Essential skills: basic first aid for cyclists

Do you know what to do if someone has an accident cycling? Here's some first aid advice from St John Ambulance

Credit: Delly Carr/ ITU

Whether you’re competing or training, you can easily injure yourself while out cycling. Road rash is a recreational hazard for many cyclists, but while in most cases wounds are superficial, it pays to ensure they heal fast and don’t keep you off the bike. While most cuts and grazes are merely superficial, here are some top tips courtesy of St John Ambulance to make sure that they heal quickly without infection.


Tetanus protection

Tetanus jabs will prevent you from contracting tetanus, a rare and serious condition caused by the bacteria Clostridium tetani getting into wounds, so it is important you are fully vaccinated. You should have had a course of five full tetanus vaccinations, however if you are unsure do speak to your GP to make sure you are up-to-date.

Treating cuts and grazes

A cut is when the skin is fully broken, and a graze is when only the top layers of skin are scraped off. Cuts and grazes are common injuries that can usually be treated at home.

It will come as no surprise that the road isn’t the most cleanly of places, being full of dirt and grit. Because of this, if you and your bike should part ways, you should wash the wound as soon as you can, using clean, fresh running water or an alcohol wipe to reduce the chance of infection before covering it with a sterile gauze. If you don’t have this, use a clean, non-fluffy cloth such as a tea towel.

After you’ve cleaned your injury there may be some bleeding. If this is the case, usually you should only have to apply pressure and raise the injury to stop the bleeding. The wound should then be covered with a clean dressing or plaster to prevent infection, and it should then heal by itself in a few days’ time. However, in some cases, you may need to seek the help of a medical professional. This would be if the wound won’t stop bleeding; the wound was made by a dirty object puncturing the skin; objects such as grit, wood or glass are embedded in the wound; or you think the wound may be infected.

Head Injuries

One of the things about falling off of your bike, is that you never can tell exactly how, or where, you’re going to land. While your helmet should do a good job of protecting you, it is possible that you could come away with more than a headache and dented pride.

Head injuries could be potentially serious, as they could damage the brain and cause someone to become unresponsive. The severity of the head injury would depend on how someone hit their head, and how hard the impact was. If you’re falling from a bike while going at speed, it is likely that you will hit your head with a hard impact.

What to do:

  1. Call for help, unless it is a minor injury. If so, advise them to sit and hold something cold wrapped in a cloth against it.
  2. Treat scalp wounds by applying direct pressure
  3. Check if they are fully responsive to questions and simple commands. If so, monitor them until they recover.
  4. If they’re unresponsive, or not quite right, don’t hesitate – call 999.


A break or crack in a bone is called a fracture. In particularly nasty cases, bits of broken bone can puncture the skin, which is called an open fracture. However, in most cases a broken bone cannot be seen and this is called a closed fracture. In these cases you won’t see any blood, but the break may have caused some internal bleeding.

Fractures: A guide to the different types

What to look for 

  1. Swelling and bruising
  2. Unusual shape
  3. Pain
  4. Difficulty moving
  5. Movement in an unnatural direction
  6. A limb that looks shorter, twisted or bent
  7. A grating noise or feeling if the limb is moved
  8. Loss of strength
  9. Signs of shock.

What to do 

    1. We suggest that the casualty remain as still as possible
    2. Support the injured part and secure it with a sling or by tying it to an uninjured part of the body.
    3. If the bone has broken through the skin, use a sterile dressing to cover it (don’t press on it) and secure with a bandage.
    4. If the casualty is unable to walk, call 999. Don’t move the casualty unless in danger.
    5. Check for signs of shock.  Don’t elevate an injured leg.
    6. If they become unresponsive, prepare the to treat someone who is unresponsive.

Cycling first aid app

The St John Ambulance First Aid for Cyclists app aims to give every cyclist the skills to deal with the most common cycling injuries, including head injuries, cuts and grazes, and muscle injuries. We want all cyclists to know first aid, so that they could be the difference between life and death in an emergency. The advice in this app is based on our First Aid Manual and advice from our medical experts.

About St John Ambulance

Each year, 400,000 people learn how to save a life by completing a St John Ambulance training programme. First aid is such a simple skill, but has an incredible impact and can be the difference between a life lost and a life saved. Visit for more first aid advice or to arrange a training course.



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