What to do in emergency (and how to avoid dangerous situations) during road and mountain biking

Introduction

I’ve made a serious mistake when I’ve ignored the orange wind alert for the Canton and still went out road biking. I’ve seen that there is an alert and that it will rain, however, I wanted to go for a quick one hour ride and didn’t check the details too much. The orange alert means: significant hazard: highest wind gusts in exposed locations: in the plains: 90-120 km/h. I should have understood and evaluated the risks before going out.

Good to know about wind and other weather alerts. If you live in Switzerland I highly recommend the MeteoSwiss phone app which will show alerts in your area. It did show me a notification of the wind alerts.

What happened?

After checking the weather, I’ve dressed up and started biking. The temperature was pleasant, around 4-5 Celsius degrees. I’ve used my Garmin device to plan a round trip, 19 km with 300 meters of elevation. After about 15-20 minutes I’ve changed my gloves to warmer and waterproof ones and added a scarf and a cap. Biking up was not an issue, but I’ve started feeling the wind more and more as there were less buildings and trees. No problem until I was around 65% done. Then I was more exposed to the wind and started to worry a bit. I was closer to the end than to the start, I’ve biked on. A few minutes later it started to rain (or snow) and after a few minutes it started raining heavily. Rain and heavy wind = no fun. I was still biking up a few minutes then finally reached the top and started to bike down. Now the challenging part started. Going down on a rainy road with a road bike with regular breaking pads (working with 30% efficiency in the rain) plus heavy wind is extremely challenging. The cold was not too bad but the wind, so I had to go carefully and slowly. If you never biked in heavy wind, imagine having to lean against the wind constantly but immediately adjust if the direction of the wind changes. Side wind is the most dangerous in these situations as it can simply make you fall which is pretty dangerous on a road which has cars. Front or back wind is either annoying or good but generally not very dangerous (of course depends on the speed). The last 15-20 minutes was a red alert situation. The rain was pouring a lot and due to the heavy wind I had to bike slowly and some rainy snow ended up in my eyes (I always wear protective glasses). I rather biked on the pedestrian path and I had to get off the bike as my right eye started to hurt so much, that I couldn’t bike anymore. I was keeping my eyes closed mostly walking in a blind way and opening them for a second to make sure I don’t leave the pedestrian path. Extremely unpleasant. I could get on the bike a few minutes later and I was focusing on surviving the next fifteen meters. Then the next fifteen meters. I’ve arrived home finally without falling, however, freezing a lot, especially my hands. This experience was a learning lesson. Never ignore the reports! Understand them and plan accordingly. I also start live tracking every time I go out and my girlfriend receives an e-mail, so she could check my position on the map any time. The problem is that GPS location can be lost, especially if you bike in a valley or forest. Be aware of this and use both GPS and GLONASS (+other) systems in risky situations (keep in mind the extra battery usage for using both).

Plan biking trips and always bring with you:

  • Proper clothing
  • Navigation
  • Phone (fully charged batteries / you could switch on low power mode!) to call for help if needed
  • Lights (charged batteries)
  • Food
  • Water
  • Tools (to change the inner tube, chain tool, small toolset)
  • Spare parts (inner tube, chainlink – it saved me a couple of times, adapter so that you can refill the tube at a gas station: this saved much time for as I’ve used it 5-7 times).

Plan

I’m biking now for about seven years. I always check the weather reports before going, especially in the winter. I’m checking the temperature and chance of rain and dress up or bring clothes accordingly. I always wear eye protection and a helmet. It is a weird feeling not to wear a helmet, so if I forget it when I go out the door, I’ll definitely realize within a minute that something is off and will go back. I always bring an ID with me, or at least my roadid, which is a bracelet showing my name, year of birth, no allergies and emergency contact. Proper planning is extremely important during cold times, especially in the winter. Planning is important in case of trying out new routes or biking in other countries. Biking with other people is always better, as they could help.

Emergency situations

Be prepared for an emergency. Even if you are prepared and plan properly you could get lost, the weather could change rapidly or an accident could happen because of others or you.

In case of accident

  • Don’t panic
  • Asses the situation
  • If you’re in a group, be aware of the bystander effect (individuals are less likely to offer help to a victim when other people are present). If everybody is just watching, be proactive and tell other people to help you directly or call for help
  • Define the coarse of action and carry out the steps
  • Focus on what’s important and ignore the rest
  • Don’t rush. The accident already happened, no need to make it worse

Red alert situations are situations where the chance of accidents or injury is high. I’ve experienced red alert situations probably a dozen of times, mostly due to cold temperatures and weather condition.

In case of red alert

  • Don’t panic
  • Switch off and ignore anything what is distracting
  • Asses the situation and plan the best (safest and quickest) way out of the danger
  • Focus on the next small step, it could be simply reaching the next lamp post.
  • Ask for help if needed: stop cars or call assist lines (112 for global or ambulance, police, fire service directly).
  • If you are in the forest trails try to get to a frequently used road as soon as possible

Cold and red alert situations will make your thinking slow down. Height (and less oxygen) could have the same effect. Be aware of this. The solution is to keep calm, focus on the next smallest step. Keep saying encouraging words. I’ve probably said fuck a hundred times during my snowy experience today.

Accident history / my experiences

1. Car

Once I was mountain biking in the city on the road and a car turned right in front of me. It was too late for me to stop so I’ve hit the front of the car. The lady who was at fault was upset at first but asked me multiple times if I’m doing okay. I didn’t drive too quickly luckily. I’ve hit my knee, checked my bike. It looked okay, so we went on.

Lessons learned

Ask for the details of the driver. Complications could happen. Note the license plate, make photos and call the police if needed. Be careful and watch if cars pass you but slow down as they might want to turn right and forget (or don’t see) that you are there. I double check now these situations. I’m also aware that in full sunshine it’s harder to see the turn signal / break lights. Assess situations accordingly. Keep your hands on your break in busy crossroads or while going down. This saved me crashing into cars at least twice. Both times the cars were not careful and made mistakes.

2. Hungary

Once while mountain biking in Hungary with a group of friends, one of us didn’t arrive at a crossing. We waited for a couple of minutes then one guy went back up and checked if anything happened. When the guys were back I’ve seen it immediately that the one who was late had his arms in a weird way. He broke something in the shoulder area. Luckily he didn’t hit the head or anything and he was conscious and without much pain because of the adrenaline. We called for help and they’ve sent a medical helicopter. It didn’t find us for 15 minutes, then we figured out that the GPS coordinates which we gave were not exactly good. Once we gave the new coordinates the guys found us quickly and luckily could land the helicopter in the forest crossing. We were lucky that they could land. The medical crew, two guys assessed the situation very calmly and fixed the arm of our friend and then they carried him to a hospital. My friend was calling another friend to come into the forest if possible, he did but still my friend had to ride his bike and hold the bike of our friend who was flying with the helicopter. Luckily we reached the car quickly where we mounted the extra bike. We could pick our friend up during our drive back in the hospital as they didn’t do a surgery yet, he had to do it a couple of days later in Budapest.

Lessons learned

Always check multiple phones or devices for GPS coordinates. In case of a similar situation check if you can get to a nearest road or crossing or ask for advice from the ambulance what is the best meeting point. Expect a lot of dust and leaves flying all over if a helicopter lands near you. Keep enough distance until they stop the rotor and protect your eyes.

3. Zugerberg

I was mountain biking with a friend of mine who didn’t have much experience. We took the cable railway to the top of Zugerberg. We were on a road and my friend went a bit ahead of me just when I wanted to warn that go slower rather than quicker. Too late, my friend went to quick and couldn’t turn properly so she fell. I reached her and jumped off my bike in a minute. There was blood coming from her head but she was conscious and told me to get a tissue, so I got out a tissue, she held it to her upper eye. Meanwhile, I carefully removed the helmet, and I was asking questions. She was mostly okay, some pain in legs and arms, the bleeding. A car came and it stopped immediately and I waved at the driver. I asked for some band-aid from the first aid kit but the driver found none, so I’ve simply asked him to take her to the top station of the cable railway and ask for help there as I’ve expected that they can assist there. We used some more tissues to get rid of the blood, and the drove off. I’ve collected the stuff from the ground, added everything on the bikes and started driving carefully back on my mountain bike while keeping the other bike with my left hand. It took me about 10-15 minutes to get to the station. I’ve found her there and someone put some bandage on her head. We discussed and decided to take the cable railway down and took Uber to the nearest hospital. Luckily we had bike locks, so we simply locked the bikes at the bottom station, although we could have asked people nearby to store the bikes until we can come back. She was taken care of in the hospital.

Lessons learned

There is no time before an accident. It happens in an instant and then you act. I can’t recall much of the details of the things happened immediately after or the details of the discussion with her and the driver. High focus is required to act. We were lucky that the driver didn’t drive too quickly that the first car stopped and helped us. Always inform others of dangerous situations before reaching the situation.

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Written by András Kapros
Author, Productivity evangelist, Investor | András is helping teams to achieve excellent customer satisfaction by transforming mindsets and optimizing processes. He has 15+ years of experience of managing teams in multi-cultural market-leading companies in Switzerland and Hungary. Others say that he is organized and has a good overview of the projects he is working on. He spent more than 3500 hours on studying personal development and productivity. He wrote and published his first self-help book from scratch in three months. Write an e-mail or book a productivity call with András