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Learn to avoid the dangers of big cycling events

Wednesday, 21 August 2013 16:52 |
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Mass participation cycling events and triathlons are thrilling events, but all of them have had mishaps with athletes injuring themselves and others.

Many of us love the feeling of being involved in a speeding train of two wheelers, feeling the adrenaline rush needed to match the challenge from your competitors and ultimately hand out some pain to those who dare to follow. But with speed and fun comes danger and risk.

The underlying risks and dangers often are associated with many motivated cyclists of varying abilities and skills (not to mention eyesight and hearing) pushing the limits on scenic but technical roads. We all love to play, but we all must be educated on how to ride safely.


Here are a few key tips to keep you safe on your next big ride.

Communication the Key

If you are looking to ride near the front of an event, you need to be comfortable riding elbow to elbow with other riders. And you must communicate well to manoeuvre and complete the course safely. So many courses are designed with hard climbs, fast turns and tricky technical descents that failure to communicate will result in a mishap.

Find Your Personal Space

If you do not feel comfortable boxed in with riders all around, try to position yourself near the road shoulder, allowing for some space, or at least the perception of space. In the Highwood Pass Granfondo, travelling in a pack of 30 riders at speeds greater than 50 km/h, I felt more comfortable riding closest to the rumble strips on the shoulder side. This created space for me to see what was ahead and have a buffer to manoeuvre away from danger.

Obey the Rules of the Road: Descending

I have seen riders become very impatient making their way up to the front of the pack on dangerous descents, crossing the centre line and ultimately risking the safety of all those around. Most events do not close the roads and car and truck  traffic is a threat. Descents are the most dangerous portion of any ride. Maintain position within your group, feather your brakes or sit up to keep order on all descents in a large group. Most of your repositioning should occur on the flats and climbs to move safely forward within a group of riders. If you know the course well, try surging ahead of large groups before the descent so you can ride solo with calmness and clarity. In at least half of the events I have done, there has been at least one accident on a descent.

Descend within your limits and comfort, but allow riders to pass safely
If you are descending, ride a metre or so into the traffic lane. Be aware of your surroundings and riders nearby. Do not change your line of travel or weave around cutting corners. Often, there are riders who may be faster who need to find space to safely pass. Those who are passing, should verbally communicate they are passing left. Passing on the right is not recommended.

Be Prepared for the Unpredictable

In the Whistler Gran Fondo, I remember cyclists hitting road signs and cones that mark the course. I was in a group of 80 riders and communication was difficult. Usually word travels too slow and often you will not see the hazard. Keep an eye on the riders ahead of you and detect changes in the flow of the group. Listen for riders communicating upfront and keep your eyes peeled for hand signals indicating road hazards. Try not to apply your brakes too aggressively. Feather the brakes and stay smooth when slowing. This allows more time for the riders behind you to react in the same fashion.

Varying Climbing Techniques

Be aware that on most hills the rider in front of you may elect to stand up. Often when changing from seated to standing position a rider will push the bike backwards several inches. Anticipate this risk when entering a hill by giving the rider ahead more space. If you plan on standing, try not to push your bike back underneath you. Make the transition smooth and keep the bike in the same position.

Wind and Rain Hazards

Often Mother Nature compromises riding safety. Strong winds increase the probability that riders will draft behind each other, but wind can also make the most stable rider unpredictable. When drafting in windy conditions, never overlap wheels or ride too close to the wheel in front. Wet roads and rain create problems navigating and from wheel spray from a rider in front. Be extra-cautious in the wind and rain, particularly on descents and fast cornering.

Lead Rider Responsibility

If you are the first rider, take this responsibility seriously by keeping speed constant riding smooth and steady. You should position yourself on the road so riders behind you get maximum benefit of drafting, particularly if there are crosswinds. Finally, you must be the eyes of those behind you and communicate by hand signals and verbally. Ideally your hands should be in a position that allows for safe execution of signalling road hazards. Hand signals should only be used if there are hazards that truly could cause harm to those behind. Every time a rider takes hands off their handlebars, they risk losing control or crashing. As a lead rider, crashing would be devastating.

Second Rider Responsibility

If the lead rider is working hard into the wind for the group, often their ability to signal road hazards is compromised. This is also true when someone is riding in the Time Trial position, which makes hand signalling difficult. The second rider should assume the responsibility of being the eyes for the group and helping keep the group safe.

Time Trial Position and Triathlon Bikes

Some events do not allow bikes with Time Trial bars due to the inherent dangers to others. There should be absolutely no no use of TT bars when not in the lead position or riding solo in a non-drafting position (when you are seven meters behind the rider in front).

Always be attentive

I often see teammates or friends chatting to each other, not looking at the road ahead or the riders ahead. This is a recipe for disaster and truly is not respecting the speeds and dangers of crashing. When operating a bicycle, it is very important to keep your eyes forward and anticipate any change in speed or direction.

Be Prepared for the Long Haul

I made a huge mistake in my first Tour De Victoria which put me into one of the worst bonks (no energy due to no calorie intake) ever. I was unprepared before the event with just a little water, one gel and nothing else. I assumed all the riders would be stopping frequently to refuel. But as the event went on and us frontriders rode with Ryder Hesjedal, it was apparent there was no stopping. Certainly I could have stopped, but I did not want to let this experienced group of riders out of my sight. Ultimately I paid a price with 20K to go. I had to ask a volunteer for some food just to be able to make it home (I wish I brought some money too). Always carry enough food to finish the event.

Ride within your Abilities and Choose the Proper Distance

One year at the Solvang Century, I had the misfortune of riding with several professional triathletes working together and racing like there was no tomorrow. I say misfortune because after burning so many matches, I literally had to sit on the side of the road for 30 minutes to complete the 100 miles. Yes, we stopped, refuelled and hydrated every 20 miles, but after too much riding beyond my abilities, I was a mess. Choose your riding partners wisely and know your limits. Often accidents happen when you are under stress to keep up or you are experiencing fatigue. Know when to let them go and start enjoying the ride and seeing the landscape rather than just the wheel in front of you.

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Calvin Zaryski

CoachCal has been coaching for over 30 years. Not just focusing on athletes, but on individuals whose goals range from climbing Mount Everest to recapturing the power of active living.

Website: criticalspeed.com

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About Criticalspeed

Criticalspeed provides a multisport training system that maximizes your time and stimulates improvements. The process includes a social and supportive environment to maintain consistency and motivation.

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