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How to Avoid Crashing

Giro di Lombardia 2013: Domenico Pozzovivo crashes at the finish line after touching his brakes on slick, wet tarmac.

How to Avoid Crashing 01/20 2014 by Pieter Van Pietersen

New riders crash more frequently than experienced riders. There is a skill in not crashing. Some call it a sixth sense, but dangerous situations can be spotted in advance and therefore avoided.

I have crashed many times, and witnessed many crashes. Each time I have made a mental note about how the accident could have been avoided. These notes have been listed below. Hopefully they might save you one day.

Crashes can be categorized into the three areas summarized below.

1) No other person involved
You might be riding along on your own or at least quite far from another cyclist then suddenly you find yourself on the ground. This is caused by equipment failure such as a snapped chain or road conditions e.g. ice.

2) Other riders involved
Riding in a group at close quarters is a skill which needs to be learned. There are numerous ways of improving your safety in a bunch. I classify racing as dangerous. If someone goes down in front of you, there's not a lot you can do about it.

3) Vehicle involved
Whilst it is easy to blame the other road user, the cyclist can often take action to reduce his chances of getting into an accident.

1) Crashes caused by nobody else
Equipment failure
It is essential to maintain your bike as equipment failure could mean a trip to hospital. Beginners must realize that when it comes to maintenance, a bike is not like a car. A car can usually survive with an annual service. A bike requires almost daily adjustment and checking. Here are a few items to watch:

Keep the bike clean
It is a good idea to give your bike a general clean every week or so. In this way you can inspect it for problems such as cracks in carbon fiber. A light weight bicycle cannot withstand years of neglect, so should be treated with respect.

A common cause of crashes is for an inner tube to blow out due to improper installation. When changing inner tubes, ensure that the tube is correctly positioned in the tire and that the tire bead is seated properly. Pump it slowly, and at 40PSI/3bar spin the wheel to ensure that the tire is still seated correctly. Proceed to pump slowly and look out for bulges in the tire.

Tubular tires can also roll off rims if not properly glued. I recommend using actual glue rather than tub tape. Firstly the tub tape results in higher rolling resistance and secondly it doesn't stick as well. Use brands like Continental or Vittoria glue.

Note tubular tires are a different type of tire that needs to be glued to the rim. Special rims are required. Tubular wheels are usually lighter than clincher wheels and are said to feel better, but there's little difference in reality and rolling resistance is usually better with clinchers.

If the chain slips or breaks, especially during an out of the saddle effort, the rider can be sent over the bars and onto the ground.

Shimano chains have traditionally been connected with a pin. This can be tricky to install and can result in a failure. Additionally the way the chain is cut will play a role in its strength. If you look on the instructions, it explains where to cut the chain. You should study this carefully.

I have never had a problem with the Shimano pin system, however for ease of replacement I now use a quick link .

Campagnolo Chains use a pin but you need a the expensive $200 Campagnolo UT-CN300 Chain Tool to install that pin. A cheaper $50 version from Park Tools here. I prefer to use a quick link .

Shifting under heavy load can cause a breakage, so I'd recommend getting shifting done before nailing it out of the saddle.

Check that the stem is tightened around the fork steerer tube. I have seen these improperly tightened. The rider turns but the wheel stays straight and the result is a crash.

Carbon bars can fail after crashing. They tend to be made these days with a Kevlar weave to prevent catastrophic failure. Take care with the torque used to tighten these bars as you could weaken them. Many pro riders will ride aluminium bars to reduce the chances of this sort of failure, although do note that Aluminium bars will also eventually fail. They can also corrode.

Never drill your bars in an attempt to lighten them, for obvious reasons. (aka the light weight material drillium.)

Do not buy cheap carbon bars off auction sites as they will likely be fakes that will fail during use.

If they are second hand, they may have been crashed.

After service
I prefer to do almost all of my bike maintenance myself. It is quicker and cheaper and means I don't have to drop a bike into the shop all the time. I trust myself to do a good job. After all, bikes are fairly simple to maintain. If you do use a mechanic, please take a moment to check your bike before riding it. Whilst most mechanics are great, it is easy for someone to be distracted and forget to tighten something. I have seen people get on their bike and fall off since the stem was not tightened to the steerer.

Carbon frames and forks can fail catastrophically. For some examples, see
The frame may break with no warning, although it is more likely that a crack will appear first. For that reason, try to clean and inspect your frame weekly.

I've not seen any lower reliability from fake frames. Obviously the original manufacturers try to scare everyone with stories of poor quality control, but the fake frames seem to be pretty good. However I ride my bikes pretty hard and prefer not to risk it.

Note that often cracks in the paint/lacquer can appear, but they are not of structural relevance, e.g. around the bottom bracket.

I recommend having two working brakes. I can't understand why anyone would want to ride around without any brakes at all, as some bike couriers do.

Keep your brakes clean and wash the pads and rims after riding in the rain. The grit in the pad and on the rim will cause rapid wear, so you are saving money by keeping your equipment clean.

Handling issues
Pedal strike
When cornering at speed, the inside pedal needs to be raised or it may strike the road surface. If this happens, it will send your back wheel into the air and outwards, resulting in a loss of momentum, or at worst a high-side crash.

The fastest way through a corner requires a low lean angle, so learn the limits of your bike and don't crash due to this basic error.

Not paying attention
It is quite possible to lose concentration and ride into something such as the kerb, some bushes, a catseye, pothole etc. Experience riding your bike will allow your brain's autopilot to take care of spotting these hazards, but try to help it by not using the phone whilst riding, fiddling with your GPS or looking in the wrong direction.

Riding head down
This is a common cause of serious injury, especially for triathletes and time trialists. It is easy to become fixated by the power meter and not notice a parked car.

Resultant injuries could be a ruptured spleen, broken jaw, vertebrae and disk damage, other broken bones, loss of teeth and facial lacerations, not forgetting death.

Please remember this and keep your head up whilst riding.

Braking mid corner
Just like with race cars and motor bikes, get your braking done before the corner. If you brake mid corner, especially if it is wet and you are crossing a drain cover or white lines, then there is a good chance your wheel will slip and you will go down.

Slipping on in the wet
Some riders say to lower tire pressure by 10PSI/1bar when it is wet. This is supposed to give extra grip. This is a moot point and most grip is via friction rather than mechanical. Since the size of the contact patch will increase if the tire has less pressure, the grip will stay the same.

However since 10PSI won't affect your rolling resistance much and may make you feel more secure in corners, it is worth doing.

The tire compound does affect friction in the wet. Extensive tests have been performed in wet conditions on especially adapted bikes with well protected riders. Tour magazine recently declared the Continental Black Chili compound as the best overall compound when cornering in the wet (low rolling resistance, good puncture resistance and good wet grip).

The road surface also affects friction. The cooefficient of friction between wet rubber and a metal drain cover is much lower than that between rubber and tarmac. So avoid drain covers and painted white lines in the wet as these can take you down.

Slipping on ice
If there is snow on the ground and the thermometer is reading close to freezing, then it is usually wise to train inside.

Patches of ice can lurk in the shade or in dips, and are easy to miss. If you do hit one, do not touch the brakes and try to steer straight through it. There's a good chance you'll make it through to the other side. If you touch your brakes then you will go down.

After you have crossed it, assess your ride and consider turning home for some turbo time. Retracing your route is probably the safest option as you will know how icy that stretch of road is.

Gravel and sand
If you know your roads then you will know where the gravel patches are, so will slow in advance. They often form where there is poor drainage and often on a corner. Don't brake on the gravel. It can provide more grip than you imagine, so don't be too afraid to continue to corner on it. It isn't like ice. Cyclocross or mountain biking can help hone gravel riding skills. A gravel bike isn't required.

Tour De France 2013 Stage 5 crash
Tour de France 2013 Stage 5 crash. You can't always be at the front, especially when everyone else wants to be there. There's not a lot you can do when someone goes down in front of you. Try to do a judo roll as you land. Easier said than done when clipped in.

2) Other riders
Riding in a group is a fairly risky activity since everyone rides very close to each other. If something happens to the rider in front then you may be affected.

Riding at the front It is usually safer to be at the front. There are fewer accelerations and less heavy braking. You have better visibility of the conditions ahead and if someone does go down, they are more likely to be behind you.

Naturally, in a race, everyone's trying to get up the front, especially before a particular hill or narrowing of the road. Getting to the front is easier said than done.

Try to ride with familiar riders
If you ride with a group of teammates you will know how they ride and will trust them. Familiar riders on familiar roads make the safest combination for group riding. At least you know that there are no idiots (or who to look out for).

Conversely, unfamiliar riders on unfamiliar roads (esp. if riding flat-out) make for the most dangerous conditions. There are plenty of group rides like this in the world where anybody turns up. You will get heavy braking, lack of hand signals, swerving, strange lines being taken around corners, people riding no handed in the middle of the bunch, people at their physical limits, people going backwards and people overtaking them. In short it can be chaotic and is best avoided.

If you insist on going on such a ride (OK it can be good fun) then either get to the front 15 riders and stay there or go to the back and leave a good distance to the next rider, i.e. 1 bike length.

Don't overlap wheels
If the person in front needs to change direction then they will hit your wheel and take you down and the crash will be your fault. It is best to avoid overlapping your front wheel with the wheel in front, and this should be drilled into the head of every racer. An exception to this is when riding in an echelon with a side wind, but then everyone is aware of positioning so it is OK. If you do overlap wheels, then just slow a little to get out of the risk zone as soon as you can.

Pay attention
Especially when you are tired, try to keep an eye on the riders and road ahead rather than just the guy in front. It is easy to become fixated on the spinning hub in front. We've all been there. When you are blown up (out of glycogen/ hit the wall) and do find yourself in that place, remember that your chance of crashing has increased, so try to summon increased vigilance.

Also try to ride in a straight line on a straight road. I've often had someone swerve into me, which can result in locked handlebars.

Corner on the inside of the rider in front
Traditional advice is to corner to the inside of the rider in front. If he does slide out on the corner then he'll slide away from you rather than into you. This happens as described in wet conditions.

However, usually the rider simply falls on the ground in front of you and doesn't slide out. Your front wheel will hit him and you'll go over the bars. Your only choice is to straighten the bike and brake, which will take you wide but you will stay upright. In that case, you're better off riding to the outside of the rider in front.

The first rider (black, yellow, red) lost traction at 55kph and hit the deck. The rider behind him (black, yellow) went straight into him. There was no way he could have gone through on the inside. Rider 3 (blue, black) was able to escape by going wide. The rest of the field was following and the resultant pile-up resulted in two hospital trips.

Picture courtesy of:

Remember in race that the most dangerous corner is the final corner, so stay extra vigilant and get near the front.

It is a common mistake to pull in too soon after overtaking another rider, especially when riding in a group. The rider being overtaken can have his front wheel taken out by your back wheel and will end up on the ground or at the very least hurling obscenities at you.

If you are leading a line of riders, then think of it like a long vehicle. You should only pull in when the back of the vehicle has passed the slower rider. If you pull in immediately, the rider behind you, desperate for slipstreaming, will also pull in. The effect is copied down the line and that's where the accident occurs.

3) Cars and vehicles
If you make contact with a car then you will come off worse, so it is best avoided. I've noticed that new riders have a knack of getting into collisions which 'were not their fault'. Whilst that may be true in a legal sense, we should be pragmatic and try to avoid accidents as broken teeth will never heal.

Red light jumping
I'm not an advocate of red light jumping. It antagonizes motorists and can be very dangerous.

If you find yourself at a massive junction, then don't run red lights. Wait.

If the light is red and there are pedestrians crossing, then don't run the red.

If you are turning right (left in UK, Australia) and find yourself just in front of a large truck, then you may consider carefully advancing through the red to avoid being crushed. Right turns on red may be allowed in your state. Not allowed in New York and California.

Just use some common sense, and don't make it a habit.

Cars pulling out or in
This is a common accident scenario. If the road is clear, then the driver will probably have seen you. A a precaution, cover your brakes and be aware of what's behind you if you need to swerve.

If the road is clogged with stationary traffic and a gap has been left for the car to pull out, then there's a good chance the driver won't see you. Cover you brakes and slow down a little. Assume that you've not been seen. You may have to stop to allow the car to pull out.

Parked cars
The risk from parked cars is either that a door will open on you or the car will pull out.

To avoid doors, ride at least 3 feet / 1 meter from the parked cars. If possible, look through the back window to see if there is someone in the car. If the car has just pulled to a stop ahead of you, there's a good chance the driver might next open the door. Prepare yourself for this by listening for traffic, visually checking behind for traffic then gently pulling out to give space for a possible door opening.

If you see a driver has just started his car - perhaps the signal is on or the brake lights are on, or front wheels are turning, then prepare for it to move. It is easy to miss a cyclist in the mirrors, so prepare by covering the brakes and being aware of what's behind you in case you need to swerve. Looking and thinking ahead is key in these situations.

Consider what you are wearing
Whilst we would hope that drivers would see us whilst wearing all black kit on a rainy day, consider wearing bright kit and using lights. If there is an accident, it will be difficult for the insurers and police to blame you for not being visible.

It is a fact of life in our towns and cities that some people are intent on becoming candidates for the Darwin awards by walking out into roads without listening or looking. Often they are staring intently at a phone (podestrians). In the past these people would have long been eliminated from our gene pool, but we live in different times and so they are another hazard to watch out for.

Whilst it would be nice crash straight into them, it is best to cover the brakes, possibly shout a warning or prepare to slow and change course. Just be aware of them and don't get enraged when it happens.

Hook turn
If you are trying to turn left on a busy road (right UK/ Australia) then it might be safer to perform a hook turn.

To do this you pull over on the right and wait for the lights to turn green. This is much safer than crossing 2 lanes of fast moving traffic then stopping in the middle of a junction whilst you wait for an opening.

Vehicle shielding
You might find yourself at a busy junction where it is difficult to find an opening to pull out. In this case you could use another vehicle to shield you as you pull out.

The vehicle in front might edge out into the traffic, causing it to stop. You can pull out to the side of this vehicle and follow it out of the junction.

Riding faster is safer in traffic
In city traffic it is safer to ride more quickly. If you are travelling at 25-30mph (40-50kph) then you will be travelling at a similar speed to the traffic so won't be overtaken so frequently. If you are riding at 10-15mph then everyone will be trying to overtake you and the situation becomes more dangerous.

Not everyone can ride at 25mph, but it is worth knowing. Get a faster bike or get fitter.

Erratic driving
Sometimes you'll come across a driver who is acting erratically. They might be swerving, tailgating, braking heavily or repeatedly pulling in. If you look through the back window of the car you might see they are on the phone, looking at a map, or that it is a real estate agent in a hurry.

In all cases, the sensible thing to do is back off and watch that vehicle carefully. Prepare for the next erratic move.

This is the act of passing between stationary traffic. Whilst speeds may be low, this is a very dangerous situation.

Adjust your speed. Filtering at breakneck speed is a common mistake. Limit your speed to 10mph when filtering.

Watch out for gaps in the traffic. Look ahead - why is the gap there? Is it because someone is on their phone and not looking ahead or because someone is about to pull out? Cover the brakes.

Watch out for pedestrians appearing from behind buses and lorries.

Watch out for narrow gaps. It isn't a great idea to find yourself between two buses which are only 2 feet apart, especially when they start moving. Think about it before you head down that gap. Consider WAITING.

If you decide to wait for any reason, don't block the filtering area for those behind you. They may have a different perception of risk. It is not your job to decide for them. Allow them to pass.

There are many ways if falling off your bike or crashing into things. Most of these can be avoided by using your eyes, brain and being patient. Try to look out for hazardous situations as you ride around. It isn't necessary to make a hospital trip to learn the lesson.

Links - broken bikes.

Shimano Dura-Ace 11 Speed chain.

Wipperman quick link

Campagnolo Record 11 Speed Chain

Campagnolo UT-CN300 Chain Tool - expensive

Park Tools chain tool for Campagnolo chains - more reasonable price.

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