Crash with Panache

02.17.2006 | 4:33 pm

You want to know the fundamental difference between mountain biking and road biking? If you crash frequently while road biking, you’re doing it wrong. If, on the other hand, you don’t crash from time to time while mountain biking, you’re doing it wrong.

So, if we take it as given that you will crash from time to time on your mountain bike, what can you do to get the very most out of the experience? How can you turn your wreck from a display of clumsiness and negligence into the kind of story that gets told around campfires and office coolers?

By following these simple steps, that’s how.


Plan Ahead

Think of some generic injuries you can claim when the moment is right. Here is a brief list, to help you get started.

  • Internal bleeding: Keep this one in mind for the occasions when you’re hurt — no, seriously, you really are — but don’t have an injury that actually shows. Insist that you need to be taken to a hospital immediately. Once you’ve made this demand, however, you cannot back down. Follow through, even though you’ll probably feel just fine by the time you get to the hospital. When you finally get out of the waiting room, though, slip the doctor a $20 and say there’s another $20 in it for her if she’ll play along and tell your friends it is one of the most harrowing examples of internal bleeding she has ever seen, and that they’re lucky they listened to you.
  • Ruptured diaphragm, preventing breathing: If you get the wind knocked out of you, you can claim that you actually ruptured your diaphragm, and now have only moments to live before you suffocate to death. Explaining later why you’re alive may be difficult. I leave that to you. (Thanks for the idea, Tayfur!)
  • Torn ligaments: Good general-purpose, believable injury, and practically impossible to disprove in the field. Highly recommended.
  • High Altitude Pulmonary Edema: Use this if you’ve been riding clumsily the whole day. It’s best not to say you have this ailment if you’re below an altitude of 500 feet.
  • High Altitude Cerebral Edema:  Use this if you’ve been riding clumsily and saying stupid things.
  • Total amnesia: Save this one for an accident you’d rather forget. You may want to consider downgrading this to Concussion, which allows you to say you don’t remember the events surrounding a certain time period. Which you choose should depend on how bone-chillingly stupid and predictable your crash was.

During The Crash

Sometimes, a crash is so instantaneous you have no time to react whatsoever. I once, for example, was riding along on my own when I suddenly found myself sliding on my face.

Other times, however, you may be luckier: you see a crash coming, and have time to add some theatrics. In this case, I recommend the following steps:

  1. Unclip from your bike, if at all possible. Separate from it to whatever degree you can.
  2. Flail. Wave your arms while you’re in the air. Flailing looks good on camera, and increases your chances on winning in America’s Funniest Videos.
  3. Twist. If you’re in the midst of a good long fall, take a moment to try to do a 360.
  4. Keep your arms and hands close to your torso. As your landing approaches, bring your arms and hands in close, so as to not snap them like twigs. It’s very easy for me to type this, although I have never successfully done it in my entire life. You would think that now that my right shoulder sometimes separates just for the fun of it, I’d learn. But no: I still reach out to catch my fall every time.
  5. Roll. Roll once on impact at a bare minimum. If you feel you’ve got sufficient momentum, keep rolling. As you roll, ask yourself, “Am I badly hurt?” If the answer is “No, not really.” Try finishing the roll by standing up with your arms held high. Bow smartly.

After the Crash

Immediately after the crash, you have to make a snap decision. Will you go for comedy, stoic resilience, or drama?

  • Comedy is a surprisingly good choice, if you aren’t badly hurt and you’ve got an audience. Try saying, “Nothing to see here, move along” in your best Monty Python voice. Or, “I was pushed! I accuse you!” Or my favorite, “Ladies and gentlemen, the candlesticks are still standing!” Your audience is likely to laugh, even if you’re not funny, out of gratitude that they’re not going to have to perform first aid.
  • Stoic resilience is risky. If, after you crash — especially if it looked bad — you get up as if nothing happened, you will gain respect from your peers as being tough, though perhaps not especially bright. However, this severely reduces your options. If you start out as stoic right after the crash, but then discover ten minutes later after the adrenaline rush fades that the bruises, lacerations, and compound fractures are hampering your ability to enjoy the ride, you still must be stoic. You can’t go from stoic to drama queen. That’s ten times worse than starting out as a drama queen in the first place.
  • Drama is my default choice. It’s the safe bet. For one thing, crashes really do almost always hurt. For another, if I start out acting like I’m badly hurt and then discover that I’m actually just fine, it’s not difficult to make the conversion to comedy. Just sit up and say, “I’m not dead yet…I think I’m getting better…I believe I’ll go for a walk (Monty Python voice again). Or you can grab for the brass ring and do a drama-comedy-stoic transfer: suddenly go from rocking and screaming to standing up, dusting yourself off, and deadpan, “I now choose to internalize my pain.”

If you decide to go for the drama option (good choice!), you have a few moments after a given fall to think about what you will say to your riding companions. Use this time wisely.

First, choose your injury. If you are unsure which injury you are going to trumpet, go into the fetal position. The fetal position is a good universal symbol of pain, and gives you time to think.

Next, play it up. Don’t trivialize your pain. Never ever immediately say, “I’m OK.” Make them wonder for a couple seconds.

As you lay, moaning and dying, memorize your surroundings. It’s best if the wildly exaggerated tale you will tell later has some basis in fact. Your surroundings can help you find a good external cause for your crash, which is almost always preferable to, “I’m a bumbling fool.”

  • Ledges: Going over an unforeseen ledge is a great cause for an accident. Highly recommended. Unfortunately, if you did this, you’re probably really injured. Sorry ‘bout that!
  • Roots: Roots are tricky things that cause your wheels to change directions. Nobody will ever dispute the root reason. A suggestion: If you’re going to use a root as the reason you fell, always intensify it. Roots must always be slippery, slimy, wet, twisty, gnarled, or knotted.
  • Scree: Scree is dirt and rocks on the trail. Most mountain bike trails are constantly covered with dirt and rocks, so scree is difficult to disprove.
  • Rabbits with big, nasty, pointy teeth. Monty Python again. Sorry, can’t help myself. I’m definitely going to watch the Holy Grail this weekend.
  • Too much speed: You’re a victim of your own mountain bike prowess and bravery, not to mention your outrageous athleticism. Very good.
  • Gear: Chainsuck or a blown tire are great crash causes. They are verifiable, however, so don’t use them if they aren’t real, or at least if you have witnesses present. My best gear-related crash had me thinking I had actually been shot in the chest. It was back when Rock Shox Judy SLs were all the rage. The Judy used an elastomer stack for damping, which was inserted through the top of the fork, then secured with a screw-in cap. Coming down Mud Springs one day, I suddenly saw a flash of red, felt a sharp pain in my chest, and then crashed. I was sure some kid had shot me with a paintball. It turns out that the cap over one of the elastomer stacks had come loose during the downhill, and the stack had ejected, popping me right in the sternum.
  • Despair over the state of _________________. Hey, why not turn your misfortune into a political or moral statement?
  • Ennui: “I was tired of being on my bike, and thought I’d mix things up a little.”


Later, you’ll have time to craft a fine story about your crash. As you do this, remember: what was going on internally is as important as what happens externally. And it’s much more difficult to disprove. Say things like:

  • Time slowed down.
  • I thought to myself, “I am about to die,” yet remained strangely calm. I was at peace with the world, almost eager to meet the earth as it rushed to embrace me.
  • The pain was exquisite.
  • My spirit left my body. I remember hovering over my carcass, asking myself, “Do I want to go back into that vessel, to endure the suffering that comes with reuniting with my body? Believe me, it was not an easy choice.
  • No, seriously. My diaphragm was totally ruptured. I’d be dead if it weren’t for my quick thinking and a fairly unorthodox use of a patch kit.

Winner of the Banjo Brothers Bike Bag Giveaway

Congratulations to Wonderdyke, who gave the most cogent reason anyone would possibly wear the Davitamon-Lotto Team Presentation shirt:

I’d wear it to the hairdresser to get my Flock of Seagulls haircut.

Yup, I think I’d wear it in an 80’s Flock of Seagulls video, too. Or maybe if I were Howard Jones. Wonderdyke’s blog is highly recommended, by the way. Whether you’re a harried lesbian mom or not.


PS: Today’s weight is 168.8. Next week’s weight target: 167.8.


  1. Comment by Sue | 02.17.2006 | 4:52 pm

    I apoligize for my intensely lame effort yesterday.  I regretted publishing that comment all day.  Same is mine; I eat bitter.
    P.S.  When I wreck, I go into autostoic mode.  To break this habbit, I’m going to write these suggestions on an index card, which will be taped to my forarm for mt bike rides.  They will be my go-to phrases during crunchtime.  Although I think I’m going to add ‘lacerated liver’ to the list of injuries.
    The only funny thing I ever said in response to a crash was "the aristocrats".

  2. Comment by tayfuryagci | 02.17.2006 | 5:11 pm

    you’re welcome.

  3. Comment by Yokota Fritz | 02.17.2006 | 5:39 pm

    Fattie wrote: Comedy is a surprisingly good choice, if you aren’t badly hurt…My good friend Randy chopped off all of his fingers in a shop accident, which I think qualifies for ‘badly hurt.’ In the E.R. Randy was cracking so many hilarious jokes about his mishap and his pain that the doctor and nurses were going hypoxic from laughing so hard. Randy’s wife was bawling and laughing at the same time.Today, when small children stare at Randy’s hand he tells them, "This is what happens when you pick your nose! It’s a bad habit."Those of us who live at altitude have used low altitude as an excuse for crashing. All of that excess oxygen makes your brain do funny thing, y’know.

  4. Comment by Unknown | 02.17.2006 | 6:14 pm

    I had a similar experience with a Judy SL.  The stack hit me right on the chin.  My riding buddies laughed for a long time and it still comes up in conversation fairly often.Oh, and it took like 20 minutes to find all the little elastomer pieces since they scattered in the weeds after impact.

  5. Comment by TIMOTHY | 02.17.2006 | 6:16 pm

    Worst crash ever:  I was 16 and ran into a parked car at 20 mph.  Over the bars, onto the trunk, rolled off, landed on my feet and spit my 2 front teeth into my hand.  Pac-manned my front wheel and broke the downtube, but the man that witnessed it and gave me a ride home said it was so graceful it looked like I choreographed the whole thing.
    Best almost crash ever: my first night ride I got too high on a bermed corner, grabbed too much front brake and nosewheelied.  I somehow unclipped, vaulted the bars, landed on my feet and instictively reached back and caught my crashing bike by the seatpost.  I still wish I had this on video, or at least had an eye witness.
    My default reaction to a crash is to pace back and forth and sing a song about how much it hurts.  The songs tend to be short on substance and long on profanity.  It also tends to be re-sung in the shower as I scrub out the wounds.

  6. Comment by Unknown | 02.17.2006 | 11:00 pm

    I make a quick joke, then STFU, get back on the bike and roll.  If it hurtss really really bad, I skip the joke.   Sometimes it’s just a near crash and hurts really really bad, in which case I STFU and try to put the hammer down.  It’s basically the stoic approach.  I picked it up playing contact sports, mainly hockey and rugby, but also to a lesser extent trying to grab sausages off the grill, which is a contact event in the Maviva family.
    There are some advantages to the mostly stoic approach.  First, if you are seriously injured and you later die, your refusal to stop and wait for an ambulance will avoid screwing up your friends’ rides.  They will speak highly of your considerate nature at your funeral.  Second, nobody likes to hear you bitch.  So shut up already.  Third, everybody will think you’re a superhero when you take off your knickers pull the scabbed on lycra right off the wound without even flinching.  *Nobody* will screw with you after that.  You will ride in an insult-free bubble until a new guy joins the group-ride – and then somebody else in the group will wise him up.  Or you’ll have another hideously deforming crash and have a chance to make another true believer.   

  7. Comment by Tyler | 02.17.2006 | 11:04 pm

    I’m not going to talk about crashing right now, since I’ve done enough of that the past couple of days.
    I’m instead going to talk about a funny little standing-up game that people apparently call <a href=>Pistol squats</a>
    I <a href=>realized</a> these existed a couple of days ago, and I want to know if you can do them. 

  8. Comment by Tyler | 02.17.2006 | 11:05 pm

    Right.  Damned MSN spaces.


  9. Comment by Unknown | 02.17.2006 | 11:47 pm

    I always laugh and joke first, before I have the time to look things over and go through the internal systems check.  I do so in a Pygmalian attempt to ward off bad karma, and injury.  I am completely conviced that if I don’t see it, it doesn’t hurt.
    Unless, of course, it is the obvious compound fracture, in which case a bone jutting through my skin simply makes me faint, eliminating the need for any further conscious reaction. 

  10. Comment by evencastles | 02.18.2006 | 12:32 am

    Greetings from Shanghai.

  11. Comment by Christina | 02.18.2006 | 3:23 am

    to keep w/ the Python humor..after you crash, you can sit and up and yell in your best British accent, "I’m not dead yet!" 
    (I love that scene w/ the scraggly guy pushing the wheelbarrow who keeps calling, "Bring out your dead!  Bring out your dead!")
    -The Beast Mom

  12. Comment by BIg Mike In Oz | 02.18.2006 | 3:23 am

    I don’t think there’s anything you can say or do to ease the embarassment of being tipped off your road bike in the middle of a busy intersection in peakhour by a pocket handkerchief.
    Hence, thus and therefore I shall remain silent.

  13. Comment by Christina | 02.18.2006 | 3:25 am

    to keep w/ the Python humor..after you crash, you can sit and up and yell in your best British accent, "I’m not dead yet!" 
    (I love that scene w/ the scraggly guy pushing the wheelbarrow who keeps calling, "Bring out your dead!  Bring out your dead!")
    -The Beast Mom

  14. Comment by BIg Mike In Oz | 02.18.2006 | 3:26 am

    Or Python time…
    It’s OK.  It’s just a scratch.
    Your arms off.
    No it’s not.  Just a flesh wound.
    Your arm is on the ground.
    I’ve got another.  Come on, fight.

  15. Comment by Zed | 02.18.2006 | 3:31 am

    Rats, BigMike beat me to the fleshwound joke.
    I must say that the location of the bike at the end of the crash has tended to add to the panache in my experience. For example, if you can endo just right so that the bike is standing straight up on top of you (you know, like someone stuck it there on purpose or something), then everyone will think you’re an acrobatic genius. Or your back will be really sore from being hit with the saddle. Whatever.

  16. Comment by Andrew | 02.18.2006 | 4:23 am

    I try to be a good role model for my son in all things. We recently took an off-camber turn on a steep sloop, and I lost control and had to dab. I had trouble unclipping, and foolishly put my downhill foot down first, resulting in a painful tumble some twenty yards down the slope.
    "Son", I said, "you had better paid attention to that just now. I don’t intend to show you how to do it again."

  17. Comment by Unknown | 02.18.2006 | 10:38 am

    I am sat at home nursing what was a suspected broken ankle, but has been downgraded to a minor sprain, after several technical dismounts last weekend.  I think I did all three post-crash behaviours over the day.
    My own favourite is to jump to my feet and throw my arms in the air like a gymnast who has just completed a particularly complicated tumbling routine.

  18. Comment by Unknown | 02.18.2006 | 1:02 pm

    Ah yes….how to react to a crash.My best reaction was of course from my best crash.Back in October, we were doing a large group ride at a local trail, and we were on the night ride portion of the event.  It was my first night ride, and I was pumped.At about mile 8, I found that I was coming in last, and the group was up ahead of me at a crossroads, waiting to regroup.I decided it would be funny to sprint past them and yell "It’s right behind me!" so that they might believe that there weas something evil in the woods chasing me.  (it was later determined that this only works on individual riders and not large groups)The problem came when I attempted to go around them at speed….a group of 10 people takes up a lot of room in the trail, and that million HID headlamps shining all around made it hard to see….I thought there was a big log or something in front of me, and I grabbed the front brake in a panic.  Over the bars time.I landed on my outstretched arm and rolled onto my back, and lay there for a while listening to the laughter, which eventually died down as they asked "Are you OK?"My natural response was "No, I can’t get up", so a few people came to investigate.OK, here’s the part that I’m still proud of today:  I’m laying on the ground with a broken collarbone, there’s a guy moving my arm around to see what’s wrong with it, and I hear someone say in the background "Man, I don’t know what happened, all I saw was a blur"And then, somehow gritting my teeth through the pain, I blurt out my initial thought:  "No, it was a Heckler!"I tried to transition into "stoic", but when it takes three people to lift you off the ground and get you to your feet that’s a hard lay to make, so I transitioned back and forth from humor to drama the rest of the night.I didn’t get sympathy until later though, because I didn’t find out it was broken until Monday when we all went home.In hindsight, it was fairly obvious though:

  19. Comment by Unknown | 02.18.2006 | 1:56 pm

    Brand new to clipless pedals, came to complete stop to watch some deer, and gently fell to the side, bike on top of me. Then foot would not unclip. I wiggled, and kicked and twisted foot, but it was not budging from pedal. So I lay on the dirt, beneath my bike, unable to get up while husband AND deer both stood at the side of the road  laughing at me. (Oh you don’t think deer can’t laugh? Ha.)  Finally, with eyes narrowed I said, using the phrase that only wives can get away with, "if you EVER want to have sex again…"  I was unclipped, settled on the bike and on my way within seconds, deer still standing and watching with amusement.
    My very favorite after crash phrase though is "I blame you."

  20. Comment by Unknown | 02.18.2006 | 2:35 pm

    "The Aristocrats!"  – Excellent.  On a par with, "It only hurts when I laugh," a line delivered rather famously by an allied pilot pulled out of a crashed P-38 in China in WWII. 
    The Monty Python thing is always useful.  The degree to which Cleese et al have penetrated pop culture is amazing.  I have a friend who is a geneticist who works in a lab studying aging.  The focus of his life’s work?  Why the INDY gene.  Clever manipulation of the INDY gene can greatly prolong the life of fruitflies, keeping the things alive for multiples of their normal life span.  INDY, of course, stands for "I’m Not Dead Yet."  More on funny gene names in this poorly tabulated page here. 

  21. Comment by Unknown | 02.18.2006 | 5:02 pm

    I like mixed stoic/humor approach of
     ’That is why we wear helmets!’ and biking away.  Although ‘I
    was pushed’ is also quite good.  You forgot to mention what to do
    if you are trying the stoic act (which is my default) and your bike is
    too mangled to ride.  I’ve had this happen, and it is quite

  22. Comment by Kelly | 02.19.2006 | 5:59 pm

    I go straight for the ennui. Wasn’t that a choice? My goodness, but I needed a laugh today and the post and Python quotes have done me in. I’m off to wipe the tears and check out the harried lesbian mom’s blog.

  23. Comment by Tom Stormcrowe | 02.19.2006 | 6:10 pm

    Fatty, if you aren’t following it, Jill crossed the 87 mile point this morning in the Susitna! OORAH

  24. Comment by Shari | 02.20.2006 | 5:41 am

    Or you could say: "And now something completely different! A man with 3 buttocks!" – I think a Monty Python marathon is in order….
    Nice blog!

  25. Comment by joan | 02.20.2006 | 3:41 pm

    And, as long as we’re doing Monty Python jokes, you could also roll over and say "Was there rat in that?"


Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.