One of the sad realities of our sport is that crashes occur more often than we'd like, and those crashes often end with an injury. Rather than avoid thinking about the possibility and what you would do in the event of a tipover, you can help minimize the resultant injuries with some forethought and action during the crash itself. Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on your viewpoint), the Sport Rider staff has plenty of experience in this area, and has learned the skills associated with crashing a motorcycle.
First, however, it can't be stressed enough that your goal-especially on the street-is to stay upright and on two wheels. There is no "badge of honor" or prize money for crashing, and no judges with scorecards. There are far too many immovable objects to hit and an accordingly higher risk of major injury. Things are different on the track, however. Learning skills and improving as a rider means toeing the line occasionally, and crashing is more likely. You've heard it before, but we can't say it enough: If you're going to be pushing your limits, take it to the track.
Before you even turn a wheel, you should be prepared for an accident. Good gear is a must, as is a motorcycle in proper working order. You definitely don't want to crash because your tire pressures are low, or for any other similarly avoidable reason. And you have to wear your gear (rather than leave it at home) for it to work. Being in good physical shape can help lessen the severity of your injuries in a crash; stretching regularly, and before you ride, can help as well.
Now for the crash itself. Our first instinct in an accident is to tense up and perhaps close our eyes-the completely wrong response. There is plenty to do in a crash, and you want your eyes open to see what's going on. Try to stay alert, and don't simply give up and wait for the sky-ground-sky-ground to stop. That said, one big mistake that many riders make is holding on to the motorcycle well past the point of no return. Racers sometimes get credit for keeping a death grip on the clip-ons, allowing them to get back up and in the race all the more quickly. The reality is that by holding on and staying close to the bike, you are increasing your chances of getting hit or caught up in the flying machinery. Let go once you realize a crash is inevitable, and if possible even push the bike away from you.
With the crash now running its course and the ground rushing up at you, it's important to stay as relaxed as possible and not tense your limbs. In any type of fall, resist the natural urge to try and cushion a fall with your hands; trying to break your fall with an outstretched arm will almost certainly result in a broken wrist. Your gear is padded in strategic places for just this occasion, and it's best to let the padded (and stronger) areas of your body such as the outer portion of your arms, shoulders, and back take the brunt of the impact rather than your hands and wrists-the least-protected (and most fragile) portion of your body. If you can make it past the initial landing without serious injury, chances are good you'll walk away when it's over.
Once you've initially hit the ground, the object is to do whatever possible to avoid starting to tumble. While it's generally good to keep the outer portion of your limbs from flailing about, you need to try and spread yourself out in order to avert tumbling; the more you are tucked into a ball, the more likely you are to tumble-which will almost assuredly result in broken bones and prolonging of the actual fall itself. If possible, orient yourself so you are sliding on your back, hopefully feet first. Your back protector (you are wearing a back protector, aren't you?) makes a nice wide, flat surface to spread the load over, as well as protecting you from localized hot spots and road rash, and the more surface area you can drag on the pavement, the more you'll scrub off speed and the quicker you'll come to a stop. The important part to remember through all this is to remain as relaxed as possible, while still moving parts of your body to avoid additional injury. For instance, curbing at the edge of the racetrack is easy to catch something on, and you want to "surf" over this area as smoothly as you can; by slightly lifting whichever limb is at the forefront of your slide, you can avoid catching something and starting a tumble. Sound impossible? You'd be surprised at what you can accomplish sliding along the asphalt, and how much that effort can save you from pain later on.
Another big mistake made by first-time fallers is to try and get up while they are still moving. This is another recipe for tumbling, and it's worth being certain that you are stopped before attempting to move. A good policy is to count to ten after you think you have stopped, and be sure the crash is over. If you're on the road or racing surface you'll want to extricate yourself if possible; otherwise, take inventory of your body and if anything is unusually painful, wait for help to arrive.
Even if you avoid serious injury in a crash, there is always the stiffness and soreness to deal with during the days after. Alternate ice and heat on especially hurtful bits, and stretch regularly to avoid having your muscles tighten up. Of course, go to the hospital or see your doctor if something seems amiss. Most importantly, learn from your experience-hopefully you won't have to put that knowledge to use again, but it doesn't hurt to be prepared.