If you ride regularly, the chances are at some point either you or one of your riding companions will have a spill. It’s most likely to be something small, like skidding out on a corner on your road bike or washing out on a trail on your mountain bike. Sometimes, however, it can be a bit more serious.
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Cycling is a fundamentally safe activity, but no activity is completely without risk. I’ve managed to sprain my ankle walking down a flat pavement, for example, so the occasional incident isn’t unlikely, especially when mountain biking.
The question is, would you know what to do to if something did happen?
I learned first aid from about the age of 14 as a cadet in the St John Ambulance, a first aid charity in the UK which offers training and delivers first aid cover at various events across the country — everything from local rugby matches and village fetes to stadium concerts.
The staff at BikeRadar have all had first aid training. As well as riding alone, we’re often out together for photo shoots and product testing, and we need to be able to look out for each other.
It’s a very useful skill to have, and wouldn’t you want to know how to help friends, family or a stranger if they injured themselves?
I’ve had the experience of encountering the aftermath of an accident. There’s the initial cold fear, raised heartbeat and rising panic. Your head is full of questions and worry: what’s happened? Is someone hurt? Is it bad? What do I do? Can I get help? It’s a rush of intense thoughts, emotions and animal instinct, and it’s hard to manage — along with a feeling of helplessness and panic if you don’t know what to do.
First aid training helps you manage this. It gives you a clear set of actions that focus the mind and cut through the panic to help you take control of the situation and help the individuals involved, without endangering yourself and ensuring that help comes quickly for those who need it.
I'm not going to go through first aid on here — the best advice comes from the experts and they're better placed than I give you the techniques and answer your questions — but having learned it myself, and had the need to use it several times, I can tell you that you'll always be glad you took the time to get the knowledge.
Get some training
If you want to learn first aid, there are plenty of organisations out there who provide training.
Your workplace may offer training, so it’s worth asking, and there are many companies who specialise in outdoor and activity specific first aid, which will help you evaluate what to do in circumstances where there may not be help quickly available.
St John Ambulance even offer a specific first aid for cyclists app!
Carry the right kit
If you’re out on a road ride or just commuting to work, the chances are you’ll be in an area where getting medical attention will be fairly quick and easy. So you may not need to bring a first aid kit, particularly if you’ve only got small pockets to store things in.
Trail riders with a rucksack have a bit more space to play with, and are also more likely to find themselves away from immediate help, so a basic first aid kit is a good idea.
If you’re heading out for a bigger ride, either out in the mountains or touring, a good first aid kit may be worth its weight in gold. Pack some dressings, a triangular bandage, gauze bandage, antiseptic wipes, micropore tape, protective gloves and an emergency blanket which is good for keeping the casualty warm while you’re waiting for help.
Seal it in a waterproof bag or a ziplock sandwich bag to keep it all dry.
Not strictly for first aid, tick removal tweezers or a tick removal card is a very good idea if you’re riding somewhere where you might pick one up.
There are plenty of pre-assembled first aid kits out there, some of which come in a compact waterproof bag or pouch so they can be tucked in the bottom of your bag or pocket until you need it, come rain or shine. Ortlieb and Lifesystems both have suitable ones.
Why you should bother
The thing is, first aid is simple enough to learn and while the chances are you’ll spend most of your first aid career washing gravel out of a graze and adding a dressing, being able to help if something more serious comes up will mean a shorter recovery time and better comfort for the injured person in the first instance and could quite possibly be a life saver at the other extreme.
The training doesn’t just give you the skills to help someone directly, it also gives you knowledge about how to handle a situation and the confidence to do it efficiently.
Luckily, bar the occasional cut, scrape or sprain, I haven’t had to use my training in a cycling context, and 'touch wood' it’ll stay that way.
But if the occasion ever arises, I’ll be relieved to know that I’d be able to do something to help, and that should something happen to me my colleagues would be able to do the same.
That’s reassuring knowledge and it means I can focus my attention on having fun on my bike, which is the way things should be.