For safety's sake: Pay attention on the road

Last month one of the cyclists I coach had an accident on a ride resulting in a closed-head injury, a collapsed lung, and several other lesser but still serious injuries. He was in a coma for 11 days. Now he is in rehabilitation learning to swallow, walk, and make gross motor movements again. As you can imagine, his family is devastated. So am I.

The strange part about all of this is that Steve was a safety-conscious guy. In his 50s, he owned a growing business and was starting a second. He just wasn't the type to take undue risks on the bike. All we know about the crash is that he was riding alone and was wearing his helmet. He doesn't recall anything else. A passing motorist saw him lying along the roadside and called 911.

This has never happened to someone I coach. Sure, I've had a few athletes break collarbones and lose skin, but nothing ever approaching the severity of this accident. A co-worker of mine once ran into the back of a parked pick-up truck with his head down while doing intervals. He has been in a wheelchair ever since. Steve's crash brings that one back pretty vividly for me. Needless to say, I am a bit sensitive to safety right now. So bear with me as I vent a bit about the way we ride on the open roads.

Don't take safety for granted

This is the part where I say "don't" a lot. I'll start by saying don't take safety for granted. I'm afraid we almost all do -- including you. All of us want to have fun and become healthier and fitter from riding a bike. A crash can stop that in a heartbeat. It can happen to a friend, teammate, co-worker, spouse -- or you. Never lose sight of how much you risk every time you go onto the road on a bike.

Riding a bike on the open road with traffic can be scary -- or at least it should be. It's a bit like being a mouse in an elephant stampede. Almost every month I hear of some cyclist I don't know from somewhere far away who has had an accident of some sort. It doesn't grab me like Steve's has. I suspect his accident is just someone far away for you now also.

Be aware and avoid unnecessary risks

The worst of these accidents I hear about involve a car. The most common reason for these, I suspect, is inattentiveness of either the bike rider or the driver -- or both.

I know of a rider at a camp last summer who apparently lost his focus for just a moment and was hit by a bus, killing him. It's not always the rider, I know. But you have no control over drivers, so when in or near traffic you must always be attentive. Don't assume the drivers are. In fact, assume they aren't and don't even see you. Chances are you will be right a lot of the time.

Never take needless risks on the road. It is better to fully stop (with a foot on the ground) while watching to see what drivers are going to do at a stop sign than to bolt through the intersection to keep your workout going.

Always ride with your eyes looking ahead and scanning the area around you, not down at your front wheel because of fatigue or a determination to ride faster. You need to know what's just up the road and what drivers and other riders are doing. Don't become a statistic for the sake of fitness. All it takes is a second of inattentiveness.

We don't take riding on the road seriously enough until something goes wrong. How many times have you darted out in front of a car, run a red light, gone the wrong way on a one-way, or done something else just as stupid? Don't do it. Swear to yourself right now that you will ride more safely and encourage others to do so, also. You owe this to many people, the most important of which is your family. Please ride safely.

Joe Friel is the founder and CEO of Ultrafit Associates, a coaching service for cyclists, multisport athletes, mountain bikers, runners and other endurance athletes. For more information on coaching go to

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