Basic First Aid for Cyclists


Bikewagon - BWCC

We feel like there should probably be a disclaimer on this article, so here it is: The tips in this article are gleaned from the experience and non-professional training of the author. This is not certified medical advice and should not be taken as such. Use at your own risk and don't hold Bikewagon responsible for any mistakes. Sound good? Okay, then. Read on. (It really is pretty good advice, after all.)

It is a sad reality that bicyclists get injured sometimes. While we can use certain techniques to keep ourselves as safe as possible, it is almost inevitable that a bike rider will, at some point in their life, experience a few small falls. A few of us will even experience more serious injuries.

This article will focus on some basic first aid techniques for minor wounds sustained during bicycling. This information is based on the first aid training provided in both front-country courses from the Red Cross and wilderness-orientated classes like Wilderness First Responder.

Carry a first-aid kit

First-aid kit

If you ride long distances or with kids, it is a good idea to keep a few small bandages in your bike bags. That way, you can patch up small cuts and road burn without major disruptions to your ride.

There are many pre-assembled first-aid kits available at bike and outdoor shops. Remember, you should know how to properly use anything you carry with you. Otherwise, it is simply a waste of space.

Good basic supplies to carry include Band-Aids and butterfly bandages, steri-strips, gauze, medical tape, moleskin (for blisters), and a few antiseptic towelettes for cleaning wounds. All these should be stored in a watertight container or ziplock bag. Tweezers may also come in handy for removing pebbles and other degree from a dirty wound.

When you see an accident

If you come upon the scene of a bike accident, stop for a moment and assess the scene. In just a few seconds, try to determine what happened. Did the cyclist simply fall off their bike? Were they struck by a car or other vehicle?

It is also important at this time to quickly assess the seriousness of any wounds from afar, especially if more than one person is hurt. If one person appears to be unconscious, while another seems to have only scrapes and cuts, you will likely want to check out the unconscious person first, to see if there is anything you can do to help in the short term. However, this article will not deal with the advanced first aid required to diagnose or stabilize serious injuries.

Most importantly, before you approach a scene, you want to evaluate any hazards and make sure that it is safe for you and other bystanders. In any crash, there may be broken glass, metal shards, hazardous or flammable substances, or actively moving traffic. Act to keep everyone safe -- there is no sense in causing more injuries that will have to be treated.

Call 911

Once you have a very basic sense of what has occurred and how many people are injured, direct another bystander to call 911 or do so yourself. Tell them all the information you have.

Of course, in the event of a minor, low-speed crash that did not result in head collisions or major injuries, a 911 call may not be necessary. A visit to the doctor or home treatment may be more appropriate for minor scrapes and cuts.

Receiving permission

If you are riding with friends and family, you can usually treat any wounds they may have without issues. However, you must receive permission to treat anyone's wounds before you can legally do so. Just ask before you dive in.

Cleaning and bandaging

Clean any small wounds or cuts by wiping off large debris and gravel, and using a squirt of water from your bottle to remove any particles that remain. Then apply a clean, sterile dressing. Pressure can be applied to help stop bleeding, although some minor bleeding is desired to clean the wound.

Once you get home, clean the wound more thoroughly by scrubbing with soap and water. It will sting, but it's better to endure a minute of discomfort than some sort of infection. Re-bandage the wound with a clean dressing and replace it as needed for the next several days.

More serious accidents

If you do come across a scene where a major injury has been sustained -- like a head injury, any injuries with a large amount of bleeding, or a possible spinal injury of any sort -- DO NOT MOVE the patient. Even if you have to stop traffic on a large road, moving the injured person without proper techniques and equipment could cause more damage. Call 911 immediately, apply direct pressure to any wounds that are bleeding profusely, and protect the patient from additional harm until help arrives.

If the patient can walk, move them off to the side of the road or trail to reduce the possibility of further injuries.

Further training

The Red Cross holds basic first aid and CPR workshops around the United States in almost every community. These are available at a very low cost and tend to happen quite regularly, as this basic training is required by many professions.

More in-depth classes can be taken from different companies like Remote Medical Inc. (RMI), which specializes in wilderness first aid. While not all of us are riding in the backcountry, RMI defines "wilderness" as any location that is more than one hour from definitive care, such as a major city medical center -- which means millions of riders may fall under this category in their everyday rides.