By Fred Matheny
Stay upright when wheels touch!
It’s the most common cause of paceline crashes. You overlap your front wheel with the rear wheel of another rider. Then she swerves slightly to avoid a chink in the road, the wheels touch and — boom! — you’re in a heap.
Nothing causes panic faster than that nasty whirring sound of two tire sidewalls rubbing.
But what Tour de France voice Phil Liggett calls “a touch of wheels” doesn’t mean an automatic trip to the pavement. You can learn to avoid getting too cozy with another rider’s rear rubber and stay upright if you do. Here’s how:
—Avoid overlaps. It’s not necessary to overlap wheels to get a good draft. Stay in a comfort zone about one foot behind so small mistakes don’t cause big problems.
The exception is during a strong crosswind. Then the paceline will be angled across the road in an echelon, with each downwind bike overlapped the one in front. Riders must stay sharp because one wrong move can bring down the line like dominoes.
—Don’t panic if your front wheel is bumped. Relax your shoulders and arms. Don’t fight the bike.
—Steer into the offending wheel, not away from it, to regain your balance. This is the exact opposite of what your instincts want you to do (veer away) so you must . . .
—Practice. Your chances of crash avoidance are better if you practice bumping wheels at slow speed on grass. Gather a couple of riding buddies and head to the local soccer field. Don’t forget your helmet.
—Play on your mountain bike. A standard prank on singletrack is to rub your front tire against the rear tire of the unsuspecting rider ahead. The knobbies make a loud and satisfying buzz. Try it and you’ll develop the reflexes to save your skin when your front wheel gets tapped.