Competitive Cycling

Question about safety (or lack thereof)

posted about 7 years ago | Report

Hi all,

I've been cycling 3 months now, definitely bitten by the bug. Training for MS-150 next April. As I get more into the sport and see and read coverage of accidents, some fatal, I feel a bit anxious about going faster and perhaps someday racing.

I love the speed but do not relish the thought of being thrown from a bike at 40 mph because of a sudden obstruction or unexpected event. Aside from wearing a helmet, what sorts of things do you do to reduce the chance of serious injury? Do you back off or slow down at times to reduce risk, or are you a thrill-seeker, always pushing the envelope?

I am wondering what experience has taught you and if there is anything in particular a dedicated but inexperienced rider should be aware of?

Thanks in advance!

15 posts

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  • I have been working on a good answer for this for awhile, hopefully I have succeeded.

    First off, 3 months isn’t that long, you are still reacquainting yourself with bike handling skills. The more you ride the better your skills will become, and the more confident you will feel.

    40 Mph is fast, a friend NEVER exceeds 35 (that is still fast) and he refuses to, you can make the same judgment call. If you aren’t having fun at high speeds, why do it.

    As the grades get steeper, feather your brakes alternating from front to rear and back, this keeps the rims from heating too much. Sit up, you will catch more air and it will help slow you down. Be familiar with the road, the first time (alone) down a nice hill is not the best time to let it rip, watch the pavement taking mental notes for the next time. Look to the shoulder or cliff face, can debris easily get into your path or should it stay clear?

    As far as I am concerned good sunglasses, that protect your eyes from the wind, so you do not tear up are about as important as the helmet, a bug in the eye is a bad thing too.

    “Do you back off or slow down at times to reduce risk, or are you a thrill-seeker, always pushing the envelope?”

    Of course, there are times that it “just doesn’t feel right” and slowing is a good idea, even if it is a section of road that I’ve ridden many times.

    posted about 7 years ago

  • Thank-you very much Dan. Good point about getting more comfortable on the bike with time. Based on what I've seen in group rides, it does seem to come with experience.

    My concern about speed springs from the fact that I have a little *too much fun going fast, and if I don't watch it may get carried away and indulge that side too much. Uncontrolled speed isn't a worry in the immediate vicinity as there are no real hills. It's when I drive north and west that the "hill country" starts. Those are my favorite rides, by the way, as they are the most scenic.

    Thanks for the suggestions re controlling downhill speed, and the explanation of the necessity of glasses. I do have them, but to be honest, until now considered them mainly a fashion accessory! :)

    One more thing comes to mind, which is that I've had a couple of near misses when distracted or tired, so I'm learning about focus and concentration.

    Thanks again!

    posted about 7 years ago | edited about 7 years ago

  • Situation awareness is a key to safety while cycling, that is why during group rides slowing and road hazards are communicated through the group. I feel there needs to be a certain mind set going into a ride. Casual rides for the pure joy of riding take less concentration, phones, cameras and MP3 players can be used. Training rides with a group require much more attention to the road and riders near you. Long rides are taxing, your body gets tired and your mind may wander, that is when you find yourself looking at the ground wondering why you are laying down and hurt. Again time in the saddle, building endurance, and gaining confidence all helps.

    I wouldn't worry too much about enjoying going too fast, downhills don't last that long (even if it took an hour to climb to the top).

    posted about 7 years ago

  • Stay loose! You'll find a lot of accidents happen when a rider gets tight or over-responds to a bump, crack, curb or other rider. As the speed increases, make sure you keep your body loose and responsive, your head up and aware, and your body mass distributed appropriately for the descent.

    It sounds very zen- and it works!

    posted about 7 years ago

  • Thank-you Ted! Sounds like good advice. Could you elaborate on this? "your body mass distributed appropriately for the descent." I interpret that to mean be aware of and keep your balance. Is that right?

    posted about 7 years ago

  • You're getting great advice...

    I'd like to reinforce the Glasses recommendation. I have a couple pairs, depending on the conditions, that I use for riding. And, frankly... I won't go on a ride without wearing them. I get enough bugs in my eyes from running that the thought of taking an eye hit from one at 20KPH to 30KPH (or high) just gives me shivers.

    Back in the day, when I used to ride long distance everyday to and from college, I learned that "Situational Awareness" was also key. I constantly scan my environment... the only times I've gotten into trouble and had an "accident" that I could have avoided came from my letting myself get distracted. (The only collision I've been in on my bike where there was nothing I could do was when a car made a sudden left turn into me without any indication, and I was watching the driver... the guy didn't even look... just turn without notice.)

    The best advice I've ever heard for any kind of driving/riding situation is "drive as far as you can see". Basically, never go faster than you can stop within your current range of vision. For riding... this is especially true for downhills and turns... if you can't see past the turn, approach the turn as if you're going to have to stop on the other side of the turn. Then as your line of sight takes in what's past the apex of the turn... adjust your speed to suit how far you can see.

    Other than that... as a bit of advice about speed and turns... It can get all tempting to tuck in and take turns real fast... The trick is that there's some technique to this... my first bit of solid road rash came from my getting cocky one day and taking a turn much faster than my imperfect technique could handle and the tires just slipped right out from under me and my right leg became the braking surface to the road. The moral? Don't get cocky... and work on technique before pushing the envelope that counts on good technique to succeed.

    posted about 7 years ago

  • You get used to the speed, and you soon learn where your limits are. I used to ride my brakes down this descent. But the more I rode down the descent, the more familiar I got with it and the less I used the brakes on the way down, and the lower into the drops I would bend, and the further back on my saddle I would sit, enhancing my aerodynamic profile. I learned that the further back I sat and lower I made myself, the more weight I put on my rear tire and the more traction I had. Soon, I was pedaling down this hill and hitting 45+ mph. Each dip in the road still makes my stomach drop, but I enjoy it more and more, and feel more comfortable.

    In the past few months, I've lost control on a descent, had a run in with a SUV, had a pedestrian walk in front of my paceline, and the worst that's happened to me is some road rash.

    You can't ride full of fear. Don't take unnecessary chances, and you'll feel more comfortable with speed as time goes by. When I first started, I thought 25 mph was blazingly fast. Now I can ride at that speed in a paceline and only be moderately amazed by it. Some things you can avoid, and you will with experience and confidence. Others you can't, and the best you can hope for is that they don't kill your confidence. I'm still uneasy about riding at night, but I force myself to do it.

    You'll be fine.

    posted about 7 years ago

  • Thanks Bo! I remember when learning to drive, being told to drive defensively, and when out on the roads, car or bike, that's great advice. I need to be reminded of it because up until now, this adventure in cycling has been all about having fun. Of course I want it to stay that way, but there's this thing called physics that rules us all, and I need to appreciate that too! Lots to learn.

    posted about 7 years ago

  • Thanks for the encouragement, Michael. Much appreciated! I like what you said about not taking unnecessary chances. Bike races seem to have a high incidence of crashes. I guess an intensely competitive situation with a lot at stake, people are going right up to or beyond what is safe. What I've seen in recreational riding are mishaps from lack of awareness or misjudging others' speed and position. Very common for a person to move to their right or left without first looking back to see if anyone is coming up behind them.

    posted about 7 years ago

  • in reply to what Francesca said:Thanks for the encouragement, Michael. Much appreciated! I like what you said about not taking unnecessary chances. Bike races seem to have a high incidence of crashes. I guess an intensely competitive situation with a lot at stake, people are goi... read more

    That's the chance you take. You'll get more comfortable with time, but accidents do happen. I know a guy where I work who stopped racing cause he lost ALL of his teeth in a crash. But these are outliers. Personally, I'd be more worried about my bike. : ) I can heal, bikes are expensive!

    posted about 7 years ago

  • Omg. What a horrible accident (losing the teeth). I think I am the opposite. In my view, a bike is a thing that can be replaced. (Especially straightforward If you've insured it against loss or damage.) Body parts, neurological function, your life, different story.

    posted about 7 years ago

  • I don't care how fast you are going it hurts. My top speed I have it was 53plus. There is always that thought in the back of my mind but I leave it far back there so I can focus on the task at hand.

    the biggest thing is to stay relaxed and focused. If you get tense it will be harder to react to the situation.

    posted about 7 years ago

  • Mark Cavendish, commenting on racing (and in particular, crashing while racing)..

    "'s not easy and it's not safe and it's not for the faint-hearted... it's sprinting... 50 guys all going for the same position and there's not enough road for that. ... It's a war zone."

    The video is a one-hr documentary, "Mark Cavendish - Human Missile". The whole piece is on YouTube.

    posted about 7 years ago | edited about 7 years ago

  • Wow.. a lot of great information people have given in this thread. I was going to respond with my thoughts, but they've all been covered (sunglasses to keep crap out of your eyes, get to know the roads before you really open up, be conservative on downhills and dont be afraid of using brakes, you get used to the speed over time).

    One of the most important things I learned from flight training that is applicable to all situations in life is situational awareness. If you are riding at the edge of your comfort envelope, be keenly aware of what is on the road ahead of you, where traffic is, etc.

    Even on some flat sections where you're not going incredibly fast, you have to be careful in some situations. One time this past summer I was reaching for my water bottle on a road that was bumpy, I started getting a tad squirrely with the handlebars (since I only had one hand on them at the time). I immediately said 'eff it, I'll get the swig of water later' - and I was only going probably 15 mph or so. So - situational awareness!

    posted about 7 years ago

  • Oh - one other thing.

    This summer I was riding with a friend of mine, and we were talking about riding on roads with traffic. He made a great point that stuck with me - it is a LOT different surrounding the metal (ie, on a bike) than being surrounded by it (ie, on a car). Your senses have to be on much higher alert on a bike. You already know this by now, but that phrase was a great way to put it into perspective when sharing a road with 2000 lb missiles.

    posted about 7 years ago

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