel—soothes sunburn
• Adhesive bandages in various sizes—for smaller cuts and scrapes
• Sterile gauze pads—for larger wounds that are actively draining
• Self-stick paper bandage wraps—an alternative method for hold- ing gauze pads in place
• Hydrocortisone cream—for minor skin irritation and rashes
• Moleskin—for blisters
• Betadine—to wash the site of a wound and clean it of bacteria
• Tweezers—for removing splinters
• Acetaminophen—for pain relief in the first 24 hours following the injury
• Ibuprofen—for pain relief and reduction of swelling once bleeding has stopped
• Chemical cold packs—to reduce swelling
• Antibiotic ointment—to reduce the chance of infection
• Hydrocolloid bandages—for slightly weepy wounds
• Hydrogel—to keep a wound moist
Replace your Parts
If ever there was an occasion served by the saying “better safe than sorry,” this is it. Have a shop technician inspect your bicycle carefully following any crash and be prepared to follow the advice you receive.
Components made from steel, titanium, and aluminum are pretty durable, so if they have sustained enough damage to require replac- ing, it will be fairly apparent. The same holds true for steel frames and forks, as well as titanium frames. Anything that appears bent to the naked eye should be replaced.
Frames and forks made from aluminum should be considered carefully. Because aluminum has an endurance limit—that is, after a finite number of stress cycles the material will break suddenly—any frame or fork made from aluminum that has gone down in a crash should be inspected carefully by a shop technician. If the frame or fork has sustained a hard enough impact to bend the tubes even slightly, you should replace it.
The proliferation of carbon fiber components has made crash- ing painful to the body and wallet alike. That’s because carbon fiber is anisotropic. As mentioned in Chapter 4, steel, titanium, and aluminum are isotropic—equally strong in any direction—but carbon fiber is strong only in the direction the fibers are oriented, so a hammer-like blow to any frame tube will kill the whole frame. Additionally, carbon fiber structures can sustain damage that is not apparent to the naked eye. Naturally, any obvious damage, such as a visible crack in the fibers themselves, warrants replacing the part. It is possible, however, for a part to sustain trauma-inducing damage in a crash and still appear to be fine. As one company’s head of engineering said (off the record, of course), “The frames the top pros are riding are strictly single use. If you crash it, you should just throw it away.”
Give your Body Time to Heal
When recovering from an injury, let comfort be your guide. Some injuries, such as road rash, cuts, and hematomas need not keep you off the bike for long. If your injuries required a visit to the doctor, be prepared to follow your physician’s advice.
Broken bones will take a number of weeks to heal. At minimum you will need eight weeks, though your doctor may advise even longer, especially if tendons or ligaments were torn; they can require surgery. Head injuries—such as concussions—can take a significant amount of time to heal, and strenuous activity can slow recovery or even re-injure the site. Stay off the bike until you have been cleared to ride by your doctor. In your first few rides back on the bike, don’t worry about going fast. If the injury was to your legs, feet, or back, focus on range of mo- tion and a smooth pedal stroke.