“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:
- Avoid riding in the rain if at all possible (not an option in this case)
- Provide more buffer space from other riders (in front and laterally)
- Ride slower – not a race – especially in inclement weather
- 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.