On December 1, 2011, I got doored (ugh). It was my first really scary bike crash and I was lucky to walk away uninjured. The car door slammed into my frame, knocking me into traffic. Fortunately no cars were coming and my head took a solid bonk, but my helmet protected me from injury. While I don’t wish getting doored on anyone, I’m oddly grateful that it happened because it taught me so much.
Getting doored helped call my attention to three important aspects of riding safely.
- Lane Positioning Matters: Ride too close to cars and you’ll get doored. Ride to far into traffic and you’ll get rear-ended and/or make cars angry. Make the best trade-off you can on every street.
- No Distance is Too Short for Dome Protection: Wear a helmet.
- Palms Are for Protecting: Skidding across pavement on bare hands sucks. Wear gloves.
But the real learning was in what to do after you crash.
I didn’t do much wrong before I got doored; I was in a bike lane, with lights and a helmet, riding quite slowly. But I did everything wrong post crash. I got up too fast, waved away witnesses, tried to ride home and didn’t get the driver’s contact info.* Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes and handle yourself more appropriately post crash.
What to do when you crash:
- Take a Seat: You may think you’re OK, but you may be in shock. Take a seat on the curb until you’re sure you can stand. Get your breathing under control and if/when you’re ready, check yourself out to see how the ‘ol body feels. Call for help if you need it.
- Exchange Contact Information: Body and bike injuries may not be immediately obvious. Protect yourself from paying out of pocket for damage you can and cannot see. Snapping a photo of relevant license plates is not a bad idea either (I actually did this).
- Connect with a Witness: Even if you think you’re OK, collect contact info from a witnesses or two in case you need it in the future.
- Drink Water, Not Wine: If you bonked your head, you may have a concussion. But concussions can take days to appear and drinking with a concussion is a bad idea. I initially refused water – “I’m not thirsty, thanks” – not realizing that I was sweating and totally dehydrated despite the cold weather. A few hours later, I drank a glass of wine, thinking it would calm me down. And it did. But later that night I regretted the indulgence when I had a pounding headache and severe nausea.
- Don’t Ride Home: It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be either calm or alert after a crash. Call a friend, take a taxi, but don’t ride home.
It’s also a good idea to:
- Be Reasonable: Whatever went down in the crash was mostly likely an accident. Being angry won’t make things right and it will wear you out. Chill out and try to get out of the situation before getting emotional makes it worse. I lucked out in that the driver who doored me was courteous and genuinely concerned, but I don’t think it would have helped if I’d screamed at them.
- Take a Break: Consider taking a day or two off before you ride again. It will let you body heal, your mind clear and the drama of “I’ll never ride again!” fade. In my case, two days of public transit sent me directly to a bike shop.
Crashing isn’t fun, particularly if you or someone else is seriously injured. Hopefully the tips above can help your or someone else work through a crash as reasonably and pain-free as possible.
*After dragging my bike into a miraculously convenient bike shop across the street from the crash site, I learned that my Bianchi frame was bent into oblivion. I wasn’t safe to ride home or ever again. But in my post-crash “leave me alone” state, I’d failed to collect the driver’s information. Not smart. Luckily the driver had mentioned they were going to a bar in the neighborhood – horrified by the incident, they’d offered to buy me a drink – so I went bar-to-bar in the neighborhood until I found them (#3 hit the spot). I can only imagine how they felt when they saw me appear mid-way through a cheese plate and giant glass of red.