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.
When I use to race we started out as amateurs of course, and crashes were an every race day event, the coaches told us to steer into the rear wheel if you make contact trying to draft, some of us got that and some didn’t and those that didn’t get it figured it out when they hit the pavement. Problem is for some people that are in the amateur racing world is that no matter how much their told, or even how many times they crash from not steering into the wheel they automatically, or instinctively will veer away with crashing results time after time. But even the person that gets tagged in the rear sometimes panics, I tagged a guy once and he veered off and crashed!
I’ve always thought that touching the rear wheel of my ‘draftee’ would guarantee a fall, I’ve seen it happen, and ridden into a melee that has just occurred, but so far never done it myself ( I Group ride but don’t race)
Anyway I’m intrigued by the explanation above and wonder if you could explain the physics of ‘steering into the wheel’
Ric Hollis says
In order to turn left one must first turn a little right. and it order to turn right a little left turn is initiated first. So in order to turn away from the wheel you have contacted you must first turn into it.