You’re on a ride with friends when the unthinkable happens. A cyclist goes down and you have to get help. What would you do? This happened to me last Saturday. If you recall, it was a windy day, 20-30+ mph winds out of the west-northwest. It was sunny but with a cold start, and I’d driven to Blair for the Omaha Jackrabbit. This year instead of 120 miles of gravel and dirt, it was a metric century fun ride, not competitive. Some of the muddy minimum maintenance roads made me re-examine what my definition of fun is, but it was beautiful country and I had great company.
The group sorted itself out early based on pace and stops to take photos. Luckily, the headwinds were mostly on the first half of the route. Around mile 14 I joined up with a new rider who said he was a recent transplant to Nebraska from Maine, and that he found the gravel to be looser and hills to be more than he expected here (Nebraska’s flat, right?). We chatted only a little and I moved ahead. A minute or so later I expected him to be right behind me, and when he wasn’t, I turned to look back and saw him just over the crest of the last hill, down and writhing in pain as he tried to make it to the side of the road crawling. It turns out he’d been yelling to me and the wind was such that I didn’t hear anything. I sped back and got his bike off the road, fearing a car or truck could pop over the hill at any moment. Then I got the rest of the miscellaneous items that had spilled from his bike off of the road while we tried to take stock of his injuries. His helmet was cracked, he couldn’t move his right arm or shoulder, but the only blood was from his thumb. His kit was a little ripped up. Luckily, the group I had been riding with earlier popped over the hill and one of them had a phone with service, as mine did not, I’m sorry to say. That cyclist was able to reach 911 and we heard the volunteer fire department siren go off in nearby Herman, NE to call in some local responders. Our small group did what we could to try to make the injured rider more comfortable and correctly diagnosed a broken collarbone, the most common cycling injury. I know a couple of local racers who have suffered broken collarbones just in the past several years. Due to his broken bone and helmet, which meant a possible head injury, they decided to life-flight him out rather than subject him to a long, bumpy ambulance ride.
We tried to keep him warm in those high winds and low temperatures, and from going into shock. We found a way to get his bike back most of the way to his home, and made sure everything else stayed with him. The somewhat largish bag on his front rack may have been part of the reason the wind caught him like it did, it could have created more resistance relative to bike weight. He said he saw the wind pushing me right before it got him, but luckily I did not have the same fate.
I know mountain bikers who are well versed in first aid, (because it’s mountain biking and it’s easier to get hurt) but what about the rest of you? Commuters and road riders are more likely to have bad interactions with cars, but gravel riders have loose gravel to deal with. When that gust of wind hit, it caught him heading downhill at 35mph he said, with just enough loose gravel to land him sideways on his shoulder. Here is a little guidance as to riding in the wind: https://www.bicycling.com/training/g20015453/how-to-ride-when-its-windy/.
It did put the rest of the day in perspective for us. I didn’t ride as hard in that wind as I might have to make it back earlier to escort the Market to Market runners, though I did make it back just in time. Maybe we enjoyed our injury free status just a little more. The minimum maintenance roads, while always a favorite, where only about half rideable due to the recent rains, and there was a good deal of hiking bikes rather than riding them on those stretches. Still, it was a good day on the bike, except for our New Englander. He did want to emphasize that in his short time here, he’s been nothing short of impressed with the character of the local cyclists. It was probably also a reminder that we would all be well served to take some first aid classes.