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How To Know When To Get Off Your Bike & Stop a Ride

You’ve been looking forward to it all week. The big Saturday ride is always your favorite, and you do everything you can to be well fed, well rested and ready to pedal. Nothing is going to come between you and a great ride. 

That’s how you planned it, at least. And we all know what can happen to even the best-laid plans. They don’t always work out, and you have to be ready when something goes wrong. You might be able to press on and finish the ride, but you might not. The key is knowing when to get off your bike and stop a ride. 

Coach Darryl MacKenzie has been cycling for over 35 years, and he’s coached hundreds of cyclists along the way. So he’s been around the circuit long enough to know how to assess problems that arise on a ride. Here’s how he looks at the different types of issues, assesses their severity, and conducts a “triage” of sorts to decide what to do. 

Know Your Options When A Ride Goes Awry

The first thing you need to know about handling problems on a ride is that you can’t avoid them. 

If you ride long enough, youre going to realize that deviations are often imposed upon you,” says Coach Darryl. “Stuff happens.”

To put it another way, it’s not a question of if, but when something will happen. With that in mind, the real issue is whether you’re ready to handle it when it does. You’ll have to weigh your options and decide on one of four responses:

  1. Keep going.
  2. Slow down to exert less energy and put less pressure on the bike.
  3. Turn around and go back.
  4. Get someone to drive you home. 

Your job is to understand the different types of issues you might face and know how to decide when a problem has a workaround — and when it should signal the end of your ride. 

3 Kinds of Issues That Can Jeopardize Your Ride 

When you’re out pedaling, you can encounter all sorts of issues, big and small, that might throw a wrench in your ride plans. Ultimately, though, these largely fall into three categories: your bike, your body/mind, or your nutritional needs.

Bike Issues

Trouble with your bike — in some form or another — is by far the biggest type of problem you’ll encounter when cycling regularly. Whether it’s a flat tire, a dropped chain or something more complicated, you’ll often need to perform a quick fix or assess the severity of the damage in the middle of a ride.

Here’s the key question when it comes to bike issues: Is it safe to continue? If you keep pedaling, will you put yourself or your bike in danger of more serious injury or damage?

Sometimes, the answer will be easy. For instance, if both brakes have failed, you’re clearly done for the day and need someone to drive you back.

In other cases, it may take a bit more triage to figure out your plan. Maybe the shifters aren’t working, something happens to the bike saddle or only one brake is out. How hilly is the rest of the ride? Can you take it slowly and carefully the rest of the way or on a ride back? Maybe you ran into something. Are there any signs of possible frame damage? If so, play it safe and don’t ride. 

Cyclist Issues

This second set of issues may not be as common as the first, but Darryl notes that they should get far more attention than they do. These are the various physical or mental conditions that can affect your ride. 

Physically, this could be any sort of discomfort or pain that’s impeding your ability to pedal. It may be a pain in your leg or foot. Or it could be that you’re recovering from a recent virus and are surprised that it’s still affecting your stamina. 

In many cases, deciding what to do about these problems comes down to common sense. Feel just a little tired or have a minor muscle ache? Slow down for the rest of the ride. But if that soreness is in an unusual spot or your lingering cold is causing breathing problems, it may be time to turn back. 

Most of all, though, Darryl stresses that you shouldn’t ignore the mental issues that can cause problems.

Not being mentally engaged is at least as bad as, if not more dangerous than, physical problems,” he explains.

When you’re a distracted rider, you’re in serious danger. You could miss a road hazard or go through an intersection in the wrong lane, setting yourself up for a terrible accident. Darryl himself had one of his worst wrecks when he had his mind on something else while riding. 

Nutrition Issues

Finally, there are the issues that relate to your nutrition. This is a key part of your ride preparation, so a mishap in this area can be significant.

Maybe you forgot to eat plenty of carbs before the ride. Or perhaps you forgot an extra water bottle or didn’t pack a sports drink. In either case, if the ride is shorter than 90 minutes, you’re probably OK. But be sure to consider the heat and how well hydrated you were to begin with.

If you’re out on a long ride, you may need to consider your options. Can you stop somewhere to buy some Gatorade or an energy bar? If that’s not available, it may be time to cut the ride short and head back. 

Whatever the situation, it’s important to pay attention to what you’re eating and drinking, both before and during the ride, so you can set yourself up for success. 

Don’t Push It 

It’s impossible to cover every possible situation and choice here, but these examples should help you get a feel for how you can perform your own triage when a situation arises on a ride. Regardless of what you’re dealing with, though, Darryl urges caution.

Its important not to just blindly persevere,” says Darryl. “Discretion is the better part of valor. Live to ride another day. Dont push it just because this is the ride you do every Saturday.” 

If you’re ever unsure, it’s probably a good time to call it a day. There’s always another ride tomorrow.


For more tips and tricks on cycling safety and more, follow our blog and sign up for our email list. And look for more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.

Image by Merja from Pixabay