This morning I got an email update from a new athlete I am working with- she's new to the point where riding outdoors on the roads is a super scary challenge because of hills and cars... I remember those days! I encouraged her to keep at it b/c the more we get out there the more comfortable/confident we get, and if you're going to be racing long course triathlon, confidence riding your bike outside is an essential skill.
That said, it did get me to thinking. I mean, riding on the roads is not without risk. There is legitimate risk involved. I had a long solo ride home today after my training partner went to the ER to consider this.
Story of the morning... Kevin and I were ~30 miles into our planned long ride. I was leading and he was behind me but not right on my wheel... like maybe a few bike lengths back. I tend to ride quite defensively and always heads up paying attention to cars and stuff around me, so when I saw a car coming at me I sat up and eased off the gas a bit... That car was passing a moped so he was in my lane... no worries there was space but then the moped driver also then started to cross the lane and was coming right at me... His head was down- not looking at me- so I started screaming at him. He still wasn't looking and I wasn't sure what to do? I slammed on my brakes and swerved into the middle of the lane to avoid a head on with the moped, but in the process I heard Kevin yelp out from behind me then I heard that horrible sound of bike hitting the pavement. ARGH.
So I stopped and went back to assess the situation... blood dripping everywhere from Kevin's face... several witnesses stopped to help but the moped driver was long gone. Long story short: ambulance came but Kevin declined and instead we waited for his wife to come get him and take him to his preferred ER so a plastic surgeon could do what needed to be done. I considered (for ~1/2 second) taking a picture of Kevin's gashes but really it was so bad no one needs to see that kind of stuff. The cut on his chin was so big and so deep it almost looked fake.
Turns out, when Kevin got the the ER he saw another cyclist friend of ours who was out riding the same route as us and went down on some crappy pavement and ended up with a broken collarbone and 5x broken ribs and a bruised lung... Obviously not a good day for Oahu cyclists. :(
After all this my mojo (not surprisingly) went away and I didn't have much desire to finish the ride as planned. I didn't have much choice though other than to ride back home. Definitely more cautious than normal and the whole time thought about risk. Cycling outside is risky. What was I going to do about it? Seems like there are a few options:
~Do all my riding inside
~Accept the risk and just do the best I can riding defensively
I've been riding for 20+ years and I've had maybe 4 bike wrecks? All in all, those are pretty good odds I guess. The idea of quitting riding/triathlon because of the risk doesn't sit well with me... On most days I really like riding my bike. So I can't see myself quitting the sport because of the potential of crashing. And if I did all my riding indoors a couple things would likely happen... #1) I wouldn't enjoy riding and #2) I'd lose my confidence and skills on the road. So really, as paradoxical as it sounds, I think the best defense against crashing on the road is to ride on the road a lot. Get really good and confident and never forget to pay attention at all times. This doesn't guarantee you always keep the rubber side down but I think it does increase your odds of managing yourself through potential sketchy situations.
To each his own I guess. It is up to each of us to figure out how we are going to manage the risk... The way I see it, there is risk in just about everything we do. So as long as I continue to enjoy riding, I will ride outside. I'll be smart about it and wear my helmet and keep my antenna up at all times, but I accept the risk. If at some point I change my mind on this, that would be ok too.