Rarely a week go’s by without one of our cycling community having a fall or a crash when out on a group ride, usually out on the Al Qudra Cycle Track. While we all know there is always a possibility of an off, it is probably worth looking into the reasons and possible solutions to reduce the risk of falls and crashes on our group. The various group ride organisations by and large do a great job organising rides here in Dubai. The group organisers put a fair bit of effort into their brief’s just before a group ride, although like all brief”s not everyone is listening, you can’t fight human nature. Please bear in mind that I am nobody’s expert on the subject, however having ridden on many group rides at Al Qudra, I can see direct parallels to some of the issues from previous experience in motorcycle racing and indeed my job as a pilot.
why do crashes happen
There are numerous reasons why we can all leap off a perfectly functional bike, but this article will focus on the group ride/peleton issue. As our cycle tracks become busier there are increasing numbers of obstacles and distractions, some of our biggest threats include;
- over-large riding groups
- sand and gravel distractions
- passing other cycle path users that may be a bit random
- people stopping on or close to the side of the track
Within a group we have our own self made threats and our own errors
- not riding parallel to your partner
- half wheeling (at the front)
- overlapping wheels
- not riding and indeed pedaling smoothly
- not communicating
- wobbling/slowing when communicating
- looking backwards, everything important happens in front of you
the Dubai factor
Due to the expat nature of Dubai a vast percentage of the people we ride with are casual acquaintances at best, with a broad range of cyclist experience, cultures and ages. Experience is a wonderful thing on a bike, but even there, a cyclist from Australia may ride in a completely different manner to an Irishman.
The bio-diversity of our riders in Dubai is a wonderful thing, but certainly can add to the risks and challenges. We all look at any given challenge or situation from different perspectives, our spatial awareness, ability, experience, fitness and desired level of stress means that what looks simple or easy to one person, may be quite different to another. A thin layer of sand or gravel will look like a billiard table to a rider with cyclecross or mountain bike experience and truly scary and life threatening to someone who is relatively inexperienced.
When we come upon a obstacle or passing opportunity, the more experienced, confident, fit rider may well assess the risk as less to just power on past, especially if they are on the front pulling at the time. Another rider may be more risk averse and think it is better to slow down. Often this will happen at the last moment. As someone who has been on many group rides, I find that slowing down is usually more challenging than speeding up. If you are 5 rows back in a group and people slow suddenly for any reason, unless it has been communicated the concertina effect ends up being quite dramatic, usually to the theme tune of someone with carbon wheels on noisy brake pads. That does not mean that we should always speed up of course, just that all my close calls have been on slowing suddenly.
so what can we do
Well of course the simple answer is to ride only with your close mates, then you all know each others strengths and weaknesses, but even then….. Arguably the single biggest thing we can do is COMMUNICATE better. Better does not necessarily mean we need to talk lots, in aviation we have learned that less can be more, if it is timely and pertinent, one word calls can be very powerful. The one call I would like to hear more is SLOWING, but only because we are about to slow! Other aspects that could make our environment safer include
- ANTICIPATE better especially if you are on the front, communicate what you are going to do at junctions if slowing.
- Use SINGLE file a lot more often when passing, the use of SINGLE should be planned and communicated further ahead by the lead riders
- Split the group if too big, ask slower riders to ride in the rear group.
- Ride in a group that is at your level, we all want to ride faster but if you are struggling to ride at a groups pace and manner, then consider riding in a slower group
- Assess sand and gravel and wherever possible do not change the pace, hesitation and concertina are likely to cause bigger problems behind than relaxing and keeping pace.
- If you stop for any reason, get off the path by at least a meter, your shoes will not get that dirty.
- If you are being passed please cycle the line at the edge of the track
Final word, while we all love going as fast as possible, group riding is not a RACE, your Strava PB’s will wait for another day, preferably not 6-8 weeks. Please feel free to disagree or add your experiences below