If you ride singletrack, crashing your bike is a fact of life. Kind of like eating, it has to happen. But when you’re done and dusted there are a few things to look for before riding again.
Please note that we are advocates of safe riding. So ALWAYS wear your helmet, gloves, tear-resistant clothing, and bike-specific shoes. And if the trail is unfamiliar or a bit rowdier than you’re used to, go ahead and don those knee and elbow pads for additional protection.
First Things First
So it happened, you crashed. You are now “bucket-side down” (a funny euphemism for crashing – ideally you would always be “rubber-side down”). Take a moment to collect yourself and make sure you aren’t seriously injured. Scrapes and bruises are common but be sure there isn’t anything more serious. If there is, seek medical attention immediately. But what if you are ok? You should check out your bike thoroughly to make sure it is safe to continue riding on.
The best place to start is your wheels. Pick up the bike and give your wheels the ol’ spin test. If they spin without your tires contacting your frame, you’re in a good spot. Look closely at your axles and make sure your wheels are seated properly in the frame and fork. Your wheel shouldn’t have any significant wobbles where the tire is contacting the frame. If it does, check for loose and broken spokes. Do what you can to either remove them completely or wrap them around another spoke. Although it is possible to ride with a couple broken spokes, they should be replaced ASAP for safety and performance.
This is a great time to look at your brakes as well. If you spin your wheels and hear the distinctive “schink, schink, schink” of a rotor contacting pads, try and assess if it is too significant to ride on. If the brake rub is impeding the spin of the wheel, you will have to make an adjustment. These can be made on the trail but be aware that it is easier to make your brakes worse than better if you’re not familiar with how these systems work. Ask a friend or walk it out if need be to avoid further damage.
Cockpit and Saddle
So your wheels spin correctly and your brakes only have a tiny bit of rub. Hooray! Now turn your attention to your handlebars and saddle. Obviously these components should be straight like they were before you crashed. Your stem and bars should line up properly with your front wheel and fork.
Your brake and shifter levers should be at an even position. A good mechanic will actually leave these controls a hair loose to allow them to rotate around the bar instead of breaking off in the event of a crash. Use your multi-tool to loosen and properly torque your brake and shifter levers in the right position. These are easy adjustments to make, and every rider should know how to do it. If you don’t, now is the time. Stop by your local bike shop and let the mechanics there teach you.
Your saddle too should be straight. A crash though will often knock it out of alignment. Use your multi-tool again to loosen the seat clamp and eye up your saddle with your top tube. Make it straight, check your height, and then tighten the clamp down. If you have a dropper post, engage it and cycle it up and down a few times, all the while looking for damage or decreased performance. If your dropper post doesn’t work, don’t try and fix it. Dropper posts are very detailed components, and trying to do a trail-side fix usually won’t get them to work properly. Ride it out as is or walk, it will save you money and time in the long-term.
If the crash was severe, give your frame a thorough once-over. You’re looking for broken parts like derailleurs, pedals, and chain rings. And as tough and light as carbon fiber is, it can fail quite dramatically with enough force. Check your frame and components thoroughly over a few minutes to identify any issues. If you do see a crack or major dent, we would recommend not riding the bike as it can lead to more extreme failures and injury.
One last test I like to do is the Pick-Up & Drop. This may seem odd but literally pick up the whole bike a few inches and drop it, but don’t let it fall over. This is to listen for anything that could be out of place that you may have missed visually. If you hear a serious “kathunk” or “clang,” try and identify the issue.
But if the bike seems solid and quiet, give it a slow test ride and a few pedals. Test the brakes and shift a few gears. You’re listening and trying to feel for any more issues that you may have missed with your eyes. And once you feel comfortable that your steed is running properly, get back on and give ‘er.
A proper post-crash bike check should take five minutes. A well-versed rider can identify the various components that are easy to break and how to adjust them. It’s part of the sport. So practice in your garage and get to know your bike and how it functions. And if you have any questions, ask a seasoned mechanic to expand your knowledge base.