Sunday, March 24, 2013

Reminders: Safety - Paul Thomas

As we resume our spring/summer full slate of weekly rides, and since we have experienced a few crashes already, I want to urge everyone to read the following reminders about SAFETY. Consider that the Spartanburg area rides often include packs of 20-30 riders ranging from elite/well-trained/experienced riders to beginners who haven't put in miles in several months.

Safety must be our top priority on every ride because none of us is above riding for all of us whenever we join a group ride.


• Learn to handle your bicycle in predictable ways. NO sudden movement left, right, or slowing. The key to good bicycle handling includes EXPERIENCE, which can be gained from observing experienced riders who are smooth, predictable, and effortless on the rides. 

• Bike fit, bike fit, bike fit. Yes, a proper bike fit will make you more efficient but most importantly a proper bike fit IMPROVES YOUR HANDLING. Seat too low (lots of this); seat to high; stem, hoods, and handlebars too high—all make you very unstable on the bicycle. A key to bike fit is you must be BALANCED over your bottom bracket so that you can remove one or both hands without the bicycle swerving. Most elite cyclists have a significant "drop" between their saddle height and stem (imagine a parallel and level line across the top of your saddle extending to above you stem and handlebars), which puts them in an aggressive but balanced position. Most of us aren't that young and supple (sigh), but we all should likely have some drop and should address up-turned stems, tilted up hoods and bars (on all three, don't). A "cramped" and upright rider is an unsafe rider.

• Ride two-abreast, do NOT overlap the wheel ahead, do NOT leave a huge gap between you and the wheel ahead, and ride slightly left or right of the wheel ahead (but do NOT position yourself in between the two riders ahead, especially pushing your front wheel into the space between them). We must all stay well inside the yellow line, especially not crossing the yellow line to advance or attack. If you can calmly advance right against the yellow line, alert those as you pass, and be calm about it. As you are dropping back after a pull, stay inside the yellow line and the pack must honor your need to be safe and GIVE SPACE.

• Close your rear wheel quick release into the V of your seat stay and chain stay—NOT pointing backward (which can "catch" a front wheel if the rider behind suddenly overlaps your rear wheel in a tense situation).

• Know your ability and "place." Don't know the route? Then why are you on the front? Know you can't pull through? Then why get in the advancing line of riders? Blowing up and swerving all over the road while other riders are advancing at a high pace is both unsafe and unfair (and like in high school, people are likely to talk about you behind your back, or to your face).

• Don't dart off the front, especially on hills, during a group ride and then force the pack to negotiate you slowing down, swerving, or looking back once they come back to you. It's unsafe, it's not what a group ride is.

• Learn to look over your shoulder without swerving. Learn to look over your shoulder without swerving. Learn to look over your shoulder without swerving. Learn to look over your shoulder without swerving. [And if you can't, don't.]

• When you are tired, or over your head in the pace or distance of the ride, you are dangerous to yourself and others. Alert the group you are tired, and ride in a safe spot near the back [ask someone to look after you, we really don't mind].

• Talk to alert other riders. Pass up ALL THE WAY from the back to front, or front to back. People taking pulls have a HUGE responsibility to know the route and watch the road, and then ALERT [point, talk, gently avoid the obstruction well ahead of the obstruction (note that being "cool" on the front isn't very cool)]. BUT all riders in the pack have an obligation to point, talk, and pay attention.

If you can't talk and ride safely, maintaining your place in the pack, then don't talk. It is also possible to talk to others without looking at them (my daughter and students always hated this, but I have learned it is possible).

• DON'T CREATE GAPS, especially toward the rear where new, tired, or struggling riders often sit. Don't create gaps at turns or stop signs (the front should accelerate CALMLY, and the back must maintain contact with the wheel in front of you). If can drink ONLY at stops, you need to learn how to drink on the fly; same with eating. All changes of direction and pace are problems for maintaining a pack and everyone must be committed to keeping the pack cohesive.

• Know how to cross RR tracks, descend climbs, take corners at speed, steer instead of leaning (sand in road, wet pavement), brake and ride in rain or wet roads, stand with riders behind, eat/drink while riding, take off/put on clothing while riding, etc.

• Bike maintenance. Yep, well maintained bicycle is a safe bicycle. Learn how to do the basics, but don't hesitate to ask for help keeping your bicycle in good shape—tires/tubes, chains, shifting adjustment, brake pads, pedal cleats (huge safety issue), CABLES for shifting especially (must be changed regularly).

Safety is about being good stewards of the pack and the road. If you aren't sure what is safe or not, just ask.

Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor
Furman University
twitter: @plthomasEdD

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