Organized rides like this are an amazing way to gauge your performance, share camaraderie in the sport, meet new friends, gain confidence through shared experience, and learn more about technique — including how to ride in a such a large group. Riding in a group is just plain fun, and having the regular rest stops with food and water takes the worry out of riding in remote areas.
One of the benefits of organized rides is the “SAG” (“Support and Gear”). On the ride, if you become injured or your bike is damaged, a SAG vehicle will drive you to the nearest rest stop, to your car, or will call an ambulance for you. On this ride, I was fortunate not to witness any accidents, but at least two occurred. However, a friend and teammate found stopped with an injured rider who had apparently went over the handlebars on a down hill when she hit a pothole, and was seriously injured. An ambulance came and my friend was able to finish his ride.
Then later, I passed a rider who was being put onto a stretcher on a flat part of the road. I can’t fathom what happened to that rider because the stretch of road seemed to be nice pavement with no obstacles.
Seeing an accident, even the aftermath of one, can be intimidating and make you lose confidence. But confidence and skill are vital to performing well in this sport. Without technical skill, you don’t know how to react in dangerous situations. Without confidence, you don’t put those skills into practice.
Considering how many riders there were — I can’t find an estimate, but there were probably a couple thousand riders on the Wine Country Century — that is a very low percentage. Anyway, here is a list of pointers on safety in no particular order. I will try to get links for each, but if you need more information, Google them. There are some great videos (like this one on Livestrong) which will help:
- Stay to the right — Even on scary downhills. Riders behind you ARE going faster than you.
- Moderate your speed well before you need to stop
- Stop or be prepared to stop at all intersections — Pay attention to what riders are doing in front of you (not to mention traffic and road conditions)
- Keep your head up when making corners
- Call out to the riders behind you when you intend to stop
- Use hand signals to indicate slowing and stopping
- Know your skill level
- Know how to handle potholes and other road obstacles
- Apply both brakes equally, always (If you apply only the front brake on a downhill, you may go over the handle bars.)
- Don’t lock up the brakes — you need to maintain control
- Learn how to ride through a blowout
- Learn how to ride safely in a pace line
- Keeping a safe distance from other riders
- Pass with care
- Calling out when passing, pacing, or otherwise closely interacting with other riders
- Calling out when a car approaches from the rear (or from the front on narrow roads)
- Using hand signals to indicate dangerous situations to riders behind
I’m sure this is only a partial list, and putting them into a coherent order will be useful. Look for additional posts on safety soon. Ride safe.