If you’ve been keeping up with the Tour de France, you probably watched Tony Martin hit the asphalt hard. He finished the stage wearing the yellow jersey, but apparently the maillot jaune doesn’t do much to protect one’s collarbone. The crash? Well that was the result of Martin’s front wheel contacting the back wheel of the rider in front of him. Watching the film back several times (thanks to NBCSN’s penchant for reliving the gruesome details), it was a rough way to go, and Martin’s instincts unfortunately did him wrong–his reaction forced him to go down.
Of course, pro cyclists are fantastic bike handlers, and I’m not saying that at these crazy high speeds with nearly two hundred lycra dudes around him the situation could have been much different. But there’s plenty to learn from Martin’s fall for those of us who join our local group rides (which may or may not be at the speeds the pro peloton carries into a sprint finish 😉 ).
But all of this did remind me of when I was a kid. I used to enjoy freaking my brother out while we rode our bikes. I would follow him closely and whenever I thought he wasn’t paying much attention, I’d steer my front wheel into his back wheel and watch his reaction as the tires buzzed. I never crashed doing this. He might have . . . a few times. OK, maybe I was a mean kid. But that’s beside the point.
I unknowingly practiced for a situation that I would come across in real life. And while you can’t always avoid going down when the rider in front of you clips your front wheel, you can train yourself to react properly.
How to React
Your first instinct when you feel the grab of the wheel in front of you might be to jerk away, and hit the brakes. Well that’s usually a ticket to some road rash. The best way to recover is to attempt to stay calm, and ease off your pedaling. Don’t move the wheel quickly or lean much either way, but back off the wheel by slowing down and letting the rider ahead of you move away from your wheel for you. Stay loose, and keep calm. Remember, quick or hectic movements are your enemy.
While you may need to VERY slightly turn into the wheel and lean to the opposite side, you’ll have to be very careful with this. A little too much either way isn’t going to keep you upright. So, the best advice I can give you is this:
Practice Hitting Wheels
Get a couple of friends together and head to a park or backyard with super soft grass. At low speeds, practice rubbing wheels and recovering. You’ll get the hang of how to react at higher speeds, and you probably won’t be too scared when you hit someone’s wheel for real. This will also get you in the habit of guarding your front wheel in every situation–stay aware of when other riders are doing, and you’ll minimize the chance of buzzing tires in the first place.
And it’s as easy as that . . . well, kinda. Practice and patience pretty much sums it up. But who knows, it just might keep you in the maillot jaune for another day! Too soon? OK.
Photo by Harald