Learning to fall can save your life

In the movies even their jeans won't break

The above picture is from a month back and the third time I was forced to exit my bike while it was moving fell in a week and actually the first time in over a decade that I had drawn blood when falling. The previous time included a steep hill, inline skates and a surprising patch of gravel, but the last time I fell with a bike was in my teens.

That week however did remind me the value of falling properly, something I picked up very early in my alpine skiing habit – if you don’t know how to fall proper, you might die instead of just maiming yourself. I had a female colleague who took a tumble on her bike (don’t know what really happened) and she nearly quit biking – as they say with riding, you have to get back on the horse once the numbness recedes.

Here’s my top 3 on saving your life while biking

1. Don’t be afraid of falling

The biggest problem and probably the biggest killer as well is being afraid. Sure, fear is something that has kept our species alive, but when you’re scared you don’t act rationally. You get tense, you hold on to your handles for your dear life and you stiffen your body for the inevitable demise of your earthly existence. Instead of saving you, this is very, very bad. When you’re relaxed, you have more control of the situation, you can react faster and most of all – should you fall, you’ll be able to let go of your bike and focus on protecting the really important bits – your head and spine.

The other thing is adjusting your bike right, the late Sheldon Brown has written a great collection of articles on setting up your bike – don’t trust any charts or rules of thumb, everyone is and always will be different. The better suited your bike is for you, the less energy you have to use, the more relaxed your muscles are and this results in you being more aware and thus safer.

Falling will always hurt, at least a bit – but being relaxed and learning to fall can save your life. I’m not actually sure if you can train to fall as you can with skiing, but the chances of you falling are still rather small so take it in stride.

2. Wear a helmet

As I mentioned earlier, the two important bits in your body are your head and the gray noodle within, and the long collection of vertebrae hanging from that neuron filled brain, the spine. Wearing a helmet helps save the other part of the equation while you can use your arms to protect your neck and spine and helping with whiplash. Also, get a proper helmet, saving 10 euros on something as important as head protection is foolish.

3. Anticipate aka. expect the unexpected

Here’s the biggest thing: Don’t fall.

It sounds simple, but creating a situation where you shouldn’t have to fall is the optimal solution. This is easily done by anticipating what’s going on around you. Let other people know you’re coming from behind them, use your hands to signal changes in your driving path, break early and evaluate what’s going on around you. Kids on skates? Slow down. People who have larger dogs than themselves? Slow down. Old people in cars? Slow down. Parking lots? Slow down. Simply put, slowing down and assessing the situation allows you to control the situation better and when you’re in control, you shouldn’t get in to the situation where you have to fall.

What happened with me you ask? Example two, a petite woman on a quite small forest road had a dog/giraffe hybrid who decided to check out the cool smell on the other side of the road. The woman had no chance in holding the dog from doing whatever the hell it wanted and I had to do the action-movie-slide-under-the-petrol-truck-with-a-motor-bike-while-pursuing-the-bad-guys-in-a-ferrari stunt. Except I didn’t do the pick up after sliding under the leash of the lady and canine monster.

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By Markus Sandelin

Markus is a bike commuter gadget freak who is learning the ropes of the bike world, you can find him all around the web - but you can start with his twitter at @banton.