5 Tips for Safer Cycling
My cycling experience has taught me to always be on the lookout for #1.
And yes, #1 is YOU. Cycling is a very dangerous sport and knowing what to do in certain situations could be the difference between going down and getting hurt or riding through it thinking, “Whoa, that could have been bad!”
I’ve been in two cycling accidents that could have been avoided if I had simply taken better precautions, so these are simply my recommendations based on my past incidents and experiences. Nonetheless, I believe that these tips are useful in everyday riding and if you gain any benefit from reading this, I am grateful for being able to share.
This should go without saying, but the most important thing you must do when cycling is wear your helmet! Yeah, a no-brainer and it does not count towards my list but it must be stated. I don’t care how many years you have been cycling, there’s absolutely no reason to head out on your bike without one! And, I’m not talking about the casual beach cruiser ride on the boardwalk, that’s a different story. But, if you’re riding your road bike or triathlon bike you need to wear a helmet, period! Now, onto the list.
My top 5 cycling tips to watch for:
1. The Shimmy – this is defined as: a rapid oscillation or wobble of a wheel and tire assembly about the steering axis (see www.google.com). A shimmy usually occurs when going downhill at a fast rate of speed and your bike frame starts to wobble back and forth creating a speed wobble, usually caused by crosswinds. There is a hill in San Diego called Torrey Pines that I was descending down, just cruising away and a city bus came blasting past me carrying a bunch of wind behind it. Unexpectedly, my bike started to shimmy like crazy because of the sudden gust of wind-flatulence that followed the raging bus, and, already going fast down the hill didn’t help my adrenaline in the situation. When something like this happens, stay calm and keep your shoulders relaxed as this will help absorb the wobble (keeping your shoulders and arms tight will only make things worse, but this is hard to do because we naturally get tense when something surprises us!). The key thing to do as you notice the shimmy is immediately clamp both knees onto the top tube of the bike frame and slightly push your weight onto your pedals (pretend like you’re standing up but don’t actually stand). Again, remember to keep those shoulders loose! Whatever you do, DO NOT HIT THE BRAKES in this situation as this could make you to crash.
The key things to remember the next time you experience the unexpected shimmy is: shoulders loose, clamp those knees to the bike frame, and push your weight onto the pedals. When the shimmy is gone, exhale and get back to riding!
2. Keep your hands on bars when drinking – and to explain this a bit further, it means that when you go down to reach for your water bottle, place your supporting hand on the top portion of the handlebars closer to the stem. This will give you better control of your bike while you’re using the other hand to grab your water bottle and gulp down your drink. Try not to leave one hand in the “drops” while you reach as you could hit a bump and jolt your arm, causing you to crash. Keeping your supporting hand on the top portion of the handlebars (even on the elbow pads for a triathlon bike) will better support you in case you hit a bump or a hole while riding with one hand. Also, keep your supporting arm’s shoulder relaxed and loose whenever you take the other hand off. Try this out for yourself and you’ll see what I mean.
3. Don’t follow too closely – and by this I’m speaking in terms of group riding, especially if you’re not familiar with the group you’re riding with. If your front tire rubs the side of a cyclists back tire, there’s an extremely good chance you’re going to crash. This is a very common cause of crashes in world class cycling events such as the Tour de France. It happens when you are drafting off of the person in front of you. Your tire overlaps their back tire on the left or right side, then either they change direction or you change direction and you basically run into their tire. They are not going to crash but you are because it’s your front wheel, so it’s your responsibility to keep some distance between the rider in front of you. For triathletes riding in groups, you’d want to stay out of your aero bars out of respect for the riders around you. It’s safer to keep your hands near the brakes in group situations; however, be careful not to brake too fast as this could cause a crash behind you.
4. Never assume the right of way – if a car hits you while you’re riding does it really matter if you had the right away? For me, my whole concern is avoiding the situation at all costs, so when I’m out riding my mentality is that everyone is going to cut me off. Riding with a “defensive driving” mantra keeps you alert and should help to avoid any unfortunate accidents.
5. Last but not least – LOOK AHEAD! The obvious applies here but this is more referred to as attention to detail such as cracks in the road, debris, and potholes. It’s very important to look ahead of the path you’re going to be riding on and make sure it’s clear from any danger. Cars are not affected by 1-inch cracks in the street but YOU are, so pay attention and learn to recognize what size gaps, cracks, and holes to look out for. It’s also important to note that your body will go where your eyes are looking so make sure to always be looking at the path where you want to ride, and not that big pothole that wasn’t there yesterday! I don’t know how many times I’ve run over what I didn’t want to simply because I was looking directly at it.
There it is, my 5 cycling tips to watch out for! These were all based from my experiences out on the road, some of them good and some were bad. I hope any portion of this list is useful to you.
Stay safe and best of luck out there!
Written by Dave Platfoot