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Friday, January 25, 2008

Safety of racing-style road bicycles is questioned

Last weekend, we were out on the road doing our usual fun riding on our mountain bikes when we came across a young woman lying on the side of the road. She had clipped the back wheel of her boyfriend's bike and done a face plant into the asphalt, suffering serious facial injuries, including smashing all of her front teeth - upper and lower. It was off to hospital and the prospect of many months of expensive and painful repairs to her teeth. She told me that she was just learning to ride a bike. What a tough introduction!

Photos: Gentle Annie 80 km 2007. Go here for information about this fantastic fun event.

This accident reminded me of another one many years ago when a young female cyclist fell over her handle bars, shaving her face along the road like a piece of cheese across a grater. Her injuries were so horrific others first on the scene ran about like headless chickens. When I got home I rinsed her blood from my cycling jersey and found two of her teeth stuck to it. She faced years of plastic surgery to restore her face. It is one incident I still shudder to think of.

If ever there was a case for wearing helmets, it is accidents like these which would have been so much worse if they had not been worn.

While I have raced both road and track, I much prefer the security of a solid mountain bike. Although a mountain bike performs on the road more like a truck than a Ferrari, they are far safer to ride than a road bike. For a start, they have fat tyres, suspension and juicy disk brakes that keep you stuck to the ground, that soak up bone-jarring pot holes and stop you on a dime in emergency. Better still, a mountain bike has you sitting back more than a road bike. When you hang forward and low on the drops of a road bike you are going to pitch forward face first into the pavement, if you lose control for any reason. Wipe out on a mountain bike and you are more likely to fall on your side than your face.

When we ride on the road, it is only to get to our mountain biking destination. There are just too many crazies out there on the roads. We were riding down Happy Valley, here in Wellington, this morning when a large truck swept past at high speed almost brushing us. There was no need for this; it was a restricted speed zone, we were riding single file and there was no oncoming traffic. Some motorists do this just to frighten and piss us off. If we were learners on wobbly road bikes with pencil thin tyres, we could easily have been killed. Rather than be martyrs to the cause, we prefer to do most of our riding off road. While there are still wipe-outs, I would much prefer a gorse bush than a power pole or the front end of a truck!

Don't get sucked in by glamour and hype: If you are thinking of taking up cycling, think very carefully about your level of competency. If you are the equivalent of a Learner Driver, think twice before you fork out for that sexy, racy "Ferrari" of a road bike. You would be much better off getting onto a sturdy mountain bike that you can ride both on and off the road. Hone your skills and fitness on this stable machine and then consider the Ferrari next season. Chances are that you will be so hooked on the fun of riding a mountain bike that you will seek instead to upgrade your mountain bike.
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