The Dangers of Cycling

“While I was lamenting my problems with my sore ribcage, something a lot more serious happened to a good friend of mine. It was last Saturday morning, on one of our club rides.

A group had gone out to Kyle, about 23 miles south of town, and made their usual turnaround stop at a gas station/convenience store. The road through Kyle was repaved about a year ago, and is quite smooth, with a generous shoulder. The Line was moving at about 20 mph, according to one of the riders. It had started to rain. The road was slick. The day was chilly. Because of the wind, the group formed a sort of paceline.

Just before reaching a stoplighted intersection, the lead rider saw two obstacles in his path. One was a car bumper, the other something unspecified. The rider pointed out the car bumper on the right, but did not point out the object on the left. He led the way between the two, expecting those behind him to follow in his tire tracks.

Apparently, the rider behind him braked. The third rider in line swerved. The front tire of the fourth rider, Jerry, touched the rear tire of the third bike. Jerry went down in a heap, and the next four riders went down in a pile.

Jerry suffered a broken femur. A passer-by who turned out to be a nurse treated him for shock until paramedics arrived, and he was taken to an emergency room in Austin. On Sunday, he underwent surgery to repair the break, and is getting close to leaving the hospital as this is posted.

The experience triggered a flurry of posts on the club’s Yahoo group. Debra, whom I ride with on B rides out in the country, had some simple, straightforward advice: “Don’t ride in pacelines.”

The second rider in the line posted that no single thing caused the crash, but suggested some lessons to be learned from the mishap:

  1. Avoid riding in the rain if at all possible (not an option in this case)
  2. Provide more buffer space from other riders (in front and laterally)
  3. Ride slower – not a race – especially in inclement weather
  4. Yell out any road debris and signal behind you

To which, the club president reminded everyone that our club rides are not races, although they might assume an “aggressive” pace from time to time.

Others cited communication as being the most important factor. The lead rider called out the road debris, but did not signal. The second rider signaled, but did not call out. Another member pointed out that calls don’t travel very far anyway.

One of our more experienced members advised that the rider in front should stay focused on the road and try to lead the group around the hazard, rather than point it out and miss it by an inch or two.

Still another said the leader shouldn’t be too diligent at pointing out trouble. “Pointing out every gum wrapper will make your little ducklings less likely to notice the massive boulder they’re about to endo over,” he wrote.

The club president noted that there are only a few group riding configurations. Since it’s inevitable that we will line up behind each other at some point in a group ride, it’s important to be able to handle those situations.

He’s going to arrange for a cycling coach to conduct some paceline drills for the club.

I’ve written before of my aversion to pacelines. But if the paceline drills happen, I’ll probably sign up.

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8 thoughts on “The Dangers of Cycling

  1. Paceline is an advanced skill. Very few recreational riders have that skill (yours truly included). Either train up to it or don’t do it.

    As for not riding in the rain…weather is NEVER the cause of a mishap.

  2. Agree with most of the above.

    Paceline riding is a skilled. I ONLY ride in them with certain folk in my group. If I dont’ know the experience level of the rider, I don’t get near them.

    Weather might not cause a mishap, but it is a contributing
    factor.
    I would never ride in a paceline in the rain nor wet roads.

  3. An interesting question involving risk analysis. How often do injuries occur in pacelines vs. regular riding and is the difference significant enough to ban the practice? To me it is the same logic that many people use to explain why they don’t cycle – “it’s dangerous!”

    How does one ban pacelines and still have group rides? If there was a general “gaggle” of riders heading toward this obstacle, how would that have improved the chances of following riders? Or are we suggesting that group rides should consist of people spread out over miles of roadway to avoid being behind one another?

    We can always learn from an accident and better prepare ourselves for next time, but we cannot eliminate all risk and many measures we take to prevent the previous incident may make other types of accidents more likely.

  4. What Steve points out is very true. Our group goes out on a ride as more-or-less a gaggle, but as soon as you hear, “Car Back!” it immediately becomes a paceline in order to minimize our group width. When the road clears, we gaggle-ize again.

    • In response to Jeff I think we should note the difference between riding in formation, which gives a structured safe ride; and race-pace through-and-off, which may be great race training, but typically turns into chaos with inexperienced riders. For me, if it’s raining, I’ll miss out on the through-and-off – I’m not elite or a cat 1, so there’s always next time.

  5. Couple of things I learned when I started cycling.
    1. NEVER brake suddenly in a paceline. Roadkill, potholes, debris, etc. Take weight off the bars and simply ride over it.
    2. ALWAYS, ALWAYS protect your wheel. Never let your wheels cross the wheel in front of you. Obvious reasons of course.

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