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2011/04/20 - Newsletter

Bike Safety and Etiquette

Cycling basics

Welcome again to the tri-strides newsletter.
In this newsletter I'd like to discuss cycling skills which might come in handy in the next race.
Once you are done with the swim in your race, glad, finally to be out of the water, maybe, you set off to your bike leg of the race. You do not want to mess it up because your bike is not safe or because you get stuck on course with a flat or another technical issue. Now is the time to check over your bike from all angles. Some things I will list are plain bike maintenance, but a well maintained bike is a safe bike.
The tools and supplies you should have are:

  • a set of Allen (hexagonal) wrenches,
  • two monkey wrenches for the removal of the wheels if you have no quick release levers.
  • Tire levers
  • An inner tube and/or patch kit
  • Oil (the brand does not matter too much, just keep using the same type)
  • A floor pump
  • A little pump to attach to your bike or a CO2 cartridge system
  • A rag (especially when you have white handle bar grips or a brand new tri outfit :) )

If you travel by bike on a German street you could be stopped by the police who will check if your bike has light, reflectors (front, back, on the wheels, and on pedals), two good brakes, a bell, and some more stuff. Obviously you will not find all this on a road bike. Yet the one thing you really want to have are decent brakes. If your bike only has one of them working, you should not ride your bike but have it repaired. When I was still at school I had a brake cable rip mid-braking a couple of times and I was glad to have a second brake because when this happened I usually was on a steep downhill slope. This was a fabrication issue and since I exchanged the whole system, levers, cable and all, it was fine. So if your cable never ripped before it is likely it won't.
For brake maintenance: You want to make sure the brakes are having a firm and symmetric grip on the wheels. Take a look at the pads approaching the wheel while you pull the lever. The pads should get to the wheel from both sides symmetrically. Also take a look if the pads look worn out. Check this for both brakes. Then take a ride (not too fast) and try out both brakes separatedly and carefully how well they stop your bike. You should not have to pull the handle a long distance until they work, either.
The next check point are the tires. Have a look if they are worn out at any place. If there are "bald", very smooth spots on the surface, if the sides are worn and maybe show fabric, then you need new tires. They may pop any time and you don't want this to happen in a race or on a fast downhill. On the side of your tires there is a maximum pressure printed on. Don't really go there. At Ironman races they have volunteers who repair tires which popped because they were pumped to max pressure but then the air temperature increased and the air inside the tire expanded. One of the six flats I had two years ago during the Summer was due to me leaving freshly repaired wheels in a car in the sun... My tires have 120-140 psi written on their side and I am inflating them to 100 psi max. For mountain bikes you should be fine in the 40es or when the tire feels firm when you push your thumb against it.
Take your Allen wrenches and check through all the bolts you see. Especially check the screws which hold your seat post and saddle. They are a classic to loosen.
Now it's time to take your bike on a ride and check if all the gears go in smoothly. Try the whole spectrum, all the gears you have. Remember that e.g. the big ring in the front usually does not go well with the biggest gears in the back - it is normal that you will hear noises when you do this. Same with the small front ring and smallest back rings. This is because your chain will run diagonally and scrape the shifter(s). If you have cleats, try if you get in and out smoothly.
If that's done, just take a rag, wipe off the chain and drip some oil on it while turning the chain (you might need a second person to hold the bike). A day later you wipe the excess off, but some oil has entered the chain by then.
Now that you have a safe bike you need to be riding safely.

  • Never be found on your bike without a helmet!!! Not even for the tiniest test ride.
  • Never go faster than you are comfortable at.
  • If you see obstacles on the road, don't look at them - look at a spot next to them and ride over this spot. Or, look at the path you want to take. You usually ride where you look.
  • Practice braking, go on a parking lot and check what happens if you only use the front brake, only the back brake. Ideally use both together. My husband once crashed because he had new brake pads in the back causing those to be stronger and the bike slid away in a curve.
  • Get some cones (or any kind of marker) and practice going around corners. Like with obstacles, look at the path you want to take. You don't want to break IN a curve. If you approach a curve, slow down in beforehand to a speed you feel confident to be able to manage the curve. If you brake in a curve, Physics will make you go tangentially off - out of the curve.
  • Of course sometimes you will feel you have approached a curve too fast but you notice only when you are in it. Then, by all means, don't panic. If you have to ride on gravel or grass, rather do it than doing abrupt movements with the handlebars.


OK, now that you have practiced to be a safe cyclist you also shoud be a safe and friendly one. That means, if you are on a trail (or in a race) you should stay on the right side of the trail/road (not in the Chicago Triathlon - there they go British - so, always listen to the course talk if you do another tri). Keep your distance (three bike lengths) from the next cyclist - only get close when you pass. Call out "On your left" before you pass (or ring your bell if you have one) and only pass if there is enough space to do this. Don't pass when others are coming the opposite direction or before a curve or hill. On streets, follow the rules of the roads, signal your direction, stop at stop lights and signs be one of the cyclists who tries to give the cyclist community a better name. Yet, ride defensively, never assume a car driver will stop (even if he has to) - you only have your skin to protect you in collisions. If there are children or dog on a trail where you ride, take it easy. I know somebody who ran into a dog leash because the dog was on one side of the trail, the owner on the other and the leash quite invisible for the fast approaching cyclist. Kids are unpredictable, too, even if accompanied by their parents. Don't be angry about the slow down, but use it as power-accelerating training after you cleared the other trail users.
Last: Please don't use headphones while riding. It is just not safe - you won't hear approaching vehicles or cyclists and they might just pass you when you decide to make a turn.
In case you join a cycling group, there are more rules because they usually ride in a close pack. Each pack has own rules about pointing to hazards, slowing, clearing crossing streets etc.
All this is meant to help you finish up your bike training and the bike leg of your goal triathlon safely and confidently. Enjoy the ride :)

Happy preparing your racing season!
Stay tuned for the next issue of this monthly newsletter.

Greetings from your coach's desk
Dr. Sylvia Zinser
USAT Certified triathlon coach, USA Cycling Certified coach