Crash Etiquette for Complete Idiots

03.10.2010 | 5:56 am

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.


  1. Comment by Den | 03.10.2010 | 7:50 am

    Priceless! You are spot on with this one! I loved this post when you posted it originally and I still love it.


  2. Comment by dc | 03.10.2010 | 8:15 am

    Do the rules apply if your riding partner is Nelson Muntz?

  3. Comment by Jeff | 03.10.2010 | 8:39 am

    “Anything for a good story.”

    So, so true. I’ve actually been disappointed when I’ve avoided a crash (or other unfortunate incident) because I was so looking forward to telling the story.

  4. Comment by SuomiTri | 03.10.2010 | 8:53 am

    Ouch. Brad gets lambasted twice with the re-posting.

  5. Comment by Greg @ Greg Rides Trails | 03.10.2010 | 8:54 am

    I have learned from personal experience (on the crashing end) that this is most assuredly the proper way to conduct yourself. Anything else is cruel and unusual punishment.

    But if it’s a good story later, then it is so worth it!

  6. Comment by Rocketscientist | 03.10.2010 | 9:03 am

    Brad must have some other very redeeming qualities for you to put up with that. It’s nothing short of betrayal to abandon you at Moab.

  7. Comment by Jim | 03.10.2010 | 9:40 am

    Wow. You got that ettiquette thing totally backwards Fatty. Here’s my routine:

    1) Memorialize it – take a picture of the crash scene if possible. If you’re really quick, whip out the camera when you see the crash is happening, and get a short video, with sound. “Hararrrrrrrumppphhh…. aaaaaaaaaggggghhh!” sounds *so* impressive on YouTube.

    2) Lighten the mood – laugh at your friend’s suffering. He may not appreciate it but the rest of the group will appreciate you breaking the tension.

    3) First Aid – determine if your friend is seriously injured by poking any bleeding spots or strange lumps under the skin, and asking, “does that hurt?” Your friend will reply with non-verbal cues, like crying or a punch in the mouth if something is seriously wrong. This is important information to know.

    4) Treat your friend with compassion. If you’ve got a partially eaten Clif bar you could share, or a Gu packet that isn’t entirely empty, share it. Give him a hearty slap on the back (watch out for that broken collarbone!) to reassure him.

    5) Get back on the horse. The best remedy after a crash is getting back on the bike. So tell your friend to hurry up, the group’s got to get moving. Then start to mount up. Don’t actually do it, but threaten to do it, because when a shocky, post-crash buddy starts to panic and remount his bike with a green stick fracture, his fumbling and pratfalls will lighten the group’s mood, which will be a little down after seeing the bones protruding from the crasher’s ankle or wrist.

    5) Once you’re moving on the bike again… it’s hammertime! A good burst of adrenaline and lactic acid will clear your buddy’s head, and get him right back in the game. This is no time to be soft – if you slow down for him, you’re only encouraging him to feel self-pity. This will slow his recovery, and you wouldn’t want that because you care about your friends – so show it, and hammer that next 10 minute climb.

  8. Comment by TimD | 03.10.2010 | 10:27 am

    It is also acceptable once you’ve got the injured party to A&E, to get the hospital staff to pose for photo’s with your stricken friend. The more stitches, bandages, slings, crutches etc, the funnier the picture.

  9. Comment by bmichaelcycle | 03.10.2010 | 10:36 am

    Poor Brad. He obviously doesn’t play well with others.

  10. Comment by Paul H | 03.10.2010 | 11:09 am

    Brad can’t help himself, obviously incapable of any other response.

    I cut the end off my thumb when I was about 12, my buddy started laughing uncontrollably when he saw the blood spurting out, he couldn’t help himself either.

  11. Comment by Minh Nguyen | 03.10.2010 | 11:37 am

    I just realized that you really are selfish. How can you seriously go on a honeymoon and leave us all here to read old stuff?! So not cool! :mad:

    You better come back with some awesome pictures and story… or else! and they better be bike related too…!!! =)

  12. Comment by bradk | 03.10.2010 | 11:56 am

    I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, it’s just too bad you narrowly missed landing on that cactus when you crashed.

  13. Comment by Nick | 03.10.2010 | 12:36 pm

    The last comment by Brad makes him one of my favorite people in the world. When I used to go skiing with my Dad he wouldn’t let us get up from our falls until he had gotten to us and taken a picture. He, my brother, and I always say that you are wasting a good fall if no one sees it. There is nothing more discouraging than having a great fall and not having anyone see it so they can attest to the awesomeness of said fall in future conversations.

  14. Pingback by How long should a personal injury claim take? | 03.10.2010 | 1:15 pm

    [...] Fat Cyclist » Blog Archive » Crash Etiquette for Complete Idiots [...]

  15. Comment by MattC | 03.10.2010 | 1:29 pm

    You see, I think Brad’s reaction was spot on. The reaction of the person observing the crash should be commensurate with your aquaintance with said person. Only a true friend can automaticly bust a gut when you crash, before even finding out if you are ok or not. If you are riding w/ a complete stranger and THEY do that, someone’s gonna get their a$$ kicked (or shot…which is the main reason why you don’t bust a gut on a stranger…he might be packing). If you are riding w/ someone you merely ‘know’, they should act all concerned and THEN bust a gut once it’s determined you are ok.

    And Brad’s wishing you HAD landed on the cactus just reinforces the correctness of his reaction…only a true friend could wish that.

  16. Comment by Keylin1994 | 03.10.2010 | 3:49 pm

    You should post the cyclist formerly known as “Brad”’s cell phone number here.

  17. Comment by Bee | 03.10.2010 | 5:23 pm

    For true crash nobility, I would nominate the two riders who witnessed my own crash last summer. As I lay sprawled on the ground with broken bones, the two former strangers pulled my bike off the road and expressed awe at its survival. As we waited for the SAG wagon to rescue me, they regaled me stories of how they almost lost it at the same slippery spot. The idea that I was obviously sabatoged by evil gremlins was priceless therapy. And the beer at the inn (once I was out of the hospital) didn’t hurt either.

  18. Comment by Nic Grillo | 03.10.2010 | 6:04 pm

    I’ll bet Brad is also the kind of friend who engages the window lock in the car when he farts!

  19. Comment by Chey | 03.10.2010 | 11:34 pm

    I would love to see pictures of most priceless falls in “style”… Or those too proud to admit their face is full of dirt… I think chewing dirt is an honorable fashion!

  20. Comment by Smithers | 03.11.2010 | 8:18 am

    Hey Fatty,

    I have to admit…you are a little blog-intimidating (you know, funny…handsome…an all around great writer), so I have never commented before. However, I have a burning question that must be answered. What is proper etiquette when one crashes 10 feet from the finish line in a practice crit after he runs into the ONLY other cyclist with a 12 foot radius? And even more important…if you are “that guy,” what is the proper reaction to said crash?

    Here is the video from the crit I watched last weekend (so that you can fully analyze the situation):

    I am the one filming…and I went with the sympathetic “ooooohhhhh,” but after reading your post…I am doubting my reaction. Should I have done more? Should I have laughed? Does the fact that the guy was yelling the F word (repeatedly) change the proper response?

    These are burning questions that can only be answered by the Great Fatty.


  21. Comment by MattC | 03.11.2010 | 11:01 am

    Smithers…thanks for the link and your comment. I surely can’t answer for Fatty, but after watching the vid a few times, I can’t help but think that you gave the initial proper response. But then (after hearing him repeatedly shouting the ‘F’ word), It think that a good laugh is called for. He is obviously least OK enough to keep yelling the ‘F’ word…and being within crawling distance of the finish, makes it all the more hilarious. But I have been told that I lack scruples…so this is just my thoughts, which is worth exactly what you paid for it (zero).

  22. Comment by lglegl | 03.11.2010 | 12:47 pm

    I have to have my husband read this one. Case and point: When I was new to mountain biking, we went with friends to ride some trails. The ending was a long downhill on double track, so you could get significant speed. Hubby was ahead, with another person; I was following behind. I was flying along when my front wheel dropped into a hidden rut, twisting the wheel sideways and jerking the bars out of my hands. I hit the ground extremely hard and everyone slammed on their brakes because they heard me hit. I’m laying there, cannot stand up, when I hear my husband yell: THIS IS EXACTLY WHY I DID NOT WANT HER TO MOUNTAIN BIKE!! THIS IS THE EXACT REASON!! Is he rushing to help or check on me? No. Friend: “Um, don’t you think you should find out if she’s ok?” Husband: “Oh, yeah.”, as he dismounts. Nice. Maybe he is related to Brad?

  23. Comment by Angela | 03.12.2010 | 7:21 am

    You are hilarious! Best wishes to you and the Runner! I think she’s a lucky girl!

  24. Comment by Richard | 03.12.2010 | 4:09 pm

    It is unfortunate that it is difficult to punch people in the 5 minutes after you have broken your collar bone.

  25. Comment by ChuckH | 03.16.2010 | 9:16 am

    I watched a pack riding slickrock years ago and a kid crashed and his bike went down a small cliff. He was bleeding when we got to him and had some face problems. All his friends went straight to the bike to see if it was okay. They seemed much more worried about the new bike rather than their friend screaming, “I broke my face!”

  26. Comment by BellaCroix | 03.17.2010 | 3:26 pm

    5B: When determining the cause of the crash always remember it is NOT the fault of the rider (unless said rider decides to take the blame himself). Assuming the crasher has not taken the blame you should always find something else to blame – no matter how inplausible.

    This can be anything from noticing an imaginary wobble in the wheel that can no longer be replicated (“Musta fixed itself in the crash, might want to check that out when we get back home.”) to a tree root than can longer be found (“I saw that root go flying somewhere in that grass, you were flying!”).

    Aliens are not out of possible blame but, generally, should be avoided.

  27. Comment by tyson | 03.22.2010 | 9:41 pm

    And if a cop pulls up after the crash. It is always the fault of the motor vehicle

  28. Pingback by Report: 2010 Philly Livestrong Challenge – Team Fatty | shevdog`s Xlog | 08.23.2010 | 6:07 pm

    [...] Unfortunately there was a crash somewhere near the halfway mark of the 70 mile course, where this older gentleman took a turn too wide and landed in a ditch. At that point I implemented Fatty’s wisdom from his post “Crash Etiquette for Complete Idiots“. [...]


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