This year has been a bad year for cycling accidents. Of our regular riding companions, a dozen or so have had significant mishaps on the road. Fortunately, none of the wrecks have resulted in life-threatening or permanent injuries though several did end up with broken bones and periods of rehabilitation that extended to several months. None involved automobiles, thank goodness, and many did not even involve other bicycles.
In sharing these musings, let me be absolutely clear that I am not in any way pointing fingers. Most of us have wrecked at some point in our cycling lives and, sadly, may well do so again. How can we minimize the probability that this will indeed come to pass? How can we, collectively, improve our safety record?
I have struggled to determine whether there are common threads between the incidents. In my career in the petroleum business, we were taught that all accidents are preventable. Is this true? What, if any, are the lessons learned from the incidents that we have experienced? I suggest that there are arguably three categories of accident that the group has experienced:
First. Riding in a way that is too aggressive for the prevailing conditions and misjudging hazards such as pavement on poor repair, obstacles in the road, unanticipated corners etc. Best practices: always ride defensively and assume the worst.
Second. Sub-par bike handling skills. This could manifest itself as unstable or erratic riding and inability to negotiate hazards when they do appear unexpectedly. Best practices: learn good riding techniques, practice whenever you can and be receptive to mentoring by experienced riders. Remember: “to be aware of one's own opportunities for improvement is the first step towards learning” and thus we need to develop a receptive learning environment.
Third. Poor group etiquette: riding too close to others, failing to announce intentions, losing concentration. Sometimes compounded by momentary lapses of attention. These issues are especially critical when conditions are poor such as roads with lots of cracks in the pavement, ultra-steep hills. Best practices: do not ride in tight groups or pace-lines unless both you and your fellow riders are comfortable with that, always stay super-alert, communicate frequently and back-off (safely) from the group whenever necessary.
Resources are available. The League of American Bicyclists and other organizations do offer classes and or exercises in bike-handling skills and group riding skills. Maybe this would be a start? Remember that ultimately you have responsibility for your own safety but that does not imply that we do not also have accountability for the safety of the group we are riding with.
Note: this summary excludes two other issues: (a) dogs which will be the subject of another blog post sometime soon and (b) the condition of your bike which could also cause accidents in some instances: frequent servicing by a competent mechanic should be treated as an investment, not as an expense.