dinsdag 4 juni 2013

Safety: a complicated issue

Today, I've read the sad post of Bobslee Strada, on a bicycle classic tour/race of 163km through the Norvegian mountains. With 4000 participants it's a big happening, which ended in horror: one dead and several wounded.

Today, before reading the post, I've bought myself a more open bicycle helmet, because my closed ski helmet is getting too hot at 15+ oC. I think it's safer if my head stays cool while cycling.

Today, I've read several posts of British cyclists trying to improve general road safety for cyclists in their country. Amongst them, a post on how (not) to combine turbo-roundabouts and cyclists. They are very concerned about general road safety for cyclists.

Today, I wondered whether a road without cycling safety measures outside residential areas would be safe enough for my oldest son, when he has to cycle independently to school in 2 years from now (he would be 12 years old by then). Yes it is safe enough and I realized everybody cycles here in Twente on such small roads outside town.

Today, I could evade easily in my velomobile a large tractor plus follower full of hay on a similar road. But I felt really really small and vulnerable. Nothing happened.

Today, after reading the post, I added my May statistics (see top-menu on this blog), stating that I won't get easily above 35km/h on average, because I feel going faster is unsafe on my track.I made a similar statement already in April.

Yesterday, I was continuously concerned about the safety of my 2 boys while having a nice 15km tour on our regular bicycles in nice weather. Nothing happened. Just a normal, sunny day in June with friendly people on the road (yes, that does exist!) and it was a very safe track for cycling (even with, at least part of the track, shared roads).

The day before, a man died in Norway while performing his hobby: cycling through the mountains. He was riding fast (about 55kmh) through the rain, downhill, in a group of cyclists. Some lost control, fell down, and he was the unlucky one to tumble over the fence, into a 50m deep ravine. The group was aiming at riding 163km in 5 hours, an average speed of 32.6kmh. As it is a very mountanous terrain, this would require top speeds of well above 50kmh. At least one guy of the group hit that target and still has a weird feeling about it.

What a contrasts.

Was it just a stupid accident?
Are people getting irrationally obsessed by safety?
But not so much anymore as soon as it concerns their hobby?
Did I do such things when I was younger?
Would I still do it?
Will my kids do such things?
Was he reckless?
Was the group reckless?
Was the organization reckless, putting 4000 cyclist-enthousiasts onto steep, narrow, strongly curved roads in the rain?
Is there a general road safety issue in the Norvegain mountains for cyclists?
Should the organization have put extra safety measures, comparable to the ones on skiing slopes (e.g., 2.5m high fences)?
Are there not enough EU rules on the safety of bicycle tyres (racing tyres are not exactly famous for their grip in the rain)?
Is safety in sports cycling less of a topic than e.g., in sailing, car racing(!) or sports climbing?
Should safety become more prominent in sports cycling?

I don't want to blame anybody and I don't have the answer to any of these questions, although I tend to answer yes to all of them and I do feel weird.

9 opmerkingen:

  1. Hi Magic,

    Of course I can't answer all of your questions, but I can try to give my opinion:
    Yes, I still see it as an accident;
    Obsession with safety can be irritating, but it's a good thing to focus on safety;
    No, I am always aware of my own safety, and the possible risks while doing my hobby;
    Yes, I did such things when younger;
    Yes, I still do it;
    I'm not sure that my son would do such things, he's not much of a "sportstype";
    I really don't know, I asume that a guy with a wife and 3 children should be aware of risks;
    Maybe the group was taking to much risk, maybe it was a steeringfoult;
    The organisation had this tour 36 times before whitout major injured cyclists, so I don't blame them recklessnes;
    There is no general road safety issue for cyclists in Norway as far as I know, just the same common rules as everywhere;
    The extra safety measures have been discussed already the same day of the accident, and the skifences you named where part in that discussion;
    Racing tyres having to less grip in the rain? I have practiced road racing in the Netherlands en Belgium, I used "slick" tyres by Michelin, and had never problems with grip, not even in rain conditions. I now use Continental Grand Prix 4000 S on the racing bike, wich is a semi-slick, and never had grip problems with this ones neither;
    I think safety is a topic in all sports, I can't see it a less topic in cycling, of course local politics don't makes it easier with all the road bumps and bottleneck speed decreasing issues thats been build in the roads nowadays;
    Safety has to be prominent in all sports, also in sports cycling.

    I realize that other people may have an other opinion about this questions, and respect that.
    And yes, I'm still having a weird feeling about the accident, realizing that it could have happened to each of one in this group, including myself, as I was cycling among them...

    Greetings, Adri.

  2. Downhill at high speeds you should however consider the risk of a sudden flat tire, especially with narrow racing tires and mountainous roads with rocks and rock splinters on the surface.

    Someone of vm.nl explained me that they had given up racing with narrow racing tires for the time being, as they noticed they are much more suceptible to becoming a flat tire on road surfaces ( as the CV 1 hour circuit ) that are not completely clean of small stones and other tire flattening objects.

    On the one hand you have a higher chance of missing those objects with a narrow tire, but when you do go over them the pressure on the narrow small surfuce is inmense and more probably will perforate the tire.

    Now, racing bikes do not equip heavier anti-flat tires but the most light narrow racing tires one can imagine and thus should be considered more suceptible to flats as i see it ( maybe overlooking something as a non-race bike cyclist ) That in combination with a high speed decent is downright very dangerous, as you ofcourse will lose much of the steering and braking control with a sudden flat tire. Going off the road ( and colliding with objects there or falling off the road ) or falling to the surfuce of the road at high speed ( and taking others with you if you are close to them ) are likely are likely result.

    To add to all that, most of us are aware that half-wet or half dry as you wish road surface increases the chance of a flat tire. Stones or fragments of it will stick to the tire for one or more rotations driving it ever deeper in the tire, intead of falling inmidiatly off as would more probable happen in dry or wet conditions.

    Then again, the race mentioned resulted in a casualty rate of 1:4000. It is high, but not the most dangerous odds you can face in any sport. I guess if you take part of such races you should consider the risks carefully and prepare to minimilise them. You could see it the other way too....taking part of such activities, not overtraining or overstraining yourself too much will likely lenghten your life if you not die in it ;-)))

  3. Hi Quezzzt,

    Everybody knows that there always is a risk for a flat tyre, there's no way you can protect yourself to avoid that. The only thing you can do preventivly is checking your tyre condition before starting the event, as I did myself. Wich resulted in changing the tyre on the back wheel. It wasn't worn out yet, but the side condition wasn't looking so good, so to avoid a sudden flat I choose to change the tyre. Most racingbike users are using the same tyre measure, 700x23C, so do I, those tyres are comfortable enough, not to heavy and take a high pressure. ( I have my tyres on 8 bar ) Usually I need 3 tyres in a season, 2 back, 1 front, so are we talking over no more than € 100,-- yearly wich goes in tyres, so there's no need to safe money on that item as I see it. In 2012 I had actually a sudden flat in a steep descent, as I hit a stone whit my backwheel. I managed to keep myself upright, even in a downgoing speed near 60 km\h, and braked to stop safely. I never panic in such situations, and that's a great help! Lucky enough were the road conditions dry too.....
    I think everyone should try to minimalize possible risks at his/her best, keeping the bike and the body in the best possible shape if your planning to be a part in this kind of events.
    Of course I hope what I'm doing has a positive influence on my health, I like my life as much as most other individuals.

    Greetings, Adri.

  4. Hi both,
    1 dead on 4000 is totally unacceptable for any (sports) event nowadays, I think. What sports did you have in mind Quezzzt?
    I think my questions are not so much related to what one can do as an individual, but more to a general level. You can have your bike OK, but what about the guy in front of you?
    Why is it that most racing tyres do NOT have a good grip in rain (I'll dig up the reference tonite)?
    Why is it that most sailors (not the Dutch), mountaineers and racing skiers do have to pass exams before they can join this kind of large events?
    Why is it that ski pistes have 2.5m high fences already for over 15 yrs, but race cycling tracks don't?

  5. Your take on the Dutch and UK cycle infrastructure "debates" is interesting.

    Some of the debate from UK campaigners concerns the "40 years of Dutch cycle infrastructure" line. However, there's a far longer and more important history than this, explored by a Dutch historian (with an intro by myself) here: http://www.roadswerenotbuiltforcars.com/why-is-cycling-popular-in-the-netherlands-infrastructure-or-history/

    In 1960s and 1970s, UK had a town with separated Dutch-style infrastructure. Infrastructure is still there. Not as good as in 1970s but light years ahead of anything else in the UK, yet modal share is less than 3 percent.


    Pix taken last week: http://www.flickr.com/photos/carltonreid/sets/72157633840441924/with/8905788980/

    1966 video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yoA-YOMaBaM

    I'd like to talk with you further so please do consider getting in touch with me carltonreid at mac.com

    1. Hi Carltonreid,
      Seems interesting, I´ll check out your references and I just sent you an email.

  6. Hi Magic,

    Of course I agree that any loss of life in what kind off sports ever can be acceptable, that's the common opinion I believe.
    On the matter of other contestors the story is easy, you never have control over them, you just can hope they are as accurate as you are yourself on have the equipment controlled and in good shape. I'm looking forward to your tyre comments, as I wrote previously I have used slick tyre in full rain in races and never had any grip problems. Michelin promoted their slicks by saying that the high pressure in the tyre pressed the water out of the area between the rubber and the asphalt, wich I have to believe. I did rain races with fast turns at high speed and never occured a grip problem.
    I was not aware of the fact that in some sports one have to do exams to join in, I always thought that was decided on results in former events.
    As you may know cycling events take place on very diversious locations, where the organisations in most cases try to have the track as save as possible. Covering of obstacles with hay or strawpacks, or using big foam cushions. I agree that temporarly fencing is preferable on cycle tracks as the one where the latest accident happened, but setting up fences there is a bigger problem then on a ski piste. In this paricular case you might have needed 40 kilometers fencing, and volunteers to set them up, and remove them after the event. (Don't even mention the logistic challenge you meet!)
    As an example you can watch the "Amstel Gold Race" wich goes trough Limburg province in the Netherlands, narrow streets, parked cars and lots of covered traffic obstacles. In spite of all the precations taken, their still will be cyclists who lose control and go down on the asphalt, and maybe damaged. And then we talk about proffesional cyclists, wich are aware of the risks, and are very experienced.
    So I do not think you can cover all, you just can try to avoid accidents happen.

    Greetings, Adri.

  7. Hi Adri,

    I'm not having the answers to this either. My aim is to make people think. I also don't know whether the ideas below really do make sense, but I do think that there is something to improve. What about 40km of fencing...it is a lot of work, but not impossible. It will increase the access fee of the event. And, if the community of Amsterdam can remove nearly all illegally parked cars, then why not for a cycling event as big as the Amstel Gold Race?

    I also think that race cycling in groups is more dangerous than cycling alone, and I don't know whether all cyclists feel the shared responsibility they should feel. That surprises me most (without getting an opinion on it!): all racing cyclist I met to date, have witnessed numerous big crashes. Actually, quite a few of them had accidents themselves of at least medium severity (broken bones). When cycling in a close pack, you´re totally depending on the skills and equipment of the people around you. Normally, such situations would induce a high level of regulation. Still, it seems that anybody with strong legs and with whatever bike on whatever tyres can join a cycling race. It´s considered a charming, easy access sports. And therefore, it's hardly regulated.

    The promised, one and only test I could find on Internet in which they tested grip is from fiets.nl, 2012:

    TestKees at fietserbond.nl claims that he's going to publish grip test data, but that remark is already out there for over 6 months.

    Anyway, the referred Fiets.nl have tested 21 race tyres. The best 8 on grip get pretty good reports, but the problems start already with number 9 (Vittoria Robino Pro): Mediocre, quickly looses grip. The other 12 tyres get even worse reports. So, 62% (13/21) of the tested racing tyres have bad grip in rain. What worries me most is that this is the only test found. So, nobody knows and possibly, people just aren't interested. Now what if the guy in front of you runs on Bontrager All Weathers or Continental GP 4-seasons? Sounds good...but no, it isn't.

    Quezzzt has a good point on running flat down hill. The Durano is rated 2nd best in the same test. But to me, it's a tyre with bad puncture prevention: 4x flat in 2500km. Others report even 2x in 500km. Pretty big chance to run it flat on a rainy 163km track, also if it's brand new.

    Then again, I can fully understand the joy of race cycling through the mountains. But as soon as it would concern my own kids, I´m very protective again.