Crashing, Part 1: 
Mindful Excitement & Knowing the Course

If you’re racing to be competitive, you’ll eventually kiss tarmac. Coming to grips with this reality is crucial to self-possessed bike racing.

In the first of this four-part series, we’ll cover the first two items in our Summary:

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  • Develop Mindful Excitement
  • Know the course
  • Understand the event
  • Develop core fitness
  • Acquire handling skills
  • Have a post-fall protocol

Crashing is one of the biggest fears that loom over the never-racer or the brand new racer. How do you cope with this fear? Can crashing be avoided — or at least minimized?

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The fact of the matter

[/dropcap] is this: your road bike has approximately 2 square inches of contact with the road. Add velocity, mass, less than perfect roads, water, and — oh yeah, other riders of questionable ability vying for the same real estate as you — and you have a recipe for road rash. [SC Glossary: Road Rash – when you crash your bike, the momentum of your body scraping or sliding against the road can remove skin, or cause deep bruising, or both. The aftermath of this trauma is regularly referred to as “road rash.”]


Lessons of the Fall

Prior to the 2014 Hyde Park Blast race in Cincinnati, Ohio, I hadn’t crashed in years, lots of them, in fact. Oh, sure, I’ve had my share of utterly harmless mountain bike tumbles on simple trail rides with my sons, but on the road, I’d been remarkably fortunate.

But let’s be clear: Despite training with road racers and triathletes and innumerable B+ and A-level club rides, I had only raced for a handful of seasons. Training rides and races are very different animals. Even in the most spirited group rides with your buddies, there isn’t the same hormonally-saturated thirst for position that happens in a race.

In my second year of licensed competition, I finally hit the deck. And not only that — I crashed twice in the same race!

Step One: Fear as an Asset — “Mindful Excitement”

Fear isn’t something to be eliminated. It’s something to be incorporated. It’s been wisely said, for example, that the “absence of fear is not courage; the absence of fear is mental illness.” Fear includes an extremely heightened sense of awareness. With preparation, you can reframe fear going into a race as excitement. When you’re excited to do something, you can then better prepare for it.

Practice positive self-talk. Instead of “I’m so nervous about that first corner,” reframe it. “I’m excited about this race. When I enter that first roundabout, I know what I have to do to take it safely, then power through when I exit.”

Once you understand the risks of racing your bike in a specific event, and take your fitness, equipment, and handling skills into consideration, you can make choices that convert your fear of crashing into skills that can greatly minimize their frequency.

Step Two: Know the Course

Always, always recon the course. With an eye that sees as though you’re racing through the course at speed, ride or drive the course slowly. Watch for:

  • dodgy corners
  • curbs that jut out at inopportune locations
  • sand and gravel deposits
  • dangerous intersections
  • dogs or other animals
  • drainage grates
  • gas and water meter coverings / manhole covers


Make a mental note of these objects to avoid, while trying to visualize the safest routes through those parts of the course.

One of the most under-discussed aspects of sport is the mental game. Visualization is unspeakably valuable. When you are in the heat of battle, you don’t have time to think. You have to do your thinking when you’re not battling. Then, once you’ve seen the course, determined obstacles, and plotted your lines, you can spend time during your warm-up running through those lines successfully in your mind.

If you have teammates, slowly reconning the course together is a great way to reinforce knowing where the dodgy bits are, and what plans of actions to take when you encounter them.

If you don’t have teammates, don’t fret. Just arrive at the course early enough to drive or ride the course, in addition to the time it will take you to register and warm-up. Plan this several days in advance!

I didn’t do this in the tightest corner of the 2014 Hyde Park Blast, and therefore didn’t see the metal gas line plate that would ultimately cause a rider behind me to slide out, taking out my rear wheel. Had I realized the placement of that 8-inch round plate, I could have taken a slightly wider line, potentially taking me out of the path of that sliding rider.

Several laps later, on my own, I’d hit the same exact plate, now freshly slick from light rain. Just like that, I was down.

Despite being taken down, was quickly up, and back on course. (In our final post in this series, we’ll cover what to do when you do go down.)

[icon_box icon=”hb-moon-bike” icon_position=”left” align=”left”]Question: Does the fear of falling off keep you away from the start line? If you’ve successfully dealt with this, let us know how in the comments, below.[/icon_box]
Sam Lowe

I've been a road cyclist with a penchant for speed ever since my first-ever paycheck holiday. I blew the whole wad on a turquoise Schwinn Tempo with then-new Shimano 105 indexed shifting way back in 1985. I've been a voracious consumer of racing-oriented information ever since. Training, nutrition, bike fit, racing techniques, and all manner of "kit." Between nearly 30 years of riding, racing, and reading about racing, I'm ready to help you get ready to race.

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