If there’s one thing the Tour de France has taught us in the first fortnight, it’s that even the best bike handlers in the world sometimes crash with alarming frequency.
Most recreational roadies ride in large groups from time to time, in century rides, local organized rides, brevets, races, etc. While our groups don’t rival the sheer numbers riding cheek to jowl in the TdF, the challenges are the same. So, too, are the ways to avoid crashes in groups. Here are a few tips to help.
Keep Your Focus
Most crashes happen when a rider momentarily loses focus. A moment is all it takes to: not realize the wheel in front of you has slowed; catch the edge of the road when putting away your bottle; bump the rider next to you when you’ve glanced down at your computer. Keeping your focus will help you avoid the little slip-ups that we all have from time to time, but that can quickly bring us to the ground.
Hold Your Line
Steady handling and an unwavering line are expected of anyone riding in a large group. Nothing makes riders in a group of any size more edgy than a squirrelly rider in their midst. Don’t be that rider. Pay attention to what’s happening around you to avoid any pitfalls, and concentrate on not making any sudden or unexpected movements off your line.
Riding in a sizable group typically adds a level of nervousness not found in most casual rides. That’s not really a bad thing if you use that slight nervousness to help you focus. But if you ride constantly on edge, with a death grip on the bar, you’re more apt to fatigue faster, and your tense muscles can affect your bike handling. Stay relaxed, with a comfortable grip on the bar, and consciously check your neck and shoulder muscles for tension. Unshrug if you catch yourself riding with your shoulders pulled up.
Stuff happens in a group. Riders veer off line, rub shoulders, make unexpected moves, touch tires. Often, though, it’s not the initial mistake that causes a crash in a group. It’s an overreaction to the mistake, either by the rider who made it, or by a rider the mistake affected. The key is not to overreact. Making any quick, opposite reaction to whatever problem you’re facing may create a new, bigger problem -- and cause a crash. I witnessed this in a race a couple weekends ago, as a rider went off the right side of the road, overcompensated in his attempt to get back on the road, and went down, falling into another rider, who very nearly fell into me.
Stay Up Front
If you’ve been watching the Tour, you’ve surely heard the commentators or riders being interviewed repeatedly say how important it is to remain at the front of the group. The rationale is straightforward, and it’s most important in big groups. Most crashes happen farther back, where riders are surrounded on all sides and at the mercy of any mistakes anyone else makes. The farther front in a group, the less crowded, the more room to maneuver, and the safer it is.
Big groups tend to ride like a rubber band stretching -- constantly speeding up and slowing down from front to back. Within the group, individual riders are doing the same thing. The trick is to modulate your braking and pedaling so that your relative distance to the rider in front of you remains about the same, no matter how much the rubber band stretches or contracts. Try your best not to yo-yo, braking too abruptly, and then speeding up too much so that you’re on the brakes again. This will not endear you to the riders behind you, and you may cause a crash doing it. Feather your brakes instead of clamping down, and steadily increase your pedaling instead of a sudden burst of power.
Enjoy your ride!