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Bike Shorts: Don’t Let the Rider Behind You Take You Down

August 18, 2021 0 Comments

Group of cyclists speeding by on a road against a blurred background

A cyclist is always concerned with what’s in front of them. And rightfully so, given that they’re perpetually hurtling forward. But that doesn’t mean what’s behind you is no cause for concern.

Specifically, the rider behind you could be a hazard waiting to take you down. It can happen suddenly, and you definitely won’t see it coming unless you know what to look for. 

Our friend and longtime cycling coach, Darryl MacKenzie, offered some defensive cycling tips to help you know what to watch for — and what to do — to stop the rider behind you from hitting your bike and ruining your ride.

Why Someone Might Hit You From Behind

The reason a rider might rear-end you isn’t always a failure to give you enough space. It usually comes down to whether their hand placement will allow them to make use of proper braking technique.

“You should never have to move the palms of your hands to activate the brakes,” says Coach Darryl. “You should always have your hands positioned so that it’s only the fingers that have to move in order to brake.”

As we’ve said elsewhere, cyclists go 1.5 feet for every mile per hour they ride. So, a cyclist going 16 miles an hour covers about 24 feet per second, or 10 feet in under half a second. If the cyclist in front of you slams on their brakes, suddenly that extra half-second to move your hands toward the brakes sounds crucial, doesn’t it?

That’s why experienced cyclists who practice defensive cycling will often recognize other riders with their hands positioned incorrectly as a potential safety hazard to themselves and others. Darryl has witnessed rear-end bike collisions numerous times, and he even saw one rider’s front wheel catch the CAM lever on another rider’s rear wheel, dislodging it from the dropouts and knocking the front rider down instantly.

Why Riders Have Their Hands in the Wrong Position

There are several reasons cyclists end up riding with their hands in the wrong place. Most commonly, Darryl says, they just don’t know it’s a problem or that they’re putting themselves and others in danger.

It’s also possible that they don’t have their body in the right position. This could be because they haven’t had a bike fit to properly adjust their saddle and handlebars, or they may just need to bend farther forward at the waist.

In many cases, it’s just the simple fact that they unconsciously move their hands while riding. They might start in the right position, but their hands migrate away from the brakes and increase their chances of rear-ending another cyclist.

What To Do About It

So, if you do see another rider with their hands in a dangerous position, should you simply avoid them and make sure they never ride behind you? Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. 

A better option, says Darryl, is to have a discrete, non-confrontational conversation about proper braking technique and hand placement with them while you’re riding together. The key words there are discrete and non-confrontational.

“Get handlebar to handlebar and talk so only they can hear you,” says Darryl. “And start it off with something like, ‘Is it OK if I give you a safety tip?’”

Once you’ve disarmed any potential defensiveness in that way, you can appeal to their desire to be safe and to avoid a bad reputation with the rest of the group. After all, if they rear-end someone and get branded as a squirrelly rider, that’s difficult to overcome.

Be Prepared

Besides that conversation, though, you should be prepared to take further preventive measures.

First, always come prepared with your multi-tool, which usually has several sizes of Allen wrenches. That way, if the other cyclist needs to adjust their handlebars to improve their hand positioning, you’re ready to assist. 

Second, prepare you bike just in case someone does get too close behind you. Position the CAM lever that locks your rear wheel in place at the 10 or 11 o’clock position. This protects it between the chain stay and the seat stay so that another cyclist’s spokes can’t hook onto it and pull it loose, making your wreck much worse.

Third, practice defensive cycling. You should always be aware of your surroundings while cycling, especially if this could help you avoid a collision with a fellow cyclist. 

As always, stay safe out there!

Look for more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.

Photo by Dimon Blr on Unsplash