Crashes are bound to happen during rides, but many are due to rider errors and bad riding etiquette and are usually preventable. As strong proponents of keeping cycling enjoyable and safe, we can take steps to minimize the probability of crashes.
This article discusses the 11 steps every cyclist can take to avoid preventable crashes when riding alone or in a group.
Don’t overlap wheels
Overlapping wheels are probably the main culprit for crashes in the peloton. This happens when your front wheel overlaps with the rear wheel in front of you.
Sometimes, you can’t avoid overlapping wheels due to the change in speed or terrain. However, try your best to minimize the time the wheels overlap. A few seconds is fine, but not for more than 10 seconds, especially when riding at high speeds.
Remember, it’s your responsibility where you place your front wheel.
Predictability is crucial when riding in a peloton and even more so at speed. A small, sudden maneuver at the front will be amplified for the riders at the back. This is referred to as the accordion effect.
Although riding at the back requires significantly lesser effort, one needs to pay more attention to what’s happening in the front, such as anticipating a stop and starting to brake earlier.
If you need to do any of these, look back and slowly move out of the paceline.
Avoid sudden swerving, bunny hopping, aero tuck, snorting, taking hands off handlebars, taking off clothing, searching for things in the back pocket, or similar actions.
Keep a smooth cadence
A smoother peloton is a safer peloton. Minimize (sudden) freewheeling, especially when traveling at speed.
If you’re riding at the front of the peloton up a small crest, continue to pedal for another 50 to 100 meters before easing up after cresting. If you ease up right at the crest, the riders behind might run straight into you as they’re still pedaling.
If you’re at the front on a straight road pedaling descend, continue to pedal (or soft-pedal if the speed/cadence is too high). Freewheeling will cause the riders at the back to be on their brakes most of the time to avoid overlapping wheels. This accordion effect amplifies as the peloton gets bigger.
If you find yourself overlapping the wheels in front, try to soft-pedal instead of freewheeling. This way, you won’t disrupt the rhythm of all the riders behind you.
Point out hazards
Point out hazards if you’re leading the peloton. Look far ahead, anticipate and signal how you are going around the hazard.
Not everyone in the group needs to point out the hazard if it’s a small group of 5 to 6 riders. If it’s too late to point out the hazards (it happens!), then yell out. The key is for everyone to be aware of the hazard and not everyone to point out the hazard.
If you’re riding two abreast, the ideal way is to split up the paceline with the left rider going left and the right rider going right. If you’re the left rider, use your right hand to point to the hazard and vice versa.
Use hand signals
Hand signals are an important communication tool for cyclists. Unlike motor vehicles, we don’t have indicators. Use hand signals to indicate where you’re heading, slowing down, or pointing out hazards.
Be mindful when using hand signals, as you’ll take your hands off the handlebars. If it’s not safe to do so, wait until it’s safe.
Avoid busy roads
Cyclists prefer quiet, country roads, but sometimes we’ll need to ride through busy roads to get out of town.
Instead of taking the busy main roads, opt for inner roads. While they might be slightly longer, they’re safer and causes lesser stress.
Never assume drivers can see you
Even if you’ve done your best to be seen, some drivers, for various reasons, might not see you. Be aware of your surroundings, and slow down at intersections and roundabouts. If the vehicle isn’t slowing down even if you have the right of way, then slow down and stop.
It’s better to be slightly slower and safe than sorry.
Always use bike lights both during the day (to be seen) and at night (to see). Many countries have laws requiring cyclists to use white front lights and red rear lights.
More reading : Why Use Bike Lights During the Day and Night
Always look ahead when riding alone and in the peloton. If you’re talking to the rider next to you, have both hands on the handlebar and look ahead. You can ride closer if you can’t hear each other, but don’t look at them like how you’d normally talk.
If there’s a crash or loud bang behind you, never look back.
Keep going until the group slows down or stops. You might run into the rider in front of you, especially if they’re also looking back.
If you’re riding in a double paceline and need to look back, have one hand on the handlebar top, and look back on the other side. For example, left hand on the handlebar top and look back on your right.
Don’t brake through the corners
If you aren’t sure about the corner, then go slower but don’t brake while you’re going through the corner. You risk locking up the wheels and sliding off, which might bring down the riders behind you too.
If you’re not a confident or fast descender, start the descent a few minutes earlier than the group.
Alternatively, ask the group to wait at the bottom while you descend from the back. This reduces the chances that the group will need to overtake you halfway through the descent, which will only add more stress for you.
Always brake before entering the corner.
Riding conservatively when wet
If it’s raining and wet, then back off the speed. Safety comes first, and we’re not in a bike race.
Be gentle through the corners, avoid riding on the white lines, and never go through a puddle of water.
Observe the other riders
Take the time to observe how each rider behaves in the group. If you’re new to the group, sit towards the back and pay attention to how the group rides.
Do they point out hazards? Are they doing a rotating paceline? Who are the good/bad riders? Do they surge and then slow down?
Take note of the riders that are predictable and those who aren’t. This will give you an idea of whom is safe to follow behind.
On the other hand, if a new rider joins your group and rides unpredictably, politely ask them to ride at the back.
Alex Lee is the founder and editor-at-large of Mr. Mamil. Coming from a professional engineering background, he breaks down technical cycling nuances into an easy-to-understand and digestible format here.
He has been riding road bikes actively for the past 12 years and started racing competitively in the senior category during the summer recently.