The Crash

by Sabinna on November 10, 2010

It seems like just when you are thinking about something or notice something that you did not pay much attention to beforehand, the universe continues to bring it up. A teenager who is absolutely hooked on riding and rides one of my company’s alloy frame road bikes, had his first major fall on Sunday.

Padraig over at Red Kite Prayer has recently posted on the issue of crashing. Some are accustomed to it and accept it as part of the business of racing. The Pros carry on without flinching even as the event unfolds in split-second time right next to them.

That’s the way it is in pro-racing. But I have to agree with strong sentiments within the cycling community taking a dim view of crashing in recreational/sports cycling. The gist of what they are saying is that if you do crash, go over what happened carefully, determine what exactly happened. If there was anything there that was within your control and you could have changed, then make the changes. Ensure you are not silly enough to do it again.

Padraig relates that once he realized he did not lacked the pro’s feel for riding in a pack, he took himself out of the sport.

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You Zheng had been traversing a good stretch of road and was on descent with quite a mild gradient. He went into the second last curve before entering a town at which the group was due to take a quick break. He had ridden this route before and was familiar with the road and the way to ride each and every curve.

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However, today was the day. Half way through that curve his bike slid and he with it. The result was some rather nasty road rash which needed to be cleaned out quickly and antiseptic solution applied. He could not do any more riding for the day.

This was the first mishap in many thousands of kilometers of riding since he graduated from an old mountain bike around a year ago and began getting into road cycling on good quality bikes.

There a few ways to look at it.  One thing is that on a training run, there really should not be any reason to be pushing the boundaries, well, pushing them too far anyway. What’s the point of riding at the very highest level, pushing it hard through the corners and going for maximum speed on descents when you are not actually racing? “Safety is number one” was one sentiment on Facebook discussion around the incident.

One answer is the training effect. Competitive cycling means bringing yourself up to your potential, and beyond, by extending boundaries you thought you probably could not extend any further. How else to finely tune technical skills that may give you an edge? Even better if you can ride the very routes that you will be racing. It’s a great advantage  to be able to refine your knowledge of how to ride the more difficult sections as efficiently as possible within a certain margin of safety.

This leads to the thought that this could be a blessing in disguise. The annual Yang Ming Shan cycling challenge will be held in early December. It begins with a climb — somewhere between category 2 and a category 1 — of 16km out of Taipei up to a 770 m high mountain pass, and then down the other side to the coast. (There follows another ascent, a descent and then a final ascent, 75km all up). This descent has sections of 12-14% and tight curves and goes for some 10 km before easing into a less severe gradient which connects to the coastal road.

It is this first descent which claims plenty of victims on the way down. The ambulances are very busy with injured cyclists on many of the bends. The problem is that the 4000 odd participants are still compacted together even as they are starting to spread out along the route. From the 16km mark at the pass at Xiao You Keng too many cyclists throw caution away and compete to pass each other on this descent. The result is many (needless) injuries.

Knowing your own limits very well and getting a very well-tuned feel for the way your bike handles in as broad a variety of road (and weather) conditions as possible becomes very important. I’d think that the very occasional tumble with minimal injury  is probably the price to pay for acquiring the skill and sense to avoid more serious situations when they arise. Minimal injury means that a good safety margin is being applied. However if you are crashing as a matter of course, then that would seem to be cause for a major re-think of why you are cycling in the first place.

Anyhow, having taken a tumble without particularly serious injuries ie. broken bones, You Zheng will be better equipped to handle the Yang Ming Shan descents than he was before last week’s incident. We’ll see if we can manage a  training run to get an initial feel for the curves sometime between now and the event.

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