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Here’s a Sure Sign It’s Not a Good Time To Ride

Every cyclist wants to avoid a crash. Nobody sets out on a ride thinking today is a good day for an accident.

The reason is obvious, but our friend and longtime cycling coach Darryl MacKenzie puts it plainly: “The ground really hurts when you land on it and slide on it at 30 miles an hour.”

Because of this, cyclists are generally mindful of the conditions that can make for a dangerous ride. They’re good at spotting them and avoiding them. Well, most of them.

Common Cycling Problems That Keep Riders Home

Bike accidents are nothing to mess around with. They can stop you from cycling for weeks or months. They can land you in the hospital. They can even lead to death. That’s why most cyclists pay attention to dangerous conditions in determining when to take a rest day instead of riding.

The three common cycling problems that will cause a cyclist to cancel a ride are:

  1. A bike mechanical: Whether it’s a flat tire, a bent wheel, or an issue with your chain, these are issues you can often spot ahead of a ride and stay home to fix.
  2. A physical issue: Maybe your eye is bothering you or your knee needs attention. Most cyclists are good about paying attention to their body and knowing when to take a rest day. 
  3. Bad weather: You’re probably in the habit of checking the weather before a ride, and rightfully so considering some weather conditions can be dangerous to ride in. Heavy downpours, hail, sleet and freezing temperatures are all sure signs you need a rest day from cycling outdoors.

In all of the above cases, cyclists are watching out for the physical issues that could cause problems when they’re on the road. And that’s good. But there’s something else you need to watch for.

What Do These Rides Have in Common?

There’s one particular sign you shouldn’t go for a ride, but it’s not one a lot of cyclists think about. To get at what the problem is, let’s consider a few examples and see if you can spot it. These are three moments from Darryl’s riding history that share a common red flag.

On the first ride, Darryl was going through a tough time personally. He and his wife had just decided they were getting a divorce. Out on the road, Darryl was barreling downhill at 33 miles an hour. Not spotting a bump in the road ahead, he hit it and went down, ending up with gashes all over his limbs.

On the next incident, Darryl was on his usual Memorial Day ride. But, over the past few weeks, he had been riding a lot. He’d ridden two double centuries on the weekends before, plus long rides on the Saturday and Sunday leading up to Memorial Day. When he got out for the holiday ride, he soon found himself in a minor crash.

Finally, there was the ride Darryl decided to skip. He had a dentist appointment and brought everything along for a ride afterward. But he got some bad news at the appointment that left him preoccupied. Instead of cycling, he decided it would be better to get back in his car and go home.

What do these scenarios have in common? In all three cases, Coach Darryl’s mind was firmly fixed on something other than cycling. And that’s the problem.

“I find that the biggest threat to my cycling, and to a lot of others’ cycling, is mental,” he says. “If you’re not mentally in the game, you’re in great danger.”

The Real Danger Is Often in Your Head

When you’re mentally distracted, you can miss critical signals on the road. You might not notice a traffic light or a car coming from the side. You could forget to watch for drivers opening their car doors, which is actually the cause of some of the most serious cycling wrecks.

There are countless possible causes of this kind of mental distraction. Maybe you had a bad day at work or an argument with your spouse. Maybe you’re stressed about money. Whatever the cause, the important thing is that you recognize mental distress and distraction as signs you need a rest day from cycling.

So, what’s the big takeaway? Before you ride, it’s as important for you to do a mental checkup as it is for you to check your bike, your body and the weather. Having the right presence of mind is just as critical as the other factors for having a safe ride.

Like Darryl did after that dentist appointment, there are times where you should say, “I’m not mentally fit for riding right now.” It’s OK to acknowledge that. In fact, knowing when to take a rest day — and therefore choosing not to ride — could save your life.


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

Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay