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Old 06-24-11, 02:11 PM   #1
plantrob
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Curious about racing - but don't want to crash

Been riding since October. I enjoy riding with the "fast" group at lunch where I work, and am just about at the point where I don't get yelled at too much for making jack-ass moves. A good number of the guys on those rides race - most of them can ride away from me anytime they want, but I'm on a par with a few others, so I figure I might be able to hold my own in cat 5. I'm a pretty good climber, can hold on fairly well on the flats, and have very little sprinting ability at the moment. If I took up racing, I'd head for the longer-loop road races with some ups&downs.
So I'm starting to wonder about my original inclination not to race. That's mostly motivated by a fear of crashing (I crashed about 6 weeks into picking up the bike habit, suffered a third-degree A-C separation, the after-effects of which are still bothering me). From comments here & elsewhere, I gather that cat 5 races have a higher than average probability of crashes occurring. So - any words of wisdom? Tips on how to avoid getting caught in a crash? I'm not in a hurry - figure I have some further fitness and skills to develop before diving in anyway...
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Old 06-24-11, 02:20 PM   #2
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long road races are no safer than short road races, or crits. in fact, some of the sketchiest races i've done were long road races.

crashes happen. either accept that fact or don't race.
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Old 06-24-11, 02:28 PM   #3
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I don't think anyone wants to crash. Risk/reward scenario.

Don't follow the misconception that one form of racing is more immune to it either. The worst one I was involved in happened after the finish of a RR.
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Old 06-24-11, 02:43 PM   #4
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long road races are no safer than short road races, or crits. in fact, some of the sketchiest races i've done were long road races.

crashes happen. either accept that fact or don't race.
+1
not to be harsh OP, but Mikey just mentioned everything you need to know re: crashing. It's a issue of when and how often as opposed to yes or no.

the worst courses, though, are the narrow crits. Royal cluster***k
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Old 06-24-11, 02:46 PM   #5
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And my worst was a training ride... with one other rider. Go figure.

Working on bike handling can improve your odds of avoiding a crash, but the probability is always there. Of course, racing crit's is, IMO, the best way to improving your bike handling. My crit experience has saved my butt in RR/Group situations more than once, not that I'm the best bike handler out there at this point - far from it. And, of course, being afraid of a crash can be conducive to having one.
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Old 06-24-11, 02:55 PM   #6
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Getting a sense of comfort in a group is most important. You should also understand group dynamics.

I think driving habits reflect group riding ones. If you find yourself slamming on the brakes semi-regularly, you need to assess what you're doing wrong. Even in bumper to bumper rush hour traffic you shouldn't have a lot of heart stopping moments.

I've never seen a good driver ride poorly in a group.

If you're the preferred designated driver in your circle of friends, if you've never rear ended another car, then you're probably pretty good at reading group dynamics. I've crashed on the bike so it's not like I'm perfect.

If you're not good at reading group dynamics, I don't know what to suggest. Stock up on Tegaderm?

Regardless you should figure out a way to learn how to touch your front wheel to another bike's rear wheel (which includes falling over), bump to the sides, and standard handling exercises like track stands, bunny hops, etc.

The more confident you are on the bike the better you'll be (from a solo point of view).

The better you are in a group the better your chances of staying upright.
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Old 06-24-11, 03:12 PM   #7
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My other passion is downhill skiing. I've done it my whole life, while I've only been seriously into cycling for about 6 or 7 years.

There are two things that skiing and cycling have in common (almost to a weird extent). One, that YOU control how likely you are to crash. Some people crash a lot. Some people crash very little. This probably has mainly to do with awareness, reaction time, aggressiveness, technique, and maybe a lot of other things. But it seems to apply regardless of the specific sport.

Two - some people know HOW to crash better than others. Obviously in both sports, there are going to be crashes that get out of control, no matter who you are. But there's a technique aspect to falling which applies in probably 60 to 70% of crashes.

If you ride with a wide range of cyclists, you can identify the 'crashy' ones pretty easily. They're the ones who make sudden, jerky movements, who ride with their heads down when the pace gets hot, who are constantly yelling out 'slowing!' and grabbing handfuls of brake. They lack the ability to look up the road and anticipate what might happen, let alone what's about to happen.

Luckily for me, I learned both as a kid on the ski hill, when I bounced well and healed fast. I didn't learn that #2 transferred to cycling until I actually hit the deck, but I could tell immediately that #1 transfers.

I don't know if it's innate or something that can be taught or a combination, but at the very least you should know where you fit on the scale of 'crashy' to 'not crashy'. If you're not confident in your ability to avoid sketchy situations, you probably aren't ready to race. But don't let that dissuade you. It's certainly possible to race hard for long periods of time without hitting the deck - and to stack the odds in your favor so when you do go down, all you end up with is some road rash.

I was in your position when I started bike racing. I came from triathlon and I had the typical triathlete's assumptions that racing = crashfests. Happy to say that this isn't the case, and that even in races where other people are hitting the deck, your personal risk is still definitely manageable.
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Old 06-24-11, 04:11 PM   #8
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long road races are no safer than short road races, or crits. in fact, some of the sketchiest races i've done were long road races.

crashes happen. either accept that fact or don't race.
this
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Old 06-24-11, 04:58 PM   #9
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Considering your mindset and fitness, start with time trials. I am sure there are many in the area and you will be on the course by yourself. Also, time trials build threshold power which will be an asset if you decide to do mass start races. I suggest joining a racing club and subscribe to the local USA Cycling district discussion board. You can learn about different races and typically there is some crash discussion on the forum. In the mean time, work on your group ride skills and enroll in a district approved skills class. Many times the skills clinics will count toward to Cat 4 upgrade.

As far as Cat 5 races being less safe than others, that depends. Locally, the Cat 5 fields are limited to 50 racers (Cat 4 is 100) and many have mentors. The mentors do a great job helping racers with the pack skills.
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Old 06-25-11, 06:20 PM   #10
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Thanks for the advice, all. With my OP, I did not mean to imply that one type of race was safer than another - just where my inclinations are likely to take me. The attraction of racing to me does mean direct interaction on the road with other competitive racers, which makes time trialing less intriguing.

I think I'll stick with my group rides for at least another few months. I'll hear a lot of banter about upcoming and recent races that way - likely to further pique my interest in participating myself
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Old 06-26-11, 06:20 AM   #11
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I know of at least 4 people right off the top of my head who were killed on group rides, and an endless array of folks who have gone down and been injured. I do 60+ races a year and had stayed upright for going on close to 3 years until a week ago...guess what kind of ride I was doing? And guess what the smallest amount of my riding entails...
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Old 06-26-11, 09:47 AM   #12
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I know of at least 4 people right off the top of my head who were killed on group rides, and an endless array of folks who have gone down and been injured. I do 60+ races a year and had stayed upright for going on close to 3 years until a week ago...guess what kind of ride I was doing? And guess what the smallest amount of my riding entails...
+1

Nothing in my experience leads me to think that group rides - especially fast, aggressive group rides on roads open to traffic - are any safer than racing. At least when you crash in a race, you probably won't also get run over by a car after you hit the deck.

That said, I also think you have to be realistic and accept that if you race, sooner or later you will crash. At the same time, most crashes, especially in crits, are a relatively low speeds and the consequences are not that serious. Sure, you can "win" the bad luck lottery, but your house could also get hit by an asteroid tonight.

As a side note, I've also come to accept that my race bike is an expendable tool. I've never had any serious damage to my body from a crash, but I can't say the same for my bike. If you 've saved for years to get your dream ride, and it would be a serious personal setback it it was damaged, you might want to think twice about lining up with it...
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Old 06-26-11, 09:50 AM   #13
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Racer Ex, I'd love to know your secret!

No one has mentioned this yet to the OP, but you're generally (not always, but generally) safer towards the front of a race. I'm still relatively new to racing, but from my experience crashing at some point seems unavoidable. I've had a few this season, I had one teammate go down yesterday in a race and then two more today. In the case of two of them (the ones I saw) the guys were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
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Old 06-26-11, 11:55 AM   #14
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Curious about racing - but don't want to crash
then don't race.

there. wasn't that easy?
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Old 06-26-11, 02:44 PM   #15
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+1

Nothing in my experience leads me to think that group rides - especially fast, aggressive group rides on roads open to traffic - are any safer than racing. At least when you crash in a race, you probably won't also get run over by a car after you hit the deck.

That said, I also think you have to be realistic and accept that if you race, sooner or later you will crash. At the same time, most crashes, especially in crits, are a relatively low speeds and the consequences are not that serious. Sure, you can "win" the bad luck lottery, but your house could also get hit by an asteroid tonight.

As a side note, I've also come to accept that my race bike is an expendable tool. I've never had any serious damage to my body from a crash, but I can't say the same for my bike. If you 've saved for years to get your dream ride, and it would be a serious personal setback it it was damaged, you might want to think twice about lining up with it...
this

on my solo training ride today, i was passed by people on the Nyack Rocket Ride. These people were insanely reckless, almost comparable to hipsters weaving in nyc traffic. If i'm a driver, i'd hate all cyclists, too.

The saddest part though, was the "chase" group, or should i just call them the dropped group? They were basically going at my speed, so i decided to hop on and see what the deal was. They, too, were running red lights even though there's no chance in hell they could catch the leaders. Just idiotic all around
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Old 06-26-11, 03:21 PM   #16
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our wednesday night rides are way sketchier and crashier than any of our santcioned races.

i think a lot of people who think racing is too dangerous come out and dont know what the hell theyre doing and screw things up.

irony, i guess.

i know some folks say long RRs are sketchier than crits but that hasnt really been my experience in two years of racing a lot at the 4 and 3 level. the only race crashes ive seen first hand have been in crits, and there havebeen a lot. this is obviously just annecdotal.

for safety stick with TTs and hill climbs with no descents.

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Old 06-26-11, 03:42 PM   #17
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then don't race.

there. wasn't that easy?
Did you ever work for Staples?
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Old 06-26-11, 03:46 PM   #18
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Getting a sense of comfort in a group is most important. You should also understand group dynamics.

I think driving habits reflect group riding ones. If you find yourself slamming on the brakes semi-regularly, you need to assess what you're doing wrong. Even in bumper to bumper rush hour traffic you shouldn't have a lot of heart stopping moments.

I've never seen a good driver ride poorly in a group.

If you're the preferred designated driver in your circle of friends, if you've never rear ended another car, then you're probably pretty good at reading group dynamics. I've crashed on the bike so it's not like I'm perfect.

If you're not good at reading group dynamics, I don't know what to suggest. Stock up on Tegaderm?

Regardless you should figure out a way to learn how to touch your front wheel to another bike's rear wheel (which includes falling over), bump to the sides, and standard handling exercises like track stands, bunny hops, etc.

The more confident you are on the bike the better you'll be (from a solo point of view).

The better you are in a group the better your chances of staying upright.
I'm a "slow" driver. You know, the guy who observes the speed limit, comes to a full stop at stop signs, and ignores everyone yelling at him as they zip by. I now understand why I typically finish way down in the standings of races. I thought it was my conditioning; now I know that it may be my demeanor.
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Old 06-26-11, 04:35 PM   #19
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Did you ever work for Staples?
cultural reference?
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Old 06-26-11, 06:29 PM   #20
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cultural reference?
I think the reference was to the " easy button ads"
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Old 06-26-11, 06:38 PM   #21
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I think the reference was to the " easy button ads"


And to the OP: If you are worried about crashing I'd do crits instead of road racing. In my experience there are more crashes per mile in crits, but road race crashes tend to be worse. And in RR's you can have cars on the road to make those interactions especially bad.

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Old 06-27-11, 05:13 AM   #22
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The worst crashes I've seen are in road races, typically when going 40-55 mph and someone does something weird (flat tire, wobble, pothole, whatever).

In crits you rarely break 40-45 mph so by definition you're already ahead of the game. You're usually close to aid (in many road races you won't even have a cell phone signal), there's lots of people around, you learn the course after a few laps, etc.

I'd boast that I specialize in crits (I get totally shelled in road races), and I didn't crash from about 1993-2009 except for one crash (pulled out of a pedal sprinting out of a turn and hitting a massive pothole). I did upwards of 45-50 crits a year.

However, I crashed every year from 1983-1992, the first 5 years on training rides (once to three times a year, virtually all my own fault - I was racing those years too, and starting to get a feel for placing high in crits), the next 5 years in races (max 4x in 5 races, usually 1x a year). I don't recall one crash that was my fault in races, although I had a few close calls.

The last two crashes, 2009, 2010, crit 2009 was not my fault and in fact was an extremely dangerous move that took out most of the field (the rider has since mellowed it seems - he's been racing for 20+ years), 2010 was my fault, assumed teammate wouldn't slam on brakes at 30 mph as he caught next group (thought he was going around, unprepared when he didn't).

It took until 2009 for me to break a bone, so 26 years of racing, virtually all of those races being crits. I think I've done maybe 10-15 road races, 2 circuit (2-3 mile loop) races, some kermis. I was a Cat 3 for virtually all those years.
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Old 06-27-11, 11:12 AM   #23
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A lot of good stuff has been said here but I'd like to +1 anyone who said (and I'll paraphrase here) that the best way to avoid a crash is to avoid the people in front and around you who are going to crash. And no, this does not require a crystal ball. Just be observant.
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Old 06-27-11, 12:35 PM   #24
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A lot of good stuff has been said here but I'd like to +1 anyone who said (and I'll paraphrase here) that the best way to avoid a crash is to avoid the people in front and around you who are going to crash. And no, this does not require a crystal ball. Just be observant.
Also, as I demonstrated to myself, playing safe and effective racing are sometimes mutually exclusive things. I raced at/near the front for 9.5 of the last 10 laps of a crit yesterday, and with 1/2 lap to go, 3 turns, I eased a bit too much and found myself literally one spot behind where I could hold my position. I backed off and ended up out of the innards of the race.

Until then it was relatively safe - after that I couldn't hold my position safely and had to use a lot of gas to try and move back into that "safe area". I ran out of gas though and sat up.

If I'd insisted on pressing on in the less safe areas of the race, I would have considered it "risky". In fact there were 2 crashes in the less-safe zones of the field in the last 3 laps.
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Old 06-27-11, 12:45 PM   #25
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My last crash was in a similar situation to which CDR describes: tail end of late season M123 crit where about half the field had been shredded and dropped. The remaining half was completely strung out and I was hanging on by the skin of my teeth, and of course so was everybody else back there. We're all at our limit and one guy is trying to move up a few spaces (like from 40th to 35th), so he overcooks a turn, which causes the guy in front of me to grab too much brake, which causes him to fish tail into me, which causes me to high-side into the bales.

The lesson I guess is that bad things can happen when you're hypoxic....
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