Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Cycling Accident on the Rickenbacker Causeway

This morning at around 6:45am four cyclists were hospitalized (thankfully it seems there are no life threatening injuries) and many more suffered minor injuries while riding on Key Biscayne's Rickenbacker Causeway.  The riders were part of a pack (or peleton) consisting of more than 50 bikes and were estimated to be traveling at 30+ mph.  Apparently, two riders made contact with each other, went down, and caused a violent chain reaction among the pack.

Living in Brickell, I am lucky to have immediate access to Key Biscayne (and a handy bike lane that goes from my adjacent cross-street all the way to the Key).  I typically ride the Key two or three times a week and I am intimately familiar with this pack; they whiz by me at least twice on each ride.  Without warning one bike will fly by and before I can blink, the group, like a school of fish moving in synch, is passing me with ease.  It's an uncomfortable feeling as they brush way too close to my left shoulder, seemingly pushing me off the road.

The speeds described in the news are not exaggerations.  A couple of times (but not anytime recently) I picked up my pace in order to enter the pack.  Once inside I looked down and was astonished by my speed.  But here's the thing: not only are these guys going super fast, they are extremely close to one another.  There is almost no way that only one bike can ever go down; instead, there will likely be a massive domino effect.  Unfortunately, for groups like this, crashes are inevitable; there is simply too little margin of error for accidents not to occur.  

A major problem in groups of this size is that while you may know your own abilities and yourself adhere to proper cycling etiquette, it is damn near impossible to know the skills and manners of about 50+ other riders.  Having been inside this pack, I can say with certainty, that there are plenty of shenanigans going on.  Often the riders jockey for position (passing people and then dropping back), change their pace, focus on conversations more than riding, and in general are less than model cyclists. 

My $.02 on large pack riding
I'm not sure of the benefit of this type of group ride.  I guess because it is the style of major events like the Tour de France, that makes it cool?  Plus, speed is pretty cool too.  Yet, I see no training benefit to riding in a huge pack.  In fact, it can be hard to gauge the effort you are putting in because so much of your speed comes simply from riding in the swarm (by no means am I saying it's easy to maintain those speeds).  Some will say that large pack riding allows each rider to conserve some energy as they take turns riding in front, but with this many bikes how often does someone make it to the front anyway?

While there is indeed safety in numbers, particularly when it comes to bicycle and vehicle conflicts, the benefits are erased when the group grows too large.  I prefer riding in a small group - anywhere between two and ten bikes - which provides both safety and training perks.  In our small group I know each rider, and they know me; we are aware of each others' skills, and we alert each other of road hazards, traffic, and other riders or runners.  We take turns riding in the front of the group, tackling the wind, to provide a draft for the rest of the group.  The rotation allows each of us to get our work in and then fall back in line to recover.

Again, I'm glad no one was critically injured and can only hope this incident increases rider awareness in these large packs.

1 comment:

  1. Looking great Andrew!!! This is excellent work my friend - by the way, in the future when you become a world reknown blogger, make sure to remember your first comment on your blog.

    Andres Gomez