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Club riding - fun, but dangerous. A terrible lesson today.

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Fifty Plus (50+) Share the victories, challenges, successes and special concerns of bicyclists 50 and older. Especially useful for those entering or reentering bicycling.

Club riding - fun, but dangerous. A terrible lesson today.

Old 05-23-15, 08:37 PM
  #1  
MinnMan
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Club riding - fun, but dangerous. A terrible lesson today.

Members of the 50+ group have quite variable enthusiasm for riding clubs. Some partake, some never do. I happen to be a club enthusiast, in part because there is a huge club in the Twin Cities that offers many diverse rides. In warm months when I'm healthy, I commonly do 3-4 rides/week.

Today there was the annual memorial weekend ride, which attracts a huge group, including a large and spirited A group. At about the 50 mile mark (of a 70 mile ride), something happened in a bunch of riders - there were 20 or 30 riding together - and an experienced rider went down hard and is now dead. I wasn't there to see what happened, so I don't know how it happened, but I gather from talking to people that something happened to a rider or riders just ahead of him.

I had had a flat and so was a ways back - I came upon the aftermath. You can imagine how my heart sank when I crested a rise and saw the cluster of emergency vehicles on the quiet country road, and then as I got closer all the dazed riders standing by the roadside.

I know some people who have sworn off club rides or fast club rides because they are not so safe. All of us who ride on roads are taking a risk, and those of us who ride in tight bunches in club rides are taking additional risks and putting our well-being in the hands of our fellow riders.

I'm not ready to swear off club rides. in fact, I'll likely go on a (much smaller and more tranquil) ride tomorrow if it doesn't rain. But yes, I am shaken and spooked.
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Old 05-23-15, 10:48 PM
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I stopped riding in groups when power meters came into vogue. The art of riding skills went out the window at that time, imo. Prior to that, most of us assumed the best way to go faster was to be more efficient, which involved not squirrelling the bike or making unnecessary jerky movements. Once everyone was training to power, the only thing that mattered was the numerical output and bike handling skills went out the window. It could also be that many people began "learning" to ride by watching the pros at about that same time. It's far better to learn from the amateur masters, who all have to go to work the day after the race, than from the pros for whom an injury is just the cost of doing business.

Of course there are many exceptions. Plenty of riders are still good wheels, but they appear to be a vanishing breed. I enjoy it immensely when I encounter a rider who is one of these masters, but it doesn't happen very often. Lucky for me, I bring my own good wheel with me on many rides (tandem).
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Old 05-24-15, 12:05 AM
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It's a tragedy no doubt and I feel badly for the rider's family. These types of accidents are extremely rare and shouldn't be cause to give up something you enjoy like cycling.
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Old 05-24-15, 06:47 AM
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How sad,
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Old 05-24-15, 07:02 AM
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Very sorry to hear about the rider. Prayers for his family and friends. It is very sad.

I like to ride with a few friends but large groups of riders at 15-30 mph, wheel to wheel scares the crap out of me! I just don't like to put myself in the position of letting someone else's abilities(or lack of) be responsible for my safety. Things happen so fast and my reaction time may not quick enough to avoid the incident.
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Old 05-24-15, 07:22 AM
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I don't do club rides either. On some level they are always a race, even when they aren't racing and in almost all cases you put your well being on the whims and actions of a bunch of other people. For me, cycling is dangerous enough but I understand the appeal to group riding.
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Old 05-24-15, 07:58 AM
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Sad indeed. It's easy to jump to conclusions about these incidents. A fatality from just a crash along the road is extremely rare. Even hitting the pavement at 25 mph usually causes road rash and the occasional bone fracture.

The best reaction to this is just continue to enjoy riding and be safe.
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Old 05-24-15, 08:01 AM
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Early one winter morning a few years ago, while I was riding to work on a local MUP, a huge mob of recreational riders suddenly appeared from behind a curve, filling both travel lanes. I had to leave the path and ride through the snow to get past them without a collision. They yelled at one another trying to coordinate a shift into the proper lane, but all that accomplished was lots of wobbling and near-collisions. Clearly, there was no serious attempt at mission planning. Without studded snow tires or absent my evasive maneuver, there would have been serious collisions. They owed me an apology and should have at least thanked me.

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Old 05-24-15, 09:01 AM
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This is horrible and the very thing that scares the hell out of me and most of my club. Our club is 150 members strong and we ride every Saturday morning and Weds. after work. This past off season we created a Safety Committee to come up with training sessions to try to get everyone on the same page for group riding. I was on the committee with about 7 others. One of the things we all agreed on is the size of rides. While our A and Beginner rides were relatively small (8-10) our B ride was getting out of control. I recall one that was over two dozen riders. We decided we had to limit group size. As a result we began asking riders on the B ride to self select being with the stronger or more mellow pace. This usually split the ride in half and the result has been very positive. We also found that just the focus on safety training and emphasis on safety on the actual ride got people thinking more about the issue of riding in a group. In the planning meetings I suggested that we try to instill in riders that cycling is a team sport and that each of our rides was a team event. As such we should focus on helping and communicating with each other. People liked that concept and it seems to be working in actual rides. The Friday before each Saturday ride an email goes out announcing the rides with routes, length, approx. elev., and pace. Shortly thereafter a "Safety Tip" email goes out with things like how to signal when stopping or how to close ranks when someone yells "car back", etc. So far so good. One of the other things we have done that I think is imperative is to let everyone know that ride leaders (we also have lieutenants) are empowered and required to point out safety issues and that riders should not take their efforts personally. We stress that this is just part of the team concept of keeping us all together and safe.

In the situation that the OP describes I don't know how anyone can expect a group that is that large and diverse in skill/ability to ride safely. IMO it's just a matter of time before something bad happens. On our club rides I am pretty much a B+ rider even at age 69. Which means 16 mph over say 40-50 mi. with 2400-3000 ft of climbing. But, I stay with the B ride because I know the riders well and I know what being on each persons' wheel means. I say all of this only to give some example of the extent to which riding safely in a group requires planning and forethought.

Last edited by bruce19; 05-24-15 at 09:04 AM.
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Old 05-24-15, 09:42 AM
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Sorry for the riders family. Fortunately the two clubs I ride with are not wannabe racer types. Also they are much smaller, older, and smarter. We seldom ride so close as to trying to draft, and of course that is pretty much useless with the recumbent club.
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Old 05-24-15, 11:13 AM
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What a shame, I feel for the families loss.

I like riding by myself, and this is one of the reasons.

I've ridden up on a scene like that, with the emergency vehicles, and the rest of the group milling around with sullen expressions. The downed rider suffered a broken hip, and I'm sure that put a damper on the clubs rides for a bit.

Nobody goes out with the idea that they're going to get hurt, but we all know cycling can be dangerous at times.
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Old 05-24-15, 12:38 PM
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I'm in a small bike club and when we've had 15 people show up for an in-town social intermediate ride, we try to split into two groups slower and faster.
The larger groups can get out of hand quickly with worsened street safety and etiquette.
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Old 05-24-15, 01:27 PM
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Originally Posted by Wileyrat View Post
What a shame, I feel for the families loss.

I like riding by myself, and this is one of the reasons.

I've ridden up on a scene like that, with the emergency vehicles, and the rest of the group milling around with sullen expressions. The downed rider suffered a broken hip, and I'm sure that put a damper on the clubs rides for a bit.

Nobody goes out with the idea that they're going to get hurt, but we all know cycling can be dangerous at times.
There are pros and cons to riding in a group. The pros are it's fun and in many ways it's also safer with respect to traffic. A group is far more visible and in my experience traffic is more respectful of a large group. When I say 'large' I'm talking about 5-20 riders. We don't get larger groups in my area.

The cons are you're more susceptible to a crash as a result of contact with another rider.

Not sure which is the higher risk but I hear of far more fatal incidents with single riders than riders in a group.
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Old 05-24-15, 02:32 PM
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Group rides are usually very safe but the biggest threat are new/inexperienced riders. Thats where the rider leaders role is important. A good leader recognizes most riders. They ask if anyone new is there and talks with them to determine their abilities. A good practice is telling new and inexperienced to hang in the back until they are comfortable and understands the dynamics. The leader is back there with them as well.
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Old 05-24-15, 03:16 PM
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Originally Posted by StanSeven View Post
Group rides are usually very safe but the biggest threat are new/inexperienced riders. Thats where the rider leaders role is important. A good leader recognizes most riders. They ask if anyone new is there and talks with them to determine their abilities. A good practice is telling new and inexperienced to hang in the back until they are comfortable and understands the dynamics. The leader is back there with them as well.
You may have hit the nail on the head here. We all should feel for the family of the deceased rider but as group riders ourselves that is like losing a member of our tribe. I know and am friends with many solo riders that dislike group rides for some of the very reasons indicated in these posts. But I am not sure there is a connection with danger and group rides that exceeds just riding. The bigger difference is more than likely in the mind of the rider. Solo riders tend to be solo people. They have skills and some more than others. I have seen some impressive riding skills by solo riders. So where is the caveat? Solo riders don't tend to teach many others. Cyclists can promote our passion for cycling by teaching others how to develop riding skills already mastered by others. In my opinion only that teaching is best done in groups. A group that has skill levels that differ and members that want to help others learn what they already have learned goes a long way at promoting cycling. Yes we are going to see accidents now and then but it is unlikely we will see more total than non group riders. And yes a good group has to be willing to spend the time helping new riders become strong riders, even with the aid of power meters, Garmin and Strava. People today are just as skilled as they ever were as can easily be seen in Videos of Peter Sagan on both road and mountain bikes just having fun. Sorry to hear one of ours didn't make it.
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Old 05-24-15, 04:22 PM
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Thanks for all of your thoughtful comments. I think that bruce19 is on the mark that some clubs (mine, for sure) need to give more thought to safety and to make it part of the club DNA. We communicate well verbally and we do remind one another about safety. There is also a weekly ride in which one of the old salts - a former racer - gives instruction on group riding skills and etiquette. But we don't do enough. The particular experience yesterday also makes me think that our club should strongly encourage members to get first aid and CPR training. I don't know if it would have helped yesterday, but as I understand it, CPR didn't begin until the first responder showed up (which was pretty fast - about 10 minutes).

Just a few more details about the accident yesterday that pertain to some of the points others have made. (Again, I was not actually there until afterwards, but I ride with these people all the time and I have spoken to several after the fact.) They were in a large bunch of 20 or 30, riding on the shoulder of a very low traffic rural road. There definitely was a mixture of highly experienced riders and less experienced riders in the bunch, and that was probably the key bad element. They were NOT racing or faux racing. There had been some tendency to that earlier in the ride, but the ride leader had loudly shut that down, letting people know that it was not a ride or group where such behavior was appropriate. at the time of the accident, the group was moving steadily at 20-21 MPH.

The rider who died was one of the most experienced riders in the club. He was in his mid-60s and had a heart condition. As I understand it, something happened in front of him that caused him and a couple of others to go down (2 other very experienced riders, including the ride leader, also left the scene in ambulances, but their injuries are comparatively minor- I've heard one has a dislocated shoulder, but I'm not exactly sure). But the rider went down hard on his head and lost consciousness, and was never revived.

His wife is also a long term member of the club. They are/were both ride leaders and many of their best friends are also club members. There are a lot of grieving people here in Minnesota over this sad event.

Last edited by MinnMan; 05-24-15 at 05:19 PM.
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Old 05-24-15, 06:24 PM
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I'm assuming he was wearing a helmet? When I crashed two years ago I went face down hard on my face. Actually, the upper left quadrant of my face. Blood filled my left eye and I did a lot of damage to my nose. I also chipped two teeth but worst of all I broke my neck requiring the fusion of C1 & C2 vertabrae. My helmet took enough of the force of the crash that I never lost consciousness. Which is why I tell the story. If he was wearing a helmet I would have guessed he would have been very unlucky to suffer a fatal head injury. It's possible of course but I would have thought unlikely. Clearly I could be wrong.
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Old 05-24-15, 06:50 PM
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Originally Posted by bruce19 View Post
I'm assuming he was wearing a helmet? When I crashed two years ago I went face down hard on my face. Actually, the upper left quadrant of my face. Blood filled my left eye and I did a lot of damage to my nose. I also chipped two teeth but worst of all I broke my neck requiring the fusion of C1 & C2 vertabrae. My helmet took enough of the force of the crash that I never lost consciousness. Which is why I tell the story. If he was wearing a helmet I would have guessed he would have been very unlucky to suffer a fatal head injury. It's possible of course but I would have thought unlikely. Clearly I could be wrong.
Yeah, he was definitely wearing a helmet. It's a cycling club - there are no exceptions to that rule.

People say that he hit hard, and at some point his heart stopped, but I don't know (and maybe nobody can know) what lead to what - whether he had a coronary when he hit his head (or before?) or...

I'm sorry to hear about your accident. I hope you have recovered fully. Not to start the old helmet debate, but I'm glad you were wearing yours.

Last edited by MinnMan; 05-24-15 at 06:54 PM.
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Old 05-24-15, 08:03 PM
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Originally Posted by MinnMan View Post
Yeah, he was definitely wearing a helmet. It's a cycling club - there are no exceptions to that rule.

People say that he hit hard, and at some point his heart stopped, but I don't know (and maybe nobody can know) what lead to what - whether he had a coronary when he hit his head (or before?) or...

I'm sorry to hear about your accident. I hope you have recovered fully. Not to start the old helmet debate, but I'm glad you were wearing yours.

Thanks. I crashed on July 24th 2013 and was back on the bike that November. Since then I've been faster and stronger than I was before. I only do about 100 mi./wk but it's about getting time to ride and not my injury. Given that I was 67 when I crashed and I'm now 69 most people can't believe I could come back this way. But, from the first day in the hospital somehow I knew I'd be better than before. I have no idea why I knew that but I did.
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Old 05-25-15, 01:21 AM
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Did I miss something? I didn't see anything that defined the cause of this death? Lots of comments about factors involved in group rides. But, nothing about whether that caused, or contributed to, the person's death.

So, what was his cause of death? Did the group have anything to do with the death? If so, what?
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Old 05-25-15, 09:05 AM
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Originally Posted by HawkOwl View Post
Did I miss something? I didn't see anything that defined the cause of this death? Lots of comments about factors involved in group rides. But, nothing about whether that caused, or contributed to, the person's death.

So, what was his cause of death? Did the group have anything to do with the death? If so, what?
OP's first post says that "something happened to a rider or riders just ahead of him" and in a later post that "People say that he hit hard, and at some point his heart stopped"
Appears that he went down related to whatever happened in front of him. And that he died after crashing. I can't find any news accounts by googling
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Old 05-25-15, 09:16 AM
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Riding fast alone isn't any more safe. You're less likely to be seen as a soloist. In the case of a non-fatal injury you can assured you will have your entire crew with you calling 911 and getting you medical attention ASAP. Everything has its trade offs, but you shouldn't stop yourself from doing what you love because there are risks involved. Even getting out the door or showering has its own risks.

I hope he wasn't close OP, either way losing a member of the group is a hard feeling you never forget and I've experienced it more than once. My group does honor rides for our fallen comrades; I have one upcoming this weekend. Sometimes when I'm sad and it's raining I'll go on a ride anyway; the rain hides all tears.
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Old 05-25-15, 11:03 AM
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Originally Posted by HawkOwl View Post
Did I miss something? I didn't see anything that defined the cause of this death? Lots of comments about factors involved in group rides. But, nothing about whether that caused, or contributed to, the person's death.

So, what was his cause of death? Did the group have anything to do with the death? If so, what?
Originally Posted by JanMM View Post
OP's first post says that "something happened to a rider or riders just ahead of him" and in a later post that "People say that he hit hard, and at some point his heart stopped"
Appears that he went down related to whatever happened in front of him. And that he died after crashing. I can't find any news accounts by googling
So, you didn't see anything either.

According to the post he went down. The inference is it was due to cycling in a group. But, at this point it appears to be only an assumption that something in the group was causation. I can think of several, non-group riding related, things that could have caused the situation.

I look forward to more information.
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Old 05-25-15, 11:06 AM
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Yep, big groups don't get hit by cars, solo riders do. Choose your poison.
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Old 05-25-15, 11:25 AM
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Originally Posted by HawkOwl View Post
So, you didn't see anything either.

According to the post he went down. The inference is it was due to cycling in a group. But, at this point it appears to be only an assumption that something in the group was causation. I can think of several, non-group riding related, things that could have caused the situation.

I look forward to more information.
Everything in this thread, started by me, is hearsay, but this is not a court of law, it's a discussion about the dangers of group riding, with a quite visceral and tragic example as a starting point. Legal and technical causation of death are something different, but note that two other riders were also taken away by ambulances -one of whom spent two nights in the hospital, I'm told. A crash among cyclists in a group ride caused significant injuries.

The person who died did not cause the crash. He went down and hit his head hard. Whether he died solely because of the crash or because of some combination of the crash and something else (I've earlier suggested he could have had a coronary), is not known. I am not aware of a forensic report and, as I am not a family member, I do not know if the results will be divulged.

This guy was a friend of mine and I'm going to a memorial gathering later today. So it's not so easy to be dispassionate and clinical about it. If you want to break it out in terms of gruesome possibilities, here is the menu:

1) He died from blunt trauma to the head.

2) The blunt trauma to the head triggered something else that wouldn't have happened to somebody with a healthier heart

3) In the moment between the crash and before he went down, he had a coronary, which caused him to go down harder than he would have otherwise.

Something else that you may want to think about:
*Somebody* or several somebodies caused this crash, and may be living with a lot of guilt and remorse. The group of cyclists involved have been extremely quiet and circumspect with discussion about "blame". I am very gratified to be associated with a group of mature adult cyclists (not all of whom are 50+, BTW), who have avoided finger pointing. This is why I write "something happened in front of him". People who were there have been understandably reluctant to be more specific.
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