This article was published in Cycling Weekly Magazine Autumn Health and Fitness Guide in 2008. The author the founder JerseyBin.com of has sent it through to us for publishing on our web site.
Whether you want to enjoy riding as a part of a group, beat those elusive friends that always see you losing at the last minute, or simply want to feel safer on the road, these simple principles could help you achieve your goals and increase your riding enjoyment.
Written by Rob Kortus
As cyclists we receive regular reminders about how vulnerable we are on the road, but sometimes we forget that cyclists’ own decisions and judgments can be contributory factors when it comes to accidents. And it’s not only accidents that are a product of a rider’s decisions – every result you gain from your cycling is shaped by the approach you take to your sport.
It’s simply not good enough to sit on your bike and pedal – to be an effective cyclist you must spend equal time thinking about how you cycle. By following some basic cyclist management principles (CMP’s) it is possible to enjoy not only safer cycling, but also smarter cycling, no matter at what level you ride.
As an example of the importance of CMP’s, let’s look at the safety issue first. If you cycle on the public highway, no matter which country you are in, you are entering an environment that has to be treated with respect. For example, in the U.S. there are about 500,000 cycling accidents each year. Perhaps contrary to expectations, most of these accidents (59%) involve no other object or person. A further 14% involve a fixed object, while only 11% involve a moving motor vehicle.
From these statistics we can see that the majority of cycling-related accidents are created by the actions of the cyclist himself. By using the right techniques many could well be avoidable. The individuals who became part of these figures did not do so intentionally, but the human factors involved in these situations created these unfortunate events. By employing the correct CMP’s you can move some way to avoiding becoming a statistic.
And CMP’s aren’t just useful in dealing with safety issues, as we will see, they are equally valid when dealing with all sorts of factors that arise within competition or pleasure riding. But before focusing on what we can do to make ourselves smarter cyclists, we also have to understand what we must first avoid - stress.
Stress is the most critical issue we will face as regular cyclists, and stress is the one thing that will hamper any of the good strategies we use during our cycling. Stress is simply a feeling. It is the uncomfortable feeling before a race or ride because of the challenge we are about to face. It is a feeling that can overcome us and use up vital energy. Stress can also play a significant role in whether we think positively or negatively.
Once stress finds a place in our psyche it can then create a catastrophic domino effect if left alone to thrive. Stress evolves first in our brains and then attacks the rest of our body leaving us feeling tired, sore, ill, etc. The first line of attack in preventing stress is to consciously think positively. Don’t fixate on the “bad” that might happen during your race or ride, just focus on the potentially “positive” outcome. The night before your race or ride, close your eyes and imagine yourself cycling. Imagine riding smoothly, like the flow of water in a river, or skiing perfect turns down an enormous, beautiful mountain slope. And most importantly, don’t think positive just on the day before your challenge, think positive each and every day of your life."
Manage your thoughts in the following manner in reducing stress levels (remember the acronym: IMAGINE):
Instill a highly positive attitude: Be proud of who you are and what you do.
Manage your thoughts: Break your thoughts down into pieces; one clear, positive thought after another. Acquire positive images: Think about the flowing river and smooth skiing or even standing on the podium!
Gain respect: Truly respect yourself and know that you can accomplish anything you set your positive mind to do.
Infiltrate and destroy: As soon as your mind wanders to negative thoughts, immediately destroy those thoughts with a positive thought.
Never think negatively: Eliminate all negativity from your thought processes.
Effective thinking: Effective thinking is positive thinking.
Once you have stress under control you can make the most of your CMP’s. The first CMP is error control. At some point in your cycling life, you will make errors. Acceptance of this is crucial to the function of error control. Whether the error is in your nutrition intake, decision making, training, etc., it doesn’t matter. By understanding the human aspect of error control and fully realizing that we all make mistakes, you will enhance your ability to mitigate errors in the future.
The major purpose of error control is to minimize our errors before they affect our cycling. For cycling teams it is important not to allow a team-mate’s error to turn into an entire team error. But is a philosophy that is equally applicable to the individual - don’t let one small mistake grow into something that affects your entire ride.
There are two types of errors: “hidden” and “active.” Hidden errors are those that are out of sight or have been inactive. These types of errors could evolve from the manufacture of your bicycle or accessories, or they could also derive from leadership decisions. Hidden errors may not be noticed for weeks or months. Active errors are those errors committed by an individual, a team, or a leader, but which are seen immediately. Active errors include such things as a cyclist who falters or slips. Both types of error are equally important, and both must be treated in the same way.
Leadership and communication
For a professional cyclist, leadership and communication come from many different sources. It could be the team’s captain on the road, the team’s director, even the riders’ personal coach. Amateur riders will also encounter leadership issues, whether it is in a club, team or small group. Wherever it is, understanding leadership and communication can bring out the best in the leader and the cyclist.
Effective leadership is the ability to direct responsibilities and make sound decisions, whether in advance or on the spur of the moment. Outstanding leaders provide input during all segments of cycling. They are there in the planning stages and training, as well as during and after races. Such leaders have the innate ability to influence and bring out the best in a cyclist. Good leaders in professional cycling, or even your local club, are invaluable assets to a properly functioning team.
For leaders to be effective they have to be good communicators. Communication is simply a transmission of information. The easiest way to remember what effective communication consists of is what in aviation is termed the “ABC’s of communication” – be Accurate, Bold and Concise (CG CRM, 2001).
The communication process involves both verbal and nonverbal communication. Verbal communication is the primary mode of communication, followed by nonverbal (body language), and finally supported by tone. Simply stated, say what you mean confidently, and with a tone that gets the point across clearly.
It is quite possible that a loss of situational awareness may be the primary cause of cycling-related accidents. Situational awareness is the ability to understand how the different factors in your environment relate to each other, and how they, as a whole, relate to you. Stated in lay terms, it is the ability to give answers to such questions as: What is happening? Why is it happening? What will happen next? What can I do about it? (Wikepedia, 2007).
Take a moment to think about those four questions. These are critically important to cyclists in maintaining a constant state of situational awareness, and when you begin to lose situational awareness you will increase the chances of making an error. The ability to recognize the warning signs of losing situational awareness, and then being able to regain it. The warning signs are disorientation, lack of communication, vagueness, and inability to meet goals (CG, CRM, 2001). As most competitive cyclists will tell you, once these flags go up, a serious breakdown between team members begins to take place.
Certain elements of situational awareness are imperative to a successful and safe ride. By remembering the following factors you will become a better rider: Be familiar with your route; understand the orientation of other traffic; be aware of the state of your other equipment; understand the geography of your environment; and be aware of your own need for water and food. If you find yourself losing situational awareness, start by refocusing on one of these factors and move through the list.
Think back to the accident figures we mentioned at the start of this article, and learn to recognize where accidents are more likely to occur. Of the 11% of cycling accidents that involve a motor vehicle, 45% happened at crossroads, 25% entering a roadway, 14% riding with the flow of traffic, 8% riding against traffic, and 9% in other circumstances. These figures will give you some idea of which road environments are most hazardous for you as a cyclist, and will set you on the road to more complete situational awareness.
Decision making is the ability to absorb information and to transfer that into a rational assessment. More importantly, good, clear decision making encourages others to agree with your choice of action and gives you credibility as a leader. Remember this: poor decisions usually create some type of failure. Sound decisions will aid in the reduction or elimination of risks and errors.
There are numerous factors that will shape excellent decision making: efficient and effective teamwork; taking time to formulate decisions; good preparation; working alongside attentive and highly competent team members; awareness of tactics and strategies; and finally familiarity, knowledge and experience.
How many cyclists actually make a quick risk assessment before going out on a race or ride? Very few – but is it such a stupid idea? The risk control process is very simple: analyze the risk and derive solid risk management strategies from the assessment. The risk control system is an ongoing process. It begins during training and preparation and continues through until after the race, but is particularly critical during a race or ride. It is vitally important that you are continuously analyzing and managing risks associated with your entire race or ride.
A couple of key things to remember are never to accept any unnecessary risks, and always put things into perspective – weigh up risk versus gain. If you have made a decision to take a certain risk then be able to accept the consequences that may arise from your decisions.
Collaborative efforts and skills such as listening, watching, helping, sharing and respecting team-mates are crucial to the success of a cycling group. Teamwork encompasses leadership and communication, decision making, error control, risk control and maintaining situational awareness. A cycling team must be able to function as a whole, and must share the workload to ensure the highest degree of implementation of CMP’s.
A team is not only a collection of riders and managers - you and your bike are a team. Talk to your bike. Ask it if it is ready for the next race or ride. It will talk back to you – I promise – in the form of low tire pressure, noisy chain, weak brakes, etc.
When CMP’s go MIA
Finally, let’s look at the things that may prevent your CMP’s working effectively. The “chain of errors” is a good place to start. As errors evolve, it is imperative for the cyclist to notice and break the chain of errors before they manifest themselves as a catastrophic event. Think back to an event that could have been prevented if you or a team-mate had simply stepped in to break the chain of errors to create an entirely different outcome. By maintaining excellent situational awareness it becomes easier to recognize errors.
Another inhibitor to effective CMP’s is “hazardous attitudes.” You’ll probably recognize some of these examples: the macho guy who says, “I can do it!”; the anti-authority figure who says, “ Don’t tell me what to do!”; the impulsive spirit who says, “Do something – quickly!”; the invulnerable hero who says, “It won’t happen to me!”; or the rider steadfastly resigned to their fate, “What’s the use?” (CG CRM, 2001). Probably, the most common inhibitor of smarter cycling is fatigue. As our concentration depletes, our coordination and responses slow and we become careless. It is crucial to recognize fatigue in ourselves and our team-mates. When we become mentally fatigued our minds start to speak to us, and we begin to hear those things we really hate to hear, such as: “I can’t make this climb.” The dialogue will increase, constructing a mental roadblock.
The following mental tool is very helpful in maintaining a balance between all CMP’s. Use the following acronym, as it is simple and easy to remember and will keep you out of harm’s way. Simply ask yourself if “I’M SAFE” (CG CRM, 2001) before each and every ride:
Illness: Am I feeling okay to ride today?
Medication: Am I on any medications that will impair my judgment?
Stress: Am I stressed out and will the stress create roadblocks to the effective use of CMP’s?
Alcohol: Am I hung over?
Fatigue: Am I tired from work or overtraining?
Eating/Exercise: Have I been eating and exercising properly?
By watching out for roadblocks, and using CMP’s effectively, you will have gained some vital tools for your riding. And if implemented correctly, these principles will help you become a smarter, more efficient cyclist.
Written by Rob Kortus
Founder, JerseyBin.com (Top Gear Review from Bicycling Australia Magazine on the JerseyBins)
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