Gary's new website

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Think very carefully before getting yourself a bicycle

Image: Alama Moller lining up for NZ Mountain Bike Champs, Tokoroa

Okay, your knees and hips are getting creaky, all your mates have given up walking and jogging and taken to riding bikes, so why not join them? After all, your doctor has told you that you need to exercise more to get rid of that increasing belly fat and skyrocketing cholesterol. And riding a bike is easy on the joints and reminds you of the good old days when everybody rode bikes just about everywhere.

How to put your health at risk - Get a road racing bike
Before you rush down to the local bike shop and fork out ten grand on a carbon fibre Merida racing machine, I urge you to stop and think carefully about what you are doing. Far from improving your health, you could be seriously risking it.

The boom in Baby-Boomers taking up cycling later in life is great for the medical rehabilitation business.

So, what's the annualised serious injury rate among cyclists: 1:20? 1:50? Who cares - whatever it is, it has to be bad. There are just way too many injuries nowadays. Older bodies do not heal quite like they did in the good old days. Cycling injuries are often appalling. What we are talking about are broken legs, smashed hips and collarbones, broken necks, paralysed bodies, mashed brains - and death - of course! Hardly the healthy outcomes intended by the well-intentioned, health conscious cyclist.

Don't get me wrong: I love cycling and think everyone should be out of their cars and riding bikes. I have never been off a bike since childhood; I continue to race furiously and have only just retired (temporarily - of course!) from B-grade track racing. Bike riding gets me into the outdoors most days while sparing my tired joints, saving them for long hikes such as the Heaphy Track last year.

Riding a twitchy high performance carbon fibre racing bike on a busy street or truck clogged highway is just asking for trouble. Especially if it is with a bunch of mates heading along Tamaki Drive!

Sunday morning bunch rides: Informal races?

What we see on 'Sunday mornings is large bunches of inexperienced cyclists, astride high performance machines, wheel-to-wheel and often several abreast, riding at speed on busy streets, all the while trying to carry on loud conversations. At times these are nothing less than informal bike races. I wonder how many of these high speed wannabe racers can do a slow, tight figure eight manoevre without losing balance, let alone avoid a high speed pile up? Terrifying if you ask me.

If a cyclist wants to play bike racing, my advice to them is it get off the streets and join a cycling club and enter road races that have strict safety procedures, including traffic control.

And, while I am at it: What happens when this bunch of greying cyclists enters the roundabout intersection at precisely the same time as the car with the idiot behind the wheel who is trying to put tomato sauce on his meat pie while answering his cell phone? Ouch! Even if you are in the right and he ends up in prison (Yeah - right!), this is hardly any consolation for you as you begin your new career as daisy fertiliser.

Image: Gary with Son, Alama, negotiating steep track below Pencarrow lighthouse.

Save your life: Get off the road!

I avoid the road these days. As much as 90% of my riding is off road. Sure, I have lots of spills with grazes and bruises; but I would much rather hug a gorse bush than smash a bus. Off road cycling is the way to go; but hang on! Don't rush into that either. all forms of cycling can be hazardous to your health - Very healthy so long as you don't fall off. Staying on is the challenge. Some forms of cycling are safer. Road cycling is definitely the more hazardous to your health.

Even if you are going to ride mostly on the road, don't buy a twitchy road racing bike; get a good quality mountain bike. A mountain bike is more stable to ride, it has lazy boy suspension and fat tyres that love pot holes and even fatter brakes that will stop you on a dime. You will keep your face: You are less likely to go over the handle bars in face plant style.

When you go out riding on the road on your flash new mountain bike, fitted out with road tyres, do not ride anything other than single file and save the chat for the cafe and latte later on. You are out for a ride and that is what you focus on. Gossip happens afterwards.

Sure, you won't go anywhere near as fast as the "roadies"; although the bunch of snobs will not wave as they glide effortlessly past you, wave to them anyway smug with the knowledge that you are still getting a damn good workout while being much less likely than "Speed Racer" to end up in the morgue. Be on the lookout for pothole gutter grates, opening car doors, left turning vehicles and pedestrians with head phones.

Walkers and Cyclist unite!

Regions like Wellington, Rotorua, Taupo and Central Otago, are mountain bike heaven. There is so much wild country within minutes ride of our home in central Wellington. Mountain bikers are proving to be effective lobbyists. There is an ever increasing network of trails all around the country that are dug and maintained by dedicated enthusiasts. The boom in mountain biking is seeing whole tracts of land being opened up for "non-motorised" users, including walkers.

Cyclists and walkers can generally coexist, although there are still a few growing pains being worked through. The onus is largely on the faster moving party to exercise due care and courtesy when navigating the trails with other users. This means the cyclist slowing right down when approaching walkers, calling out if coming from behind and even dismounting. The sudden appearance of of a mountainbiker hurtling straight for you at break neck speed can be frightening. It spoils the outdoors experience and should not happen.

Get some cycling lessons
If you are motivated to supplement your walking or running with some cycling of the mountain bike kind, I do have one last piece of advice: Get some lessons. When you purchase your shiny new mountain bike, arrange for some skills and safety lessons through the bike shop and even join a club. These lessons will add to the enjoyment of your riding experience, keep you from my rehab clinic door and maybe even save your life!

Powered by FeedBlitz

Do you have a question?
Email Gary: gary at (Replace the "at" with @ and remove spaces). Please include any relevant background information to your question.


Wayne said...

I agree, I got fed up ith other motorists wanting my lane while I was in it. the fact is most drivers arent looking for cyclists or thinking about the dynamics of how they move alongside cars, often turning across your path or opening a door in front of you.
I avoidd cycling in groups, I found it bred a false sense of confidence
I dont have a problem with bunch riders up to a point, but when they crowd out lanes I cringe at the risk of accidents with vehicles.
few people driving cars will ahve experienced being knocked off a bike by vehicles. I have, twice, once I"d stopped sliding on once incident my head came to a stop right against the wheel fo the car, if i had been a few inches further forward I"d be pushing up daisies now. I put it down to a once off, but it wasnt, I had too many nar misses and I had already been lucky with that one incident.
when i see cyclists coming up behind me in my rear view mirros in city traffic, I make the necessary mental calculations and pay more attention to all my rear view mirros to keep track of where the cyclist is and that I"m giving them a wide enough berth and not cutting them off. but I know its a mental calculation many drivers just won't be making. tehy probably won't factor that cyclist into their calculations at all, or they just decide its up to the rider to avoid the car. at times I have still found myself silently cursing cyclists getting in my , and i have to talk to myself and adjust my attitude, they have a right to be safe even if some of them can be a bit irritating darting in and out of traffic.

Unknown said...

Having been a roadie for several years and fitting the profile described (i.e Greying; Not a road-hogging, loud-chatting, Sunday morning bunch rider) I often find myself thinking about the appeal of riding off-road again. I think this will be the year I finally buy a new mountain bike. The last one gave it's all several years ago doing the Karapoti and I never replaced it.

I rode for a few years in a Sunday morning bunch, and I have to say it wasn't as bad as described. Safety was paramount, racing was frowned upon, road rules were observed and consideration shown to other road users. Safety was definitely first. However, I do agree with many of the issues and no longer join the large bunch rides. There was little you could do to avoid inexperienced riders joining the group and at times increasing the risks. My riding on the road these days is generally either on my own or with one or two friends.

Sadly, Wayne's comments about car drivers are very true. Having also seen the inside of a hospital a couple of times as a result of connections with cars my mental processes are very similar to his when it comes to my own awareness of cyclists on the road.

I've also changed my fashion sense to include an appreciation of 'Fluro'. Maybe hugging some gorse again does have some appeal.

Wayne said...

I should add, I absolutely love cycling, I used to do at least 100 to 250k's a week, but there were just too many incidents with drivers who never saw me or saw me too late.
it was russian roulette on the roads. I was lucky I never needed to go to hospital. the fact that the casualty rate amongst road cyclists is a lot to do with how sharp most road cyclists are in driving defensively to avoid accidents. giving motorists right of way when the cyclist should have the right of way

Anonymous said...

Nicely said Gary. I have ridden with some informal race bunches and agree it's very unsafe (once and I havn't been back...)

If you want to race then like you say join a club which is there are plently of - pin a number on and really test your ability.

By the way, love the photos! Off road is very appealing!


Wayne said...

the fact is, if OSH were invented before the bicycle, it would never have been made legal to ride them! thank heaven for small miracles

Anonymous said...

i have to say i fully agree with you - i wouldn't even ride a bike on the roads anymore.

i used to road race in the 80's and i liked to ride into town at rush hour and do interval training in the central city because it was a buzz - then i became a cycle courier and did that all day.

apart from the changes in my own confidence and ability, here's some extra changes since the 80's:

there is now over 2x as much traffic on the same roads, but the roads themselves are actually worse - especially with idiotic "traffic calming" junk like trafic islands endangering cyclists all over the place

the retarded nz helmet law (1993) means that cars now pass much closer to cyclists - my friends who have got permits to ride without them notice a big improvement when they are riding without helmets

i don't think the std of driving is any worse though, and back in the 80's i used to get abused by bogans almost every day and had beer bottles thrown at me on many occassions

cycling was certainly not popular or cool - now it's the new golf and some of those bikes being ridden round the bays are costing up to $30,000 - it's truely become a sport for anal poseurs....

for interval train