Top Ten Training Tips for RAGBRAI: #1 Riding Safely
by Coach David Ertl
This year I am going to focus my training blogs on 10 important topics for preparing well for RAGBRAI. These are based on questions and comments I have received over the years. They aren’t in any particular order, except this first topic: Safety. Safety is by far the most important topic for riding RAGBRAI. If you have a mishap, either in training or on RAGBRAI, it could ruin your whole ride. So I’ll address a few safety tips to consider as you being your training.
Traffic: Obviously all cyclists worry about sharing the road with traffic, especially when the traffic is not good at sharing. One important thing to remember is that if you expect vehicles to share the road with you, you need to obey the rules of the road and ride your bike the way you’d like to see cyclists ride if you were driving a car. This includes riding a straight line and not weaving into the lane. One of the most irritating things for me as a driver is when I see a cyclist ride right through a stop sign or stop light. If cyclists expect cars to treat them with respect, we need to ride with respect to vehicles as well. That won’t solve all the situations with irate drivers, but it will help avoid making more of them.
Also, be polite. If in doubt such as at an intersection, when vehicles are often uncertain if you are going to blow through or not, stop, put your foot down, make eye contact with the driver and wave them on if they are hesitating. I find that when I do that, they often wave me through. Respect – it goes both ways.
Use common sense when selecting roads to ride on. Other than interstates, it is legal to ride a bike on most other roads, but that doesn’t mean we should. On narrow, high traffic roads, or at least at certain times of the day or week, you may want to avoid certain roads. A good example are four lane roads with a curb on the side, where you have nowhere to go if you get pinched by a vehicle coming by too close. Sometimes I come across a cyclist on roads like this, holding up traffic. This is not a good way to make friends with cars and is dangerous. Yes, we have a right to the road, but some roads just are better than others.
Road Hazards: Always be on the lookout for holes or debris in the road ahead of you. Holes, cracks, and street drains can catch your tire and throw you for a tumble, or at the very least give you a flat. Watch out for gravel and sand in the road, especially on curves and corners. When the road is wet, it is more slick than a dry road, and manhole covers, railroad tracks and painted markings on the road are very slippery so avoid those and if you can’t avoid them, ride straight across them. When riding with others, if you are in the lead shout out any holes or debris you see ahead, as the people behind you can’t see them coming.
Cyclists: One thing that can overwhelm people about RAGBRAI is having to share the road with thousands of other cyclists. I’ve never seen a road so full of cyclists. This can be intimidating to riders would mostly ride alone or with one or two other trusted fellow cyclists. The best advice I can give is to ride defensively. Remember, there are a lot of fairly novice cyclists on RAGBRAI. Even if you are accomplished, be on the lookout for those around you who may make unpredictable moves. This can be especially tricky on downhills. Keep your distance from other riders. Don’t follow (draft) too closely behind riders. While this is okay to do in a small group of trusted friends, if you are competent, it is not to be done with lots of unfamiliar riders around. Always pass on the left. Avoid passing on the right and never ride between two riders. Avoid passing too closely or too quickly as it might startle the other rider. Again, even if you are skilled, the people around you won’t be and may react unpredictably. When training, look for groups to ride with to gain experience riding closely with others. Look for organized rides you can join where there will be a lots of others around you.
Other Tips: When riding, you should have information somewhere on you that has your name, address, and an emergency contact. If you have a medical condition, include that as well. There are wristbands you can buy that have this information on them, or you can simply have this information in your helmet or pocket. I have a laminated card I keep in a plastic sleeve along with my money and phone when I ride.
Coach David Ertl
David Ertl is a USA Cycling Level 1 Coach. He coaches the Des Moines Cycle Club Race Team, JDRF Ride To Cure Diabetes and individual cyclists through the Peaks Coaching Group. He also provides cycling training plans and ebooks at his website: http://www.CyclesportCoaching.com . He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.