Monday, July 11, 2011

Crashing...that's bike racing!

I've seen it all too often as a racer, official, and coach at local races and on TV.  You hear it all the time too- Crashing..that's bike racing!  But, did you ever wonder why bike crashes occur and wonder if/how they can be reduced or possibly even eliminated (if that's possible)?  Here are what I believe are the MAJOR causes of crashes in bike races..from amateur through the professional ranks.  I'm not so sure there is a #1 cause of crashes in races.  If there is, I haven't seen any published listings.  If I had to guess, I'd say it's related to the "human element" vs. anything external/environmental.  Regardless, here is my list in no priority order:

a. Poor bike handling skills- touching a wheel in front of you, swerving-not holding your line, etc.
b. Risky move/behavior- shooting a gap that is too narrow, taking unsafe chances, etc.
c. Fatigue- which leads to poor handling skills, poor judgement, etc.
d. Weather- rain slick roads, high wind, etc.
e. Poor road conditions- potholes, storm grates, road debris, obstacles, narrow roads, etc.
f. Mechanicals- flats, broken/dropped chains, etc.
g. Sudden braking/accelerating- the accordian effect prevalent in the back of the peloton
h. Other- animals, pedestrians, etc. unexpectedly on course
i. Not alert- poor attention, oblivious to road conditions and cycling racing dynamics, etc.

Now, lets address each one of these and see how we can reduce and/or possibly eliminate them from your race:

a. Poor bike handling skills- this one is least for amateurs.  PRACTICE..PRACTICE..PRACTICE.  If you don't feel comfortable in a pack..then spend more of your training rides/time with groups of riders.  If you don't feel confident at high speed, then moto pace at high speed.  If you can't "bunny hop" or jump small obstacles- learn how to do it.  If you need better cornering skills, go down to your local elementary school on the weekends and practice in the parking lot.  For the Pros, it's more about staying alert and attentive.

b. Risk taker- this one is obvious too.  STOP taking unnecessary risks. If you don't have the power or skill to shoot gaps then don't attempt to.  If a turn looks too tight..take it wider or slower.  Remember, you taking risks not only jeopardizes your safety but the safety of your fellow competitors.

c. Fatigue- as any race wears on, your fatigue level will increase.  When it does, your attention/alertness will decrease rapidly...not to mention your bike handling skills.  Just be aware of this fact and leave more room for error in the latter part of the race.  Wider turns, bigger gaps, (12 in. gap between your front tire and the rear tire in front of you versus 6 in.), etc.

d. Weather- be prepared.  If it's going to rain, reduce the tire pressure in your tires.  Be aware of any painted road lines, man hole covers, bridge/storm grates, etc. as they become slick as ice.  Understand that your braking distance will increase.

e.  Poor road conditions- again, be prepared.  Always ride the course BEFORE your race..even if it's with your car if you're short on time.  Identify storm grates, road debris, gravel, tight turns, painted lines (if it's going to rain), etc.

f. Mechanicals- a lot of these types of crashes can be prevented by good bike maintenance.  Tighten bolts, inspect spokes, tires, chain, cables, etc.  Adjust/tune shifting.

g. The Accordian effect- the only way to prevent this from happening (accordian-ing) is to avoid sitting at the back of the pack.  Yes, I understand, easier said than done..but it's a fact that most crashes happen at the middle and back of the pack because of the constant decelerations and accelerations.

h. Other- there's not a whole heck a lot you can do if a dog, bird, squirrel, deer, (or car), etc. runs out in front of your race.  Hopefully, your lead car has a driver/official that is clearing your race course void of animals.  Again, just BE AWARE/ ALERT!

i. Attentiveness- be ALERT!  Keep your head up when you ride at all times.  Look ahead of you, not at the rear wheel in front of you.

Regardless of how much you stay alert, and do all the things I say you SHOULD DO, unfortunately you're going to crash or get caught up in one...sooner or later.  That's if you race frequently.  I wish I had some advice on how to fall or the best way to fall but I'm afraid that would be a futile attempt since just about every crash has it's unique set of circumstances.  There have been races where I crashed where I NEVER let go of the handlebars and landed on my hip and only suffered a case of nasty road rash.  There have been other races where I braced myself with my arm/wrist and was lucky enough not to break either of them- or my shoulder.  There have been other races where I was able to clip-out one foot, stay upright, and skid to into a pack until I stopped.  And, lastly there have been times when I was able to avoid the crash altogether. (not many of those though).   I guess my only advice here is to be prepared.  Make sure your helmet is on tight, make sure you're wearing gloves, make sure you're wearing sunglasses/glasses that protect your eyes, make sure you're shoes/cleats are lubricated so you unclip easily, etc.

So, that's what you can do yourself.  Here's one last thing you can help someone else do..and please don't hesitate to do so.  If you think a particular course is dangerous, tell the promotor/race director and the officials.  If enough racers complain about the course, the promotor/director may change it.  If the turns are too tight- tell em.  If a bridge has gaps between the wood slats- tell em.  If the storm grates are too low- tell em.  In the litigious society we live in, I don't think there are too many race directors/promotors that won't listen to you.  If they don't listen, and it falls on deaf ears, then they're open to being sued if somebody gets seriously injured during a race. 

Yes, crashes happen in bike racing and will ALWAYS happen..but I think if we can ALL reduce the primary reasons for crashes we'll have a safer sport..and that's a good thing.

POWER ON!  Coach Rob

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