The Unspoken Dark Side of Bike Racing

Nope, I am not talking about doping. I am talking about crashing. If you don’t want to read the rest of this, I will summarize for you: Tradition, romanticism, and epic images are great, but you know what is even better? Not putting riders in an ambulance.

Almost every serious bike racer I know doesn’t want to talk about it. We skip over those gory videos on the Internet, we avoid hospitals like the plague, and generally try to avoid anything that would make us think about it. Why? Because if you think about crashing you hit your brakes, and if you hit your brakes you lose.

I think not talking about it is one of the most under-represented problems in the sport. Take a look at other sports such as Formula One or Moto GP, and the evolution of driver safety equipment and regulations are very clear to see. Cycling is still in the stone ages by comparison. We still careen down mountains at 50 mph in equipment that is pretty much the same as it was 50 years ago, and it wasn’t even until 2003 (after the death of Andrei Kivilev) that helmets were made mandatory in professional races! (The riders still complained and it took even longer to get them to keep their helmets on during mountain top finishes.) If we want our sport to ‘grow-up’ and demonstrate it is a stable venue for sponsor investment we need to improve here. Improvement starts with giving it proper attention, and proper attention will eventually lead to a budget. To start, here are three areas where I think we can immediately do better:

  1. Mandatory Health Insurance: This should be a no brainer. As of right now, all UCI registered teams must show proof of health insurance for their riders, but there is no such requirement for amateurs. I feel that USA Cycling should require every one of their members show evidence of coverage before issuing a racing license to them – regardless of category.
  2. Advances in Safety Equipment: There should be more emphasis on researching the cutting edge of safety equipment and mandating items which are proven to reduce severe injury. MIPS comes to mind, and I am sure there are other technologies out there that I am not aware of. I also really like the Koroyd technology found in the Smith Overtake helmets.
  3. Course Safety: This goes beyond just sweeping sand off corners and keeping cars off the course (although some events should still start there). We need to clearly define when “epic” is just too dangerous and enforce the rules accordingly – both for course design and weather conditions. There have been several recent instances of this even at the World Tour level, and no rider should have to worry about a career ending injury because of compromised course design or unsafe weather.

This is just a start; and isn’t meant to be a comprehensive solution, but hopefully the start of a conversation.  I would love to see others (riders, directors, officials, promoters, etc.) speak up on this topic.

I am going to leave you with a picture I felt compelled to take after the massive crash in Stage 1 of the 2014 Tour of the Gila. Five of our 8 riders went down and I put two of them in the ambulance. Our experience was not unique that day, and I don’t want anyone to have to experience that again.

Gila14 cropped

This is what the road looks like after you peel 60+ riders off the pavement.