Trailside First Aid: When the Gnar Shreds You and Your Bike

Have you been watching the Tour de France? Are you seeing what those spandex-clad fellas are getting themselves into? Dozens of hungry looking guys with really bad tan lines tossing themselves onto the asphalt at 50 mph with naught but some stretchy fabric and garishly-colored styrofoam beanies to keep their insides inside. They accept the risks of pursuing their passion as we do. The main difference is that when we hit the trails (and sometimes when we hit the trails) we’re on our own. No support car, no camera crew, no guy dressed up like a devil capering on the sidelines.

So there you are: out on the dirt with a ration of hurt. It could be you or your bike, but as we all know when things heat up and the trails get rough, all sorts of carnage can occur. An errant stick kicks up into your spokes and you’ve suddenly got a very expensive single speed. You went into that turn a little too hot, lost grip on the front wheel, and performed a spontaneous verification of gravitational consistency (you fell your ass down). All the myriad things that can happen when you’re way out in the wilderness should get you thinking about a plan for getting yourself back out with a minimum of drama. So like the Boy Scouts say: “Be Prepared.”

PART 1: Fix the bike

Much of the following depends on your specific bike, so the more you know about how to work on your rig and the various parts, the better. I’ll simply list the tools, spares, and doodads I carry when I’m out on my 26″ hardtail.

A. 2 spare 26″ inner tubes (I never hesitate to carry this extra weight, since I’ve had more than one ride where I got two flats). If you’ve got tubeless I’d still recommend carrying a tube since, you know, sharp things are everywhere.

B. Patch kit. In addition to the two tubes I always carry a patch kit. The old school kind with glue, sandpaper and patches. Remember: if you don’t know how to use the patches they’re pretty useless on the side of the trail. Ask Sheldon Brown about it, you’ll get more info than you ever knew existed about tires, tubes, and wacky beards. If you’ve never heard of Sheldon Brown, well, shame on you.

C. Multi-tool. My latest favorite is a Topeak Hexus for a few reasons: it has a Torx head for disc rotor bolts, it has a chain breaker, since getting rad sometimes gets chains busted, and it also has a little curve of wire attached to the chain tool that blew my mind. The wire holds the two ends of a broken chain together so you can use the chain tool to rejoin the ends. Huzzah!

D. Tire levers. The Topeak Hexus is doubly sweet since it incorporates tire levers into the body of the tool.

E. Zip ties. Or if you’re from north of the border, Zap straps. That one always cracks me up, eh?

F. Master link. Chainpocalypse? No problemo, just use your chain tool to pop out the bad link and click it back together with this handy little fella. Remember to get the corresponding speed correct; 9 speed link for a 9 speed chain, 10 speed link if you’re one of those fancy rich dudes.

G. 2 hex bolts for clipless pedal cleats if you ride them. Seriously, you’ll never need these until you don’t have them. And they’re so small, just throw them in a dime bag tiny zip lock baggy for a rainy day.

H. Tire pump. There are tons on the market, find one you like and always have it. But remember this: no mini pump was designed for heavy use so don’t use it as your primary pump every time you’re heading out for a ride. I think it was BikeSnob who said that owning a quality floor pump is one of the things that separates actual cyclists from people who occasionally ride bikes. I concur.

The author’s best side. Photo credit to Brian McKinney

Part 2: Fix your broke ass

A. Bring plenty of water. A simple rinsing of the affected area is a great start to the healing process. Plus you’ll be hydrated and ready to get to the trailhead (or landing zone for the Medivac).

B. A clear head. One of the most valuable things I learned in survival training (yes, I actually did this) was “If you need to panic, get it out of the way, then get down to business.” Take stock of the situation and make the right decisions, don’t just spaz out because you’ve got a little boo boo.

C. Ride with a buddy. The probability of you and your bro breaking yourselves at the same time is menudo. He or she will be the one to ride out for help if your ride goes seriously pear shaped. Reward them with beer once you get out of the ICU. And not Bud either, the good stuff.

D. You’ll notice I’m not recommending you ride prepared with gauze, band-aids, antibacterial ointment and an air cast. Let’s face it; grams are important to those who want to tear it up. More important than a first aid kit in your Camelback, all you really need is common sense. Don’t get in over your head – let someone know where you’re riding and for how long, bring a friend, and don’t get (too) stupid.

None of these silly points of advice replace a sound mind and good judgement. It’s simply a mildly entertaining blog post with a few goofy internet pictures and some half baked ideas from a guy who barely avoids getting run down in traffic. Good luck out there and remember: chicks dig scars but you’ve got to stay alive to reap the benefits of their attention.