Want to know the 4 most common cycling mistakes causing injury?
Easy ways to avoid accidents when cycling
I took up road cycling 5 years ago and I still remember vividly the accidents that occurred during my first year. I experienced several accidents personally but also saw accidents with other riders in my riding group. Sadly, some of these accidents have resulted in riders being banned by their spouses not to ride again due to their personal life circumstances and severity of injury.
I want to share with you, what I saw as the four easy riding tips that can help avoid cycling accidents. These tips won’t remove the risk of accidents completely, but I do hope it will make you think about the dangers in particular cycling scenarios.
If you are wanting to reduce the risk of having a road cycling accident, then please read on.
Accident 1. Crossing the wheels
Crossing the wheel with cyclist in front of you is very dangerous. The cyclist in front may veer, resulting in their back wheel colliding with your front wheel.
Cycling in a group is a lot of fun. You can talk to others whilst riding, help each other out if there is a mechanical failure and share water and sustenance. However, it can also be very dangerous if the group is relatively inexperienced and doesn’t know how to ride together.
When cycling in a group, one of the first basic rules to learn is to NOT cross the wheels.
Crossing wheels occurs when you are riding behind a rider. As you ride behind the front rider, you bring your front wheel to be along side the rider’s back wheel. And rather than pulling completely along side of the front rider, you remain slightly behind.
In this scenario, the front rider cannot see you clearly. You remain in his blind spot. The danger is therefore, any sudden change in direction from the front rider may result in their back wheel clipping your front wheel.
This is a recipe for riders in an inexperienced group. In particular, this is very dangerous when the group is riding at speed. Accidents occurring at speed are the most dangerous and can result in severe injury.
I found that riding in cycling events can also be very dangerous, with crossing wheels occurring quite often. When I rode the Sydney to Wollongong ride in November 2017, I found some inexperienced riders would sit in other riders’ blind spots and cross wheels. Fortunately the pace wasn’t fast, and any changes in direction from riders would not cause any surprises.
Accident 2. Loose grip on handle bars riding down hill
A loose grip on the handle bars will send you flying off the bike if you hit a pot hole, branch, bump on the road. Hold tight!
One of my favorite parts of a ride is the long straight sections of going at speed down hill. When I began riding, each Sunday morning my riding group would take a route which allowed for a long straight downhill stretch along West Pennant Hills Road in Sydney Australia. Unfortunately, I still remember the day vividly when one of our riders hit a bump on the road, fell off and shattered the bones in his wrist and hand.
It was an early Sunday morning, when cars are the least on busy Sydney roads. Our route is approximately 50kms, a big anti-clockwise loop around regional Sydney which includes a fun descent. On this day, our group split with one of our riders dropping off during the decent. There was nothing untoward with the split, he simply was slowing down and wanted to ride the descent in comfort. The descent is not on a windy road and nor is it narrow, rather it is one of the major roads in Sydney, triple lanes on both sides of the road. This day, however, the rider was not holding firmly to the handle bars of his bike. He was casually wiping his nose or sweat from his face and riding the descent. At that point, he was unaware that there was a bump upcoming. Travelling at a good 40 to 50km per hour he hit the bump, then flipped off his bike. Using his right hand to cushion the impact of hitting the road, his wrist and hand was fractured in many areas.
Cars that were riding along side him, pulled over to help him off the main road, at the same time our group quickly turned back and called an ambulance. He was later taken to Westmead hospital for treatment.
Unfortunately, this accident could have been avoided if more attention and care was taken riding down hill at speed. Don’t relinquish control of your bike when riding at speed. Roads are not smooth, they have potholes, bumps and branches. So hold tight until you slow down.
Accident 3. Don’t suck wheel too closely
Sucking wheel results in collisions if riding too closely. Ride further back and you can still draft.
On this particular day of riding, I was not feeling the best, but I still wanted to ride with a small group of friends – a group of only three in fact. It was a new route, that I had never ridden before so I was a bit hesitant, but knowing that I could suck wheel with the strongest rider in the group of three, I thought I could save a lot of energy and keep up.
I had heard, that by sucking wheel i.e. riding close to the rider in front of you, you can save up to 30% of your energy. This is a great for weaker riders who know that they can leverage off stronger riders. I’m a weak rider and coupled with being sick, I needed all the energy savings I could get.
On this day, I sucked wheel too closely! On a long stretch in the country side of Richmond (the outskirts of regional Sydney), I clipped my front wheel with the back wheel of the rider in front of me. Fortunately, I was not riding at a fast pace, but still fast enough to flip over to the right and slide along my right hand side. My jersey and bib was shredded from the bitumen of the road. I had grazing along the right hand side of my body. A kind passerby in her car took me to the emergency ward in Richmond Hospital for a check up, and luckily the only damage was my ego and a lot of torn skin.
In summary, unless you are a pro, don’t suck wheel and if you don’t leave plenty of space with the rider in front of you. Drafting can be very dangerous!
Accident 4. Riding on a flat tyre
Riding on a flat tyre results in little control and ruin your rims.
When I began riding, I bought a new bike from Cell Bikes. It was an aluminium road bike, entry level. Good, solid and sturdy.
But, perhaps unluckily, the tyres and the tubes weren’t the best. On my first ride with the group, I suffered a punctured tyre. We changed it and although changed correctly, the wheel continued to have a slow leak.
With my little experience, I wasn’t sure if this was the norm, and continually pumped up the tyres before each ride.
On one long ride with a small group of friends, the slow leak led to my front tyre becoming almost completely deflated. Being new, and not wanting to trouble my friends, I continued to ride. My control of the bike gradually decreased, and the roll naturally became rough as the rim touched the road surface. It wasn’t until we came to a stop that my friends saw the flat and told me the dangers of riding on a flat.
Riding on a flat can lead to:
- loss of control – taking a turn on a flat tyre can lead to the bike slipping from underneath you. In fact, any turning will be dangerous and you won’t be able to hold your bike straight and upright.
- damaging rims – with no air in the tubes, the road surface is in direct contact with the rims. This can critically damage your rims, causing permanent misalignment and further causing loss of control.
Hence, make sure your tyres are not flat. Pump them up, and if there is a slow leak, you will need to change the tube and even the tyre. I personally now use puncture resistant tyres to avoid any slow leaks and glass slashing through to the tube.
Cycling is a lot of fun! However, there are some easy tips to remember to avoid accidents and severe injury.
- Similar to driving a car, don’t ride in other riders’ blind spots. Crossing wheels may result in a clash of wheels and result in an accident.
- Hold firm when riding fast. Sydney roads are littered with potholes, bumps and debris. If you are not holding firm when riding at speed, you may lose control resulting in serious injury.
- Sucking wheel too closely will clash your tyre with the front rider’s tyre. Saving energy is a smart thing to do, but not at the expense of your safety and others. Most of us are casual riders, so enjoy the ride and draft at a safe distance, allow for plenty of space with the front rider.
- Flat tyres are the bane of everyone’s cycling experience. Change the tube and change the tyre rather than riding on a flat. Avoid slippage and injuring yourself.
Keep safe and remember these simple cycling tips.