You’ve Been Doing It Wrong All This Time, or How to Avoid a Bike Crash with Countersteering

Here’s a simple question: how do you negotiate a turn on a bicycle? Specifically, how do you initiate one?

  1. Lean in the direction you want to go.
  2. Turn the handlebars in the direction you want to go.
  3. A and B
  4. None of the above

Ask 100 cyclists, and you’ll find that ‘A’ is a very popular answer.

This may come as a complete shock to you, but the correct answer is D. None of the above.

If that shock was big, this next one will be bigger:  In order to turn a bicycle to the right, you must first turn the handlebars to the left. And vice versa. This is the simple act that initiates the turn. Without it, you will continue in a straight line.

So why is ‘A’ such a popular answer? Because leaning in one direction will indeed move the bike in that direction. But what’s happening when you lean is that you’re actually putting forward pressure on the handlebar on one side. In essence, you’re turning it away from the lean.

For example, when you lean to the right, you unwittingly put pressure on the right handlebar which will cause your bike to ever-so-briefly hint at a motion to the left before laying over into a right hand lean.

So why is this a big deal? Who cares how a turn happens as long as it happens? And how can this make you a better rider and help you avoid crashes?

That’s easy.

Of the two methods I’ve given you for turning your bike, one (turning the bars the opposite way) is direct while the other (leaning) is indirect. Providing direct input into the handlebars gives you much greater control over the bike. You aren’t reliant upon your weight distribution. You aren’t affected by the lag time to get your weight into position. You therefore experience no hesitation when changing course. Your control is much more precise.

And it’s very easy to reprogram yourself: Push on the right to go right. Push on the left to go left.

I’ll wait here while you go out and try it. Take your time.

With greater control of the bike, you will increase your reaction time to events that happen in front of you. Your evasive action will be more immediate. Your evasive action will also be less dramatic which will prevent a chain reaction of crashes.

(If you see a crash occur in a Category 1-2 race, you will likely see one or two riders collide and fall to the ground. In a category 4 race, the same scenario will see a much larger number of riders on the ground, sidewalk, front yard, and storefronts. This is because the Category 1-2 riders see the crash before it happens, make a slight adjustment, and continue on their way while Category 4 riders fail to see it materialize, make abrupt and dramatic adjustments, and fall like dominoes. Cat 1-2 have tremendous control over their bikes while Cat 4 riders are still learning how to handle things like steering, braking, and holding a straight line. That’s not to say that Pro-1-2 riders aren’t capable of big crashes, but they happen with much less frequency.)

Changing direction by leaning the bike is a case of the tale wagging the dog. It relies on the weight of the rider’s body being in the proper position. Shifting your weight on a moving bicycle chews up valuable time when you’re hurtling down the road at 36 feet per second. As such, indirect and imprecise input is not what you want to use when riding elbow to elbow with other cyclists.  

Here’s an example of how a crash occurs: two riders in front of you tangle handlebars and begin to swerve uncontrollably. You have about .5 seconds to make a decision and alter your course. You try to lean to the left to avoid the imminent crash, but your weight is too far to the right. You stare at the crashing riders unable to change course. Moments later, you’re cartwheeling over the two riders. Your imprecise steering took too long. Down you go. (The second problem here is target fixation. Never look at the crash. Look for your escape route. We’ll cover this topic some other time.)

This counter-steering technique that I’ve described should eliminate the mystery of cornering for you altogether. With experimentation and practice, you will be able to handle any corner that race promoters throw at you. You will also find it possible, even in mid-turn, to change the arc of your turn by simply making a micro-adjustment to the pressure on your handlebars. Applying more pressure on the inside bar makes your turn tighter. A little more pressure on the outside bar makes your turn wider. Steady pressure on the inside bar allows you to carve a nice, smooth, predictable and continuous arc through the turns.

When is that next criterium race scheduled? I think you have time to go out and find an empty parking lot and practice this new technique until it becomes second nature.

Whether you’re a road racer or just a recreational cyclist, this technique will make you a better and safer rider.  Go practice right now.

Reading the Race Chris Horner Jamie SmithWhether you’re a new racer, an aspiring pro, a team manager, or even a roadside fan, Reading the Race will elevate your cycling IQ for better racing.

Find the book in your local bookstore, bike shop, or online:

Amazon.com
Barnes & Noble
Chapters/Indigo
your local bookstore
TriSports
VeloGear

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Cycling Is Not the Worst Spectator Sport

The question was raised: Is Cycling the Worst Spectator Sport in the World?

In that article, the author missed the point entirely, of course. They always do. But who has time to explain it to him? And would he listen, anyway?

In that article, he laments having spent hours waiting by the road for the Whoosh to go by.  He also asks the popular ‘Why would anyone ever get on a bike – when there are cars, buses and trams?’ He also goes into great detail about how unpleasant the act of riding a bike is.

He’s wrong, of course. Horribly. And I’m only going to address one aspect of his wrongesse: the part about waiting for hours for a 47-second blur.
Dude, the anticipation is the event. The blur is the exclamation mark.

When the entire town of Dawson, GA (population 5,058) turned out to watch the Tour de Georgia roll through their village, that was the point. Not for them to watch the tactics of racing. Not for them to see the then-famous and then-revered Lance goddam Armstrong. It was all designed to bring them out of their houses for a few hours, let them mingle with their neighbors, buy hot dogs from the Rotary Club, spend a few dollars in their convenience stores, make a sign that reads, “go USA”, wave the flag of their home country, and then feel the slow build of anticipation for the 30 minutes prior to the arrival of the first rider, and MAYBE pick up a packet of Jelly Bellys (depending on how many fell out of the Mobile PA car on its way through town).

That’s the event. That’s what an Amgen Tour of California can do that an NHL game can’t.

The NBA will never play a game in Silverton, Colorado. I doubt any NFL superstar will ever visit Woodland, CA. But the people of those towns shared a moment when the guy who won the Tour de France rode down their Main Street.

Whoosh.

So the answer is no. Cycling isn’t the worst spectator sport in the world.

Reading the Race Chris Horner Jamie SmithWhether you’re a new racer, an aspiring pro, a team manager, or even a roadside fan, Reading the Race will elevate your cycling IQ for better racing.

Find the book in your local bookstore, bike shop, or online:

Amazon.com
Barnes & Noble
Chapters/Indigo
your local bookstore
TriSports
VeloGear

Why USA Cycling Should Add a Team Competition to Nationals

Today, the U.S. held their National Cycling Championship Road Races in Chattanooga, TN. It’s a pretty big thing. The winner receives the prestigious title of National Champion along with the stars-and-stripes jersey that they’ll wear for one year. Forever after, they’ll carry that title with them in one form or another. For instance, only a national champion can adorn their jersey with any form of stars and stripes. If you look at the collars or sleeves of a former national champion, you’ll see this distinctive mark.

But they don’t win it alone. Cycling is a team sport.

In both races today (both men’s and women’s), team tactics were beautifully employed by both the winning teams and the losing teams. Obviously, the winning teams’ were employed a little more beautifully, but that’s not my point.

Teammates in both races turned themselves inside out for their team leaders. They chased, blocked, attacked, paced, sat on, reeled in, and worked like dogs to put their ‘leader’ in the proper position to win the race. (I place single quotation marks around ‘leader’ because it’s a nebulous title, a role that changes during the course of the race. It’s not etched in stone.) By doing so, they gave up their own chances of winning the prestigious title for themselves. For all their work, they get … essentially… nothing.

But if ours is truly a team sport, then it’s kind of silly that we don’t award the championship to the entire team. That the guy who spent his last pedal stroke to close the gap between the breakaway and his team leader gets nothing more than a party tonight and a hearty handshake. That the woman who turned her own legs to fire to hold onto the wheel of a competitor so that her teammate could ride easy wears no token on her jersey next year.

It also makes it hard to explain to the common spectator that cycling is a team sport when they watch the Olympics and see only one rider get the gold medal in the Road Race.

We should change it.

Whomever rides on the winning team should also be on the podium. They should get a medal. They should also get stars and bars on their jersey. They should also be allowed to wear some sort of designation on their jersey for the rest of their career.

Starting yesterday.

Reading the Race Chris Horner Jamie SmithWhether you’re a new racer, an aspiring pro, a team manager, or even a roadside fan, Reading the Race will elevate your cycling IQ for better racing.

Find the book in your local bookstore, bike shop, or online:

Amazon.com
Barnes & Noble
Chapters/Indigo
your local bookstore
TriSports
VeloGear

I Feel So Used: Cycling Photography, the Mobile PA, and Test Shots

While driving the Mobile PA at all of America’s big tours, I’ve always wondered why the photographers shoot my caravan vehicle as I pass by, yet I almost never see the end result. They never post those photos on Facegunk or Twizzler. I’m about a minute in front of the lead riders. There’s usually no one around me except maybe a CHP car or the media cars. It’s really not that scenic. And yet they always aim their cameras and squeeze off a few rounds like snipers.  Here’s the example:Image

Scroll down.

That’s me in the silver Murano with the speakers on top. And now I know why they shoot me from their secluded hilltops, bridge overpasses, and rocky outcroppings. We’re just a test rabbit for the real photo that’s coming down the road behind us.

I should have known!

Here’s the Amgen email announcing the latest news.

Same photographer: Eibhir  Same scene: 30 seconds later.

Image

It’s a weird kind of fame, but if it helps them frame the shot, get the focus and exposure, I’ll go with it. There are worse ways to be photographed.

Reading the Race Chris Horner Jamie SmithWhether you’re a new racer, an aspiring pro, a team manager, or even a roadside fan, Reading the Race will elevate your cycling IQ for better racing.

Find the book in your local bookstore, bike shop, or online:

Amazon.com
Barnes & Noble
Chapters/Indigo
your local bookstore
TriSports
VeloGear

 

The Last Days of Lance Armstrong

He stood in the middle of Kansas with the entire country around him. But then … oops, evidence surfaced….California slipped into the ocean. Followed by more evidence… Maine and New Hampshire dropped off the map. And then more evidence. There goes Oregon. Then Florida. As more and more facts surfaced, the country that elevated him fell away. Today, Lance has nothing. Or in this analogy, he is standing on a rock where Kansas used to be. Lance Armstrong denied using performance enhancing drugs to win his seven Tours de France. We all watched the fabric unravel. We saw the mountain of evidence, and we now know that he was the kingpin of an extensive organized crime ring involving the governing body, sponsors, trainers, and a cast of thousands.

It could have been different. Lance could have come clean right from the start when the first serious allegations came out. It would have saved all of this trouble from happening. America forgives and forgets very easily. He could have avoided all this. Instead, the Texan in him – the brashness that drew attention to him in the first place – dug in his heals and held his ground – fooled into believing that the people he bullied would remain silent, and that those who feared his powerful wrath would leave him alone. He was also fooled into believing that the fortress he had built around him would hold back the advancing mob. Had he come clean immediately, his entire persona would have been elevated further. He would have been made the patron saint of forgiveness. And we would have moved on.

It could have been altogether different.

As outlined in David Walsh’s book ‘From Lance to Landis’, Armstrong’s ego couldn’t take losing to European farm boys. He had dominated the American scene as a clean rider, but when he made the jump to European racing, he got has ass handed to him. That’s when “the program” began in earnest. Lance emerged as a Tour contender in 1999, one year after the Festina Affair, a drug scandal involving a French team at the TdF. Lance came along as a cancer survivor with the personality and panache of a Bernard Hinault, and the UCI saw the opportunity to present a new and cleaner image to the world. ‘Look what we have done. We have entered a new era in sport. We have a new hero.’   Now we’re learning that the reality was completely foul. The drug problem was made worse than ever. Lance, quickly capitalizing financially on his ‘success’ and the popularity of his cause, suddenly had the means to become the mob boss of cycling.

It should have been different.

Maybe I’m an idiot who still believes in honesty, but it seems to me that if I had super powers (other than my sense of humor and my Tortilla Soup recipe), I would use them for good not evil. Lance’s super powers are his intense personality, fearlessness, and his amazing athletic ability. He could have used them for good. Instead of going to the dark side and delving into the drug world, why didn’t he use his brashness, fearlessness, cockiness, and powerful riding to destroy the Omerta from within? Demand that they race clean. Call them out. Challenge them. Change the world.

If anyone could have done it, it was the Lance freakin’ Armstrong that I knew before the drugs. He was a superior athlete with an ass whoopin’ personality. That’s a Texan that we could all respect. I saw it with my own eyes almost every weekend as an announcer in 1991-92-93. He was a specimen of confidence and heart. He despised losing. He did amazing things on the bike to prevent it. He took shit from no one. He was awesome.

Instead, he took the lowest road possible and drove it to the end of the earth.

The problem here isn’t a question about simply using drugs. He has railroaded innocent people, ruined careers, shattered opportunities, squashed dreams, stolen monies, and generally f***ed everything up for an entire sport.

And it didn’t have to be that way.

Reading the Race Chris Horner Jamie SmithWhether you’re a new racer, an aspiring pro, a team manager, or even a roadside fan, Reading the Race will elevate your cycling IQ for better racing.

Find the book in your local bookstore, bike shop, or online:

Amazon.com
Barnes & Noble
Chapters/Indigo
your local bookstore
TriSports
VeloGear

USA Cycling: Stuck between digital and analog

Has cycling arrived at it’s technological destination?

Not talking about PowerTaps and Garmins and those things. I’m talking about the ability to sort out race results. Are we happy with where we are now? We can register for races online. Using FinishLynx-type cameras, officials can provide results for every competitor in the race. Riders can track those results online. We can see how we rank against all the other riders in our category. We can see a computerized predictor of how we will perform in our next race.

It sounds great.   It’s all hogwash.

The most obvious flaw in a computerized predictor is that it’s taking your prior results and treating them as if they really mean something.
The computer takes the raw data: Rider X finished in 47th place one week racing against Riders ABCSJLGE. He finished in 28th place the next week against Riders ABCSJLGE.
Therefore, it predicts that Rider X will finish in 17th place at the next event.

The computer doesn’t know it’s a bike race. It only knows math. It doesn’t know all the possible reasons why a rider may finish in 47th place. It assumes that every rider is sprinting to do the best they can in every event.

Some riders actually believe that stuff.

Actually, the predictor is of little concern to me. It’s so obviously wrong that it’s comical, but it’s related to another problem.
There is now a “need to provide results for every competitor/license holder”. (In the olden days, results were provided to cover only the prize list. Top 10, or Top 20.) Providing full results for every rider places a larger burden on promoters to provide a computerize results capture. This adds cost to the event and extra burden to the officials.

Woe to the official who gets a rider’s result wrong.

The Federation says that this new demand comes from the riders – something that began in mountain biking (which is essentially a mass-start time trial). Road racers now expect to be placed in all events. They demand it. And the Federation feels it must – if it wants to retain licensees – live up to this demand. Though it is completely meaningless.

The dynamics of pack riding and teamwork create a casserole of motivations in the final mile. Some riders are cooked from having protected their leader and are just trying to make it home. Some are going backward because they just lead out their Mark Cavendish. Some were just happy to finish in the main pack. And contenders for the prize list are sprinting at the front.
And now we have to account for the guy who is sprinting for 37th place because he spent his $50 and now wants to see his name higher on the list than the week before.

But what does it mean for him to beat twenty other guys who aren’t pedaling? Nothing.
And how do you quantify a 38th place one week and a 28th place the next week?

In a mountain bike race, everyone is going as hard as they can all the way to the line.
In a road race, …. not even.

Instead of chasing technology in that direction, I would propose we find a way to use technology in a more useful way.
Let’s find a way to issue lifetime bib numbers.
Let’s create an app that allows spectators to punch in that bib number and call up a rider profile containing results, photos, sponsors, history, etc.
Let’s use computerize timing to ‘score’ a race instead of making officials write numbers down on paper all day long.
Let’s find a way to stream events that don’t look like we’re picking up a signal from Voyager II.
There’s much more to be done technologically. We’re still in the Dark Ages.

But hey, at least we know what place we got.

Reading the Race Chris Horner Jamie SmithWhether you’re a new racer, an aspiring pro, a team manager, or even a roadside fan, Reading the Race will elevate your cycling IQ for better racing.

Find the book in your local bookstore, bike shop, or online:

Amazon.com
Barnes & Noble
Chapters/Indigo
your local bookstore
TriSports
VeloGear

Available Now! Reading the Race by Jamie Smith with Chris Horner

Reading the Race Chris Horner Jamie SmithIn Reading the Race, race announcer Jamie Smith and veteran road captain Chris Horner team up to deliver a master class in bike racing strategies and tactics. Armed with strategies and tactics learned over thousands of races, cyclists and cycling fans will learn how to read a race—and see how to win it.

Bike racing is called a rolling chess game for a reason. Sure, a high pain threshold and a killer VO2max are helpful. But if you’re in it to win it, you need race smarts. Starting breaks, forming alliances, managing a lapped field, setting up a sprint—on every page, Horner and Smith reveal new secrets to faster racing and better results.

Smith and Horner dissect common mistakes, guiding riders with lessons learned from decades of racing experience. Reading the Race reveals the veteran’s eye view on:

  • Assembling the best possible team
  • Crafting strategies around the team, course, and rivals
  • Reacting instantly to common scenarios
  • Making deals and combines
  • Breaks, echelons, blocking
  • Pack protocol and etiquette
  • Finishing in the prize money or on the podium
  • Winning the group ride

Whether you’re a new racer, an aspiring pro, a team manager, or even a roadside fan, Reading the Race will elevate your cycling IQ for better racing.

Paperback with illustrations throughout.
7″ x 9″, 256 pp., $18.95, 9781937715106