Crash Etiquette for Complete Idiots

03.14.2006 | 9:44 pm

A few days ago, Bob and I rode the Crop Circles / Mr. DNA / Tapeworm trail system. It was raining lightly (yes, even though it was spring in Seattle), so the roots, rocks, and wooden stunts were slippery.

Early in the ride, we came to a seesaw. This one was taller and shorter than the seesaw I had ridden the last time we had been in the area, the board was narrower, and it was made of smooth wood. Also, the approach was downhill and around a bend.

I admit it: I was scared.

I approached the seesaw too slowly. By the time I was about halfway up, my front wheel was wobbling. I nearly stalled out, and my front wheel rolled off the right side of the seesaw.

This, as you may expect, was not a desirable situation.

From a height of probably five feet, I fell over the front of my bike. Ordinarily, I’d put my hands out to catch my fall, but this time I didn’t. I pulled my arms in toward my chest, and landed in a nice forward roll, finishing in a sitting position, astounded that I was not hurt even a tiny bit. I sat for a moment, stunned at my good fortune.

Bob shouted, as I sat there, dropped his bike, and ran over. “Are you OK?” he asked.

I admitted that to my amazement, I was just fine.

Bob then started laughing, recounting how the fall looked from his perspective, describing the contributing factors to my crash, and how surprised he was that I hadn’t snapped a wrist on that fall.

It was at this moment that I realized the reason I really like riding with Bob. He knows proper crash etiquette.


And Then There’s Brad

Bob’s behavior stands in marked contrast to how another friend of mine reacted after I crashed. Let’s just call him “Brad” (because his name is in fact actually Brad). He and I were riding a goat trail coming down from Jacob’s Ladder, which is part of the Hog’s Hollow network. I had never ridden this descent before, and so was surprised when it suddenly terminated with a three foot dropoff onto a dirt road. I flipped over my handlebars and landed on my back. It hurt. A lot.

Brad, naturally, took this opportunity to immediately begin laughing his head off. Without asking if I was OK. Without saying, “Sorry I didn’t warn you about how this trail ends.” Without any clue that several years later, I’d be tearing him a new one in the most public way I could imagine.


Proper Crash Etiquette

So, let this be a lesson to you. If you don’t follow the rules of Crash Etiquette, you may someday reap the consequences (Have I mentioned that this is the same Brad who bailed on his last lap when we were racing the 24 Hours of Moab as a 2-person team, and then didn’t even stick around to see me finish when I did his lap for him? Yep, he just packed up his gear and went home while I was on the course.).

Luckily, the rules of Crash Etiquette are quite simple. Most anyone can follow this simple five-step procedure:

  1. At the moment of impact, express astonishment and dismay.  The best possible noise you can make when another person crashes is the noise you imagine yourself making if you were to have that selfsame crash. But an audible gasp or “Whoah!” will do fine.
  2. Immediately check to see if the crasher is OK. Saying “Are you OK?” is the correct way to do this. If a pool of blood or a compound fracture is evident, you should still ask the question.
  3. Recount the incident. While the crasher is collecting his or her wits, describe the accident, in as dramatic fashion as you possibly can. This will help the crasher feel like the pain is worth it. Anything for a good story.
  4. Once the crasher stands up, you are allowed to laugh. But not before then. And if the crasher is crying, you are not allowed to laugh. However, you are allowed to pretend the crasher is not crying, awkwardly avoiding looking at the crasher’s face.
  5. Speculate. Spend a few minutes describing the root causes for the crash. Slippery rock, mossy root, off-camber trail, and scree are all excellent reasons.

Most of you will learn this procedure quickly and will have no trouble with this important process.

Brad, you may want to print it and tape it to your bike.


PS: Obviously I’m not writing as regularly as I usually do. This doesn’t mean I’m getting ready to abandon this blog. I’m just really busy trying to get my house ready to sell, wrapping up my old job, getting ready for my new job, and so forth. I’ll write as often as I can, and hope to get back to a regular schedule really really soon now.


  1. Comment by Unknown | 03.14.2006 | 10:19 pm

    You mean "that’ gonna leave a mark", or smooth move Ex-Lax", aren’t a good first response ? In my circle,"toughen up, buttercup " is the norm. But only if there’s no blood.

  2. Comment by Unknown | 03.14.2006 | 10:30 pm

    "Hey, was your femur bent like that before you wrecked?"

  3. Comment by Robert | 03.14.2006 | 10:43 pm

    There are some situations when it’s appropriate to make fun right away — if someone has been boasting too much and needs to be brought down a notch, if someone obviously isn’t hurt but did something bizarre, or if someone is named "Brad."

  4. Comment by Unknown | 03.14.2006 | 10:48 pm

    how could you write this, and not mention that after your "best crash ever," a crash immortalized on your site and in fall moab posters plastered all around utah, i, the one you call churlish, the one you use as your personal example of mean, i was caught on camera, sprinting across the desert rock to your aid and rescue, while your "friends" rolled on the ground, laughing, gasping for air, snapping pictures!?
    you, you, you churl.

  5. Comment by Unknown | 03.14.2006 | 11:05 pm

    I’d do it again in a heart beat.  I only regret that you didn’t roll through that cactus in the trail

  6. Comment by Unknown | 03.14.2006 | 11:08 pm

    I present exhibit A in dug’s defense:
    You’ve called the picture of you mid-crash ‘my favorite picture of me’ well the above is my favorite picture of you!
    I don’t know why, but it really cracks me up!  I did wait to make sure you were OK before I laughed though.

  7. Comment by Andrew | 03.14.2006 | 11:17 pm

    Dear Loquatious Lecturer of Lipomatous Lunacy,
    Is it proper to quote movies in this situation, such as "I don’t care what universe that’s from, that’s gotta hurt!" (Star Wars) or "Damn, that sounded painful!" (Beverly Hills Cop)?

  8. Comment by Teresa | 03.15.2006 | 1:37 am

    From a T-shirt I saw:
    It’s only funny until someone get’s hurt
    then it’s hilarious
    Of course I have better manners than that.

  9. Comment by Big Guy on a Bicycle | 03.15.2006 | 2:15 am

    Of course you could do what I do and make sure that nobody else actually sees you crash, either by following everyone else or being way off the front.  Then you can make up your own tale of woe/glory to suit your own purposes.

  10. Comment by BIg Mike In Oz | 03.15.2006 | 7:50 am

    Maybe that’s why I never got myself a mountain bike.  All the falling off and associated rules and regulations.
    Crashing on skinny tyres involves different etiquette because most crashes are at highish speeds on harder surfaces. 
    Step one:  call an ambulance. 
    Step two:  start picking body parts out of the seams in the racing surface.
    Step three:  show sympathy while trying not to get sprayed with blood.
    Step four:  arrange for the mangled wreckage to be transported to the home of the victim (some of them continue to cycle).
    Crash analysis in my genre of cycling is pretty short.  Either "someone laid down in front of me at 40mph" or "we locked handlebars and crashed" or shame-of-shames "I touched the wheel in front".

  11. Comment by Tim D | 03.15.2006 | 1:47 pm

    Hop from one foot to the other clapping your hands saying "Yay! Do it again. Do it again"

  12. Comment by Unknown | 03.15.2006 | 6:09 pm

    Wow Fatty,
    You’re a bigger man than me, still being on friendly terms with this Brad fella after 2 incidents which qualify as "I’m never riding with that a**-hat again" category! 
    Of course, maybe this is your ploy, to eventually one day seek revenge by leaving him out in the middle of nowhere after he suffers a catastrophic mechanical ("Whaddya mean both pedal spindles snapped?", "Whoa, I’ve never seen a headtube separate from the frame like that before.", etc) during an epic 7 hour ride…   and you have the only map.

  13. Comment by Karen | 03.16.2006 | 2:33 pm

    Note to self: E-mail this post to BikeHubby.

    Your etiquette is much better than what happened when I was blasting down a really easy section. My front tire decided to land in a deep rut, which was well hidden beneath the dying vegetation, and slammed sideways. I was thrown right out of my pedals, onto my back, wind and whatever else I had in me knocked out. The pack stopped, upon hearing my wreck, and from a distance, I heard BikeHubby yelling "Jesus Christ! This is EXACTLY WHY I don’t want her to mountain bike. THIS IS WHY!" When he started to repeat his mantra, I heard one of the other riders say "Uh, do you think you might want to find out if she’s ok?" Bikehubby was thrown back into reality and ran to my side, but sheesh…..

  14. Comment by Jsun | 03.16.2006 | 4:45 pm

    Question about Rule #2 – "Asking are you okay?"
    While I agree with this rule, I have found that it does not always elicit a favorable response.  On a couple of occasions, some non-biking accidents included, the response was something similar no "no you idiot, I am not okay, I just fell and ______ (whacked, broke, severley concussed, etc)  my ______ (head, arm, hairline)"  So I wonder if you could provide me with another sympathetic response that might not sound innaproppriate.

  15. Comment by Unknown | 03.16.2006 | 5:38 pm

    I am a little disappointed.  dug missed and opportunity to berate someone over the "Hog’s Hollow" comment in your entry today.  He must be slipping.  Old fart.

  16. Comment by Shari | 03.20.2006 | 3:10 am

    I will take this to heart so if I actually ever ride on some nifty single track, I will be ready with my crash etiquette! :)

  17. Comment by brendan | 03.21.2006 | 5:13 am

    In the group I ride with, there is etiquette for the crasher too – you must stay exactly where you landed – no matter how uncomfortable – until the others have taken photos of you.  :-)


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