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9.40 Staying up in a crash


This article is from the Bicycles FAQ, by Mike Iglesias with numerous contributions by others.

9.40 Staying up in a crash

From: "John F Tomlinson" <jt@jt10000.com>
Date: Tue, 22 May 2001 07:37:41 -0400

I just barely avoided falling in the largish crash on the last lap of
a race a few weeks ago, and that got me thinking about the key
elements in avoiding crashing.

The first is to convince yourself of something that isn't completely
true -- that you are one hundred percent responsible for staying
upright and avoiding crashes.

Sure, in reality another rider might take your front wheel out from
under you or cause a big pile-up but, whenever you are on the bike,
you've got to believe that you are responsible for yourself. That's
the only way you can ensure you'll do your best not to fall.

I crashed in Central Park about five years ago. Another rider slammed
me from the side and we both fell off. I was vaguely aware that he was
next to me and knew he was a bad rider. So while he "caused" the
crash, I simply should not have been near him. That was my mistake.

The second element also involves attitude -- it's learning to not give
up when a crash is happening and instead to do whatever it takes to
find a way around or through it. Bikes might be falling all around
you, but you've got to have the confidence to keep fighting to find a
way out. Don't accept that you will fall.

Most importantly, don't look into a crash as it happens -- instead
look for open space and get your bike through that space. You tend to
steer your bike where you look and if your concentration is on falling
riders, you're going to get caught up in their trouble. Too many
riders see a crash, stare at it, jam on their brakes and then ride
into the crash. Instead, as soon as a crash starts you want to try to
get around it as fast as possible. It's sometimes OK to touch your
brakes for a split second to give yourself some time to find a way
around, but at racing speeds you're rarely going to actually avoid a
crash by stopping. Instead just look for open space on either side of
the crash and go for it. You might even want to accelerate into the
open space before the crash spreads.

I really can recall almost nothing about the crash a few weeks ago.
Bikes started flying around in front of me and the next thing I knew I
was looking for clear space. At first that space seemed to get farther
and farther away as the crash got bigger and bigger but, eventually, I
got through at the very edge of the road. I never looked at the actual

It's possible to practice focusing on open space by using a similar
technique to deal with potholes on training rides -- as soon as you
see one, don't look at it. Look for smooth road. With time this will
become second nature.

Fourth, whenever riding, keep a broad focus and stay aware of what's
going on around you. Don't stare at the rider in front of you but
instead look further ahead. The faster you're going, the further ahead
your focus should be.

This broad focus will often enable you to deal with trouble before it
even starts. You'll see people getting squirrelly or the road clogging
up on one side and be prepared to deal with it. Recognize too that in
much the same way as you want to accelerate around crashes, you often
should accelerate around trouble. Move up in the field before the road
gets narrow. Get to a difficult corner at the head of the group rather
than in the middle. Try to rely less on your brakes. Don't ride around
in group rides or races with your hands on the brakes. Learn to deal
with trouble by getting past it, not by just slowing down.

This sort of "aggression" is important not only to placing well but
also to your safety.

Fifth is what lots of people talk about, but too few do -- work to
improve your bike handling skills while on training rides. Some of
these skills are to make you a smoother, more predictable rider.
Others are to enable you to deal with situations in races where other
riders, intentionally or not, try to take your space. Both types of
skills are important.

Learn to keep your upper body relaxed. Gain an understanding of how
you use your hands, butt and feet to steer the bike. Practice
cornering, riding on bad roads and bunny-hopping so you'll be lighter
on the bike. Practice pacelines and ride closer and closer to other
riders. Practicing bumping into other riders and touching wheels is
good too -- you might want to start learning this while riding slowly
on a grassy field. Learn about protecting your front wheel and
handlebars. Riding off-road, on any kind of bike, can improve your
bike handling. Elizabeth races cyclo-cross in the off-season, which is
great for skills.

There are a lot of details to bike handling that I won't go into here;
formal coaching sessions or club rides are a good place to start.

You can also use other sports to improve your balance and body
awareness. Skiing, skating, soccer, basketball and dance are good.
(Motorcycling is supposedly great.)

Sixth, make sure your bike is in good working order. It should be
reliable and fit your body well. Your weight should be properly
distributed over the two wheels -- with just slightly more weight on
the back wheel than the front when riding in the drops.

Finally -- be aware of your limits. Crashes often happen when riders
are tired and get sloppy. They don't pay attention to what's going on
around them and their reactions slow. If you find yourself fighting
with the bike and riding with your head down, make a conscious effort
to relax and keep your eyes up. If you can't do that, back off from
the race -- you're a danger to yourself and others. As you improve as
a racer you'll find you get better at staying alert and in control
even when very tired.

Your limits are not only physical, but technical and mental too.
Learning and improvement come from pushing the boundaries of what
you're comfortable and proficient at. Bike racing is supposed to be
difficult and a small amount of fear is normal. But if you're
consistently stressed about crashing, or spending time constantly
riding your brakes due to fear, it might be worth backing off in the
race and giving yourself some space, even if you get dropped. A lot of
times when I'm scared I ride right at the front, or go way to the back
where there is more space until things calm down. Later, you can work
on your skills and confidence so that in the next race, you'll be more
in control.


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