Top 5 Things to Think About While You’re About To Crash

02.9.2015 | 12:51 pm

Like you, I am a very busy person. Like you, my time is valuable and I have many responsibilities. I cannot afford to waste any time, and that is true even —nay, especially — of the time I spend on a bicycle.

This includes, naturally, the critical moment between when you lose control of your bike and when you hit the ground.

Think about it: in today’s busy world, there just aren’t as many opportunities as there used to be to be truly contemplative: to think deep thoughts, to make life decisions, to reflect and ponder.

But in that moment just before you turf it, you’ve got nothing else to do but think. It’s not a good time to send a text message or check email. You don’t have time for a conversation (at least, not one of any real depth). 

It’s just a good time for you to think. 

“But Fatty,” I hear you ask, “What should I think about?” 

And that’s an excellent question. Fortunately for you, I have compiled a list of excellent subjects worthy of your instant-before-crashing contemplation.

1. “I’m Pretty Sure My Wrist (or Collarbone, or Finger) is Plenty Strong Enought to Withstand the Impact of My Combined Force and Mass.” I wanted this to be my first item in this list because it is, to be honest, empirically my very favorite favorite thing to think right before I crash. 

I offer, as evidence of this, a photo of my two hands, taken exactly one minute ago:

Swollen hands

There are no tricks being used in this photo; my left hand genuinely is swollen to the size of a catcher’s mitt.

Why? Well, because a few days ago, when I was taking my brand new Scalpel out on my first ride with it ever, I hit a soft sandy spot in the apex of a hairpin turn in the trail. At approximately zero miles per hour, I tipped over to the left.

I took this opportunity — this slow-motion crash — to think to myself, “Well, the smart play right now would be to stick my hand out and catch all my weight and momentum with my pinky finger, which I’m sure won’t bend back unimaginably far and in a most painful manner.”

And that’s exactly what I did. Although, as it turns out, even I was surprised at how far back my left pinky finger is capable of bending, not to mention how incredibly painful it can be for the next several days.

2. “I am an Idiot.” Considering the fact that the contemplative time known as “I know I’m going to crash but have not yet hit the ground” period is remarkably brief, it’s astonishing that one has time enough to have multiple thoughts. 

“I am an idiot” is almost always one of them. If you have not ever before considered yourself an idiot just as you were about to crash, allow me to wholeheartedly recommend that you queue this thought up and have it ready for the next time you are about to punch the pavement. 

Why? Look around. Are there other people currently laying on the ground all around you, rolling and writhing and groaning in pain? 


That’s because they either didn’t fall when they rode by this exact place where you are currently falling, or they were smart enough to not go riding in some area where they were definitely going to crash. 

You, on the other hand, are crashing. Right here, right now. Which means you’re doing something painful to yourself that lots and lots and lots of people aren’t doing to themselves. Which, when you think about it, is kind of an idiot move.

Might as well acknowledge it.

3. “I Sure Hope Nobody / Everybody Sees This.” In general, this thought occupies my mind concurrently with the “I am an idiot” observation. In fact, I have this thought as I’m crashing much more often than the “Oh no, this is really going to hurt” thought that, in quieter moments, I expect is probably the more reasonable thought to express.

On the other hand, every once in a while you’ll have a spectacular crash, and you’ll furthermore be aware that this crash you are having is spectacular even before it starts hurting spectacularly badly.

The good news is, thanks to YouTube and the ubiquity of GoPros, there is in fact a pretty good chance that everyone in the world will see it.

The bad news is, it’s going to be someone else who uploads this incredible footage, and they’re going to monetize your agony.  

4. Consider the Absence of Pain. This is a good thought to have if you’re flying through the air for a nice, long time. Take a moment to reflect that right now, this instant, you don’t hurt. 

In fact, as you rush toward the ground, maybe reflect on how light—how right—you feel. Your legs feel good, your collarbone’s intact, you aren’t aware of any giant hematomas growing out of your forehead.

Take this moment to be grateful for all these things, because it’s going to be the last such moment for a good long while. 

5. “I Think I’ll Take a Nap When I Hit The Ground.” If you’ve ever been on a truly long, exhausting endurance ride, you know how tired you can be. When you get tired enough, you might experience a certain sense of relief as you approach the ground. “This doesn’t look so bad,” you might tell yourself. “In fact, that ground looks downright comfortable. I think I’ll stay there for just a little while. Just catch a few winks.”

As a bonus, you then have permission to just lay there after the crash until someone comes along to help and asks if you need anything. 

“Yes,” you can reply, “I’d like a pillow.”


  1. Comment by Tom in Albany | 02.9.2015 | 1:04 pm

    I recently went down so fast that the thought I was able to think was “”

    No time to think that time. But, I did reach out and grab my cell phone before it got run over…

  2. Comment by centurion | 02.9.2015 | 1:21 pm

    Yeah, I like slo-mo falls. Then I have time to pick out the softest rock to land on.

  3. Comment by MikeL | 02.9.2015 | 1:46 pm

    If it makes you feel better I did something similar yesterday. I survived a hard ride in miserable winds till I got back to the car. As I was unclipping a gust of wind caught me. Unfortunately I had unclipped on the upwind side first so you can see where this is going. In front of around 50 total strangers I did a slow motion descent. My profound thought was to note at least the ground was soft where I would impact. Experience is not a good teacher as this happens at least once per year.

  4. Comment by RL Julia | 02.9.2015 | 1:53 pm

    Is it broken? Or merely sprained?

  5. Comment by Mark in Bremerton | 02.9.2015 | 1:57 pm

    Well, now you can play baseball with your twins without a glove.

    Seriously, that looks painful, despite your humorous spin on it. X-rays negative?

    I had as much time as @Tom in Albany in my most painful crashes, and one I don’t even remember at all. I’ll keep your advice in mind, however, for my next one.


  6. Comment by berry | 02.9.2015 | 2:29 pm

    Two out of my last three crashes have only been experienced in flashbacks – in the one that I saw coming, my only thought was, “I did that wrong.”

  7. Comment by the Putti | 02.9.2015 | 2:58 pm

    Well, at least you have visual proof of your crash which you can use to exact some sympathy.

    I bounced off of a tree 2 weeks ago using my ribs to cushion the impact. All I got was a sore back (yeah, I can’t explain how hitting my ribs caused a sore back) that made getting out of a chair painful. Which led to the following exchange: “Hey old man, what’s wrong with you?” Followed by me explaining that I crashed, followed by “Why did you do that?”

    Maybe I just work with unsympathetic people….

  8. Comment by Clydesteve | 02.9.2015 | 3:08 pm

    I thought all of those things a few years back during a roller crash. Especially: “I am an Idiot.”

    I was fighting the front wheel back onto the center of the roller, after it drifted to the side. (I had nothing to do with the side drift.

    Falling off the rollers with the front wheel is usually a no-event, but wisely, I had tried to bunny hop back to the center of the roller, (which I had already done about 5 times in the last 50 roller miles), tempting the crash gods. This resulted in a two-wheels off the side-of-the-rollers, slam-dunk-of-the eye-socket-to-the-front-roller.

    I distinctly remember thinking: “You are an idiot!!!” several times over, as the front roller seemingly took an eternity to rush up to greet my face.

    I have a great picture of a pool of blood on the pavement, framed by the front roller and the roller rails, where I took a little nap.

  9. Comment by PNP | 02.9.2015 | 3:25 pm

    I only fall with an audience. It seems to be a rule of the universe. The last time was in a mall parking lot, of all places, right in front of a line of cars waiting at a light. Fortunately, all I did was bruise my knee pretty badly and my dignity permanently. I made a mental note at the time to leave my dignity at home after that.

  10. Comment by wharton_crew | 02.9.2015 | 3:50 pm

    @ ClydeSteve, I can sympathize, as I’m no stranger to roller attacks. In fact, I had an excellent imprint of my entire right shoulder and head in the wall thanks to such an attack.

    However, my best fall-related thought came after failing to clear a very steep, rocky/rutty hill in Rowlet Creek Preserve in Garland, Tx. It was amazing, because I went head-over-heels at least 4 times, and each time I had a different and memorable thought.

    Impending fall, after unclipping and putting left foot down on a very steep incline: “Wow, I didn’t think my ankle could roll 90 degrees like that – that will require medical attention I think”

    Rotation #1: “Damn, this is my first day on my new mountain bike – it’s gonna get a dent!”

    Rotation #2: “I haven’t seen any other riders today, I may regret this solitary riding style”

    Rotation #3: “That small creek seemed so fun when I was crossing it a minute ago – now it looks very rocky”

    Final rotation (after landing in said creek and slamming the back of my head against the creek bed): “Sitting in water is nice on a hot day, but it’s been about 3 minutes, so I should probably wake up now”

    The good news is that the pain didn’t hit until I actually tried to stand on that ankle. Boot came off 8 weeks later!

    Great insights, as usual, Fatty.

  11. Comment by Jim | 02.9.2015 | 4:19 pm

    A thought that I’ve had (more than once) during a crash has been, “Wow, I’m REALLY high up in the air” as I’m flying toward some solid object (tree, mail box, curbs etc).

  12. Comment by zeeeter | 02.9.2015 | 4:36 pm

    My most embarrassing and “damaging fall” was whilst trying to pull up my baggy MTB shorts while cornering on sand. The buggered labrum and torn biceps tendon stand as a reminder that bibs rule!

  13. Comment by Clydesteve | 02.9.2015 | 6:17 pm

    My only other memorable crash involved a motor vehicle hitting me while I was stopped at an intersection, and sending me flying towards a ditch after impact.

    I distinctly remember still being clipped in on my right foot as I flew through the air, holding my bike up in the air with one hand and one foot, and thinking: “I think I can keep my bike safe as I land.”


  14. Comment by J | 02.9.2015 | 6:30 pm

    As someone who witnessed a buddy fall on their side at a heroic speed of zero mph last night, I am getting a kick out of this post. Keep it up and hope the hand, and pride, improves well.

  15. Comment by Skye | 02.9.2015 | 6:40 pm

    My last (only) great crash was accompanied by the thought “That sand is amazing!” and “I wish I could see me now!”as I slo-mo endoed at the bottom of set of stairs onto a beach. It was my first experience with sand while biking and it never in 1000 years occurred to me that I wouldn’t just ride down those (very wide, shallow) stairs and roll gracefully onto the beach. I got a flat tire out of the deal, and a head full of sand, but by far and away it was funnier than it was damaging.

    Definitely my couple of instances where my bike “tripped” on a piece of ice are much more painful both mentally and physically, but in those several instances I’ve never made it past the “I hope nobody sees this” line of thinking.

  16. Comment by Rick S. | 02.9.2015 | 7:34 pm

    I ride my road bike far more than my MTB, and the MTB is a 29er. I have short stubby legs, and often forget where the ground is on the 29er. I step for what is not there and crash while going about 1/4 of a mile per hour, so “idiot” is used a lot. I landed on some nice soft leaf and stick filled stuff the last time. The blood wasn’t too bad on the rest of the ride but I spent an entire water bottle on the rash. The itchy, stinging, waterproof rash. “Idiot”.

  17. Comment by Turn The Damn Cranks | 02.10.2015 | 8:35 am

    Thought six — how do I protect my bike?

    Speaking of which, any damage to the Scalpel?

  18. Comment by Brian in VA | 02.10.2015 | 9:18 am

    I’ve been incredibly lucky with fewer true falls than hiccups. My favorite is to put a foot down at a stop light and have my foot shoot out from under me so that I can sit down quickly with the bike attempting to trap my legs in it’s frame. It’s a beautiful thing to watch!

    My thought is, “I’ve forgotten to put my foot down underneath my weight again, haven’t I?”

  19. Comment by Bonnie M. | 02.10.2015 | 9:40 am

    This past weekend I had the pleasure of direct analysis regarding the differences in crashing on dry ground verses crashing on ice. Very interesting and worth a write up…
    Heal up!

  20. Comment by rb | 02.10.2015 | 9:51 am

    This was such a timely post. Just yesterday I managed to find some time to explore trails. So there I am, miles from the parking lot. By myself, riding pretty fast. I was looking up at the beautiful blue Arizona sky…

    Then I was flying. What a great feeling! I thought “man…I like this flying thing!”

    In all to short a time, the trailgods reminded me I am not a bird, and indeed, rocks are hard. I would take a picture of my swollen and discolored areas that impacted the rocks, but this is a family blog.

    I am sure you will be relieved to know i was spared a purple snipe due to my massive quads and large gut-area.

  21. Comment by esteefatty | 02.10.2015 | 10:09 am

    Last crash was on the way to work, riding my Araya road bike. Front tire hit a eucalyptus seed pod. As I spun out of control I remember thinking “but these are my brand new jeans”. Jeans survived intact but chin required stitches.

    I’ve had a similar thought on the way down: “No, not my Rapha shorts!”

    (Yes, I have a couple pair of Rapha shorts. They are exquisite.)

    - FC

  22. Comment by Fat Cathy | 02.10.2015 | 10:25 am

    Number 4 is dead on. Most of my spectacular crashes have involved flying through the air for what seems like an eternity. My chief thought is usually “hitting this hard surface at 30 mph is really gonna hurt”. I’m not sure if it is a good thing or not that I mostly don’t remember the actual impact.

  23. Comment by Paul W | 02.10.2015 | 10:44 am

    Most of my current riding is the daily commute. Richmond Park (UK) could be a LOT worse, but I do often wish I lived near Fatty. Then he posts pics of his latest injury, and I’m content with lot once more.

  24. Comment by | 02.10.2015 | 12:21 pm

    Oh dear GOD…take your ring off NOW…..

    By the time I took this photo (yesterday) the swelling was actually on its way down a bit. My ring never got to the point where I was in serious danger of not being able to remove it. But thanks for your concern! – FC

  25. Comment by Susie H | 02.10.2015 | 5:15 pm

    I, in fact, have thought #5. It just felt good to lay there.

  26. Comment by BamaJim | 02.10.2015 | 7:38 pm

    One of the few memories I have of one particular road crash is flying through the air thinking “this is not going to end well”.

  27. Comment by Steve | 02.11.2015 | 7:13 am

    Great post, Fatty. Just so true.

    I’ve had two very contrasting crashes recently…

    The first one I had enough time to start these thought processes before I’d even left the bike. I saw where my front wheel was inexorably headed, could foresee the unavoidable consequences, managed to get a good boost off the pedals to make sure the bike and I didn’t have a subsequent reunion, picked a nice place to land and timed dipping my shoulder and rolling out the impact. Probably my favourite crash ever.

    The other one, my thoughts were… “This is a great trail. I am a riding God. Why is face in the soil? Where has my bike gone? Ow.” Seriously, not even a nanosecond between riding and already-crashed.

  28. Comment by Mefly | 02.11.2015 | 7:42 am

    Good thing you are not a hand model

  29. Comment by Dug | 02.11.2015 | 1:48 pm

    I’ve only fallen twice in 20 years. Luckily both were caught on camera (luckily I have a professional photographer who follows me 24 hours a day).

    20 years ago:


    Last year:


    Oddly, during both crashes the only thing going through my mind was “Hey, is that John Candy?”

  30. Comment by BamaJim | 02.11.2015 | 8:18 pm

    You need a new topic. I just had a fall in front of a crowded bus stop while running. Put me down for #2 and #3.

  31. Comment by Bernie | 02.12.2015 | 12:10 pm

    Did the Scalpel get scratched??

  32. Comment by Biking Navigator | 02.16.2015 | 11:25 pm

    I definitely know the pain of a huge fall – I was hit by a car driving not a bike but a moped. My theory is – what doesn’t kill you – definitely makes you stronger!

  33. Comment by Spencer | 02.17.2015 | 9:07 am

    23 years ago at the mature age of 17, I read a masterful article about a cornering technique that was going to revolutionize my descents. After reading the article, I was changed. I knew I could now descend without using my brakes. The start of the descent was incredible. The speed was exhilarating. The cornering was the best it had ever been until … The flight was lovely. My mind was blank despite the prolonged air time. The lava rock at the side of the trail provided a delightful respite until I got to the ER. Stitches, bloody pee, and a lot of purple.

    4 kids later still love to ride fast.


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