Monday, April 15, 2024

Crashfest 2024

 What's wrong with pro cycling?


Crashing seems to be a) popular and b) a popular subject in various online forums these days.

Zio Lorenzo's been kicked-off one where he used to make comments regularly, probably because when the blog publisher implied that cycling equipment could make the difference between winning and losing, Ol' Zio let him have it, saying if he thought there was something he could buy at a bike shop that would make that difference, he was either delusional or a shill for the bike biz. That was that!

But his and other forums are full of what Zio thinks are either just dumb or at best half-baked ideas about the epidemic of crashes and how to fix it. Below are some of Zio's ideas and observations:

A lot of the crash victims this season are what Zio calls "numbers riders" - racers whose main qualification to be on a World Tour team seems to be their watts/kg ratio. Many of them came into cycling from other sports after someone discovered their amazing physiology and turned them into bike riders. Too many of these end up as "supercharged hemi-engines in shopping-cart chassis" - riders with powerful engines but not much in the way of skills when it comes to the controlling of the bike. These riders seem to crash more often than more seasoned competitors, those who grew-up racing bicycles.

In Zio's humble opinion the big crash down in Spain was caused by one of these riders..one so strong he wore the rainbow stripes of World Champion not too long ago. You might remember him screwing-up a descent in the "Race of the Falling Leaves" and ending up in a ravine? In the head-on video clip from the Spanish race Zio thinks this rider messed up his line around the curve and is aiming for a soft spot to land as he runs wide and off the pavement. The poor guy behind him hits the brakes trying to let this guy crash solo, but locks up his front wheel...and ambulances roll.

There were claims the organizers should have somehow made this curve safer but are they supposed to put padding up or repave the entire race course? It's ROADracing after all, is it too much to ask riders to look where they're going and not assume they can zoom off the pavement at any time with no risk of injury? It's not MOTOGP after all!

But they could (and should) at least remove parked cars from the course, no? Just the other day Zio watched a race where the road suddenly narrowed and the peloton squeezed-in and of course someone crashed. The cause? Cars parked on the course! WTF? They can't put up "NO PARKING" signs the day before and then remove vehicles on race morning? That's low-tech operation so how/why isn't it done?

While that same ex-World Champ seems to crash a lot...and most of the time it's someone else' fault, according to him, he's not the only one. Perhaps it's time for a change in licensing? In the US of A a category 4 racer can't just decide to show up and race against the category 1 riders, so how do these "numbers riders" get into the World Tour without much experience in the lower categories where they can learn (and perhaps be noted as sketchy bike handlers, needing some tutoring) before they put a big dent in the career of the poor guy behind them in the race?

Another example is the "Zwift effect" - a sort of "number's rider" but one who gets a World Tour team ride based on results pedaling a stationary bike hooked up to the internet. Would you think these riders might find it a challenge to stay upright when the bike's no longer attached to anything and they're surrounded by hundreds of other racers, all being yelled-at through their earpiece to "Get to the front!"?

Then there's equipment. Ex-pro Paolo Salvodelli, a guy who knows a thing or three about handling a bicycle, suggests banning high-profile wheel rims to reduce crashing. Any rims taller than 30 mm tend to get pushed around by cross winds so why not put a limit here?

Gearing's another idea. Does it matter that racers are going faster now? Is racing made more interesting for fans when the average speed is 45 kph vs 40? Is the Daytona 500 more exciting when the cars lap at 200 mph vs 150? Most spectators want to see racing, they don't really have a clue as to the speed involved, but chainrings with nearly 60 teeth on 'em allow insane speeds to be attained through city streets as riders snake around raised medians and other "road furniture". Junior races have gear restrictions, why not the pros to slow things down some?

Modern bikes seem over-reactive in many cases. You have to be old to remember "stage race geometry" as a marketing tool. Those bikes were said to be more stable via slacker angles and longer wheelbases than their criterium racing brethren, but do any racers have such a thing these days? Back-in-the-day Eddy Merckx' bikes were custom made for him...and the course he'd race them on.  Current riders race on whatever they're given with an emphasis on it being the same bike Joe or Jill Crankarm can buy, which are usually bikes more reactive and stiff than really necessary for the best control at high speeds...speeds that Joe or Jill likely never reach.

Italy's BICISPORT pointed out the newest-latest hand positions the riders have adopted - the turning inwards of the brake lever/shifter assemblies on the handlebars as a potential safety hazard. UCI has reduced and controlled how much they can do this, but some say levers in this position affect the ability to quickly brake in the event it's needed.

Perhaps the bike regulations need a thorough revamp, one that isn't so skewed towards what the bike biz wants to sell this season? Ol' Henri Desgrange took them on, though then it wasn't so much equipment as their control of teams, but Zio thinks about airplane races where the fan faves are most often the WWII "warbirds" - those piston-engined P51's and the like rather than modern jet-powered fighter planes. Is more tech always better?

Bicycles are primitive machines, they go nowhere for the most part (heck, they don't even stand up straight!) unless a human is pedaling 'em so is the sport made better by kowtowing to the bike makers who want to make them ever lighter, ever more "aero", ever more stiff and ever more profitable? You could argue the sport would lose the sponsorship funding of the bike makers if the rules weren't favorable but would that really be the case...and if it was, couldn't the sport find sponsoring money from elsewhere?

Zio Lorenzo hopes the UCI implements some of the simpler ideas soon if they truly want to reduce the number and severity of crashes rather than just appoint task forces to write long-winded essays on the subject. They and the pro riders union certainly should work to reduce crashes and injuries but need to be careful not to undermine the essential elements of sport itself in the process.

More on the subject HERE. In this article the fracking king who owns that British WT team cites the death of Senna in F1 as a catalyst for safety improvements. What F1 actually did was try to slow the cars down. Would "Mr. Fracking" be OK with restriction on the "aero" characteristics of current bicycles? How 'bout restricted gearing? Both of those "innovations" are cited as reasons for the increased speeds of the pro peloton so...?

On that aero subject it's hard not to wonder if scrapping the old 3-1 rule for bike and component shapes was such a good idea? If you're a bike or component maker I can understand claims like: “As a manufacturer we love it and the fans love it and the athletes love it because speeds will increase,” he added. “It makes the sport better." but how does this make the sport better? It might make your business' bottom-line better but do cycling fans care if a race sets some new record for how long it takes, especially if most of that is due to a serious tailwind, as is so often the case?

Meanwhile check this out. Rider error? Did his brakes not work? He was certainly going fast!




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