10 Ways to Minimize the Risks of Cycling

There's a fundamental difference between the notion of "minimizing risk" and just "being careful." It's a lot like the difference between a glass half-full or half-empty. They technically mean the same thing, but the spirit is vastly different.
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How to survive the cycling lifestyle

There's a fundamental difference between the notion of "minimizing risk" and just "being careful." It's a lot like the difference between a glass half-full or half-empty. They technically mean the same thing, but the spirit is vastly different.

To be careful is to avoid risk as much as possible. A number of my friends choose not to ride road bikes in Los Angeles because the risk is seemingly too high. They're being careful at the expense of enjoying world-class road routes lacing the Santa Monica Mountains. The risk is effectively zero but so is the reward.

To illustrate this another way, building a successful startup company is all about minimizing risk -- the risk that you won't get enough traction to continue funding the company before you run off a cliff... and out of cash. And when you achieve product-market fit, the risk goes from mere survival to not capitalizing on the opportunity. Because if you aren't aggressive enough, the competition will crush you. In this sense, being careful can actually be the greater risk.

With the benefit of big data and online maps, you can often assess the overall risk of riding various routes in any given city. Below is a map of cycling accidents in Boston, which is compiled by the Boston Area Research Institute. One can glean key insights about where accidents happen most often and under what conditions.

A big part of minimizing risk is knowing what those risks are and then how they can be effectively mitigated, whether through trend data or the latest gear. Below are 10 gear-driven tactics for surviving all manner of cycling endeavors.

Key risks: Rotational impact forces and face-first impacts. A new helmet system known as MIPS -- Multi-directional Impact Protection System -- isolates your noggin from the rotational forces of a crash, which can lead to various head, neck, and back injuries. And while this system is not exclusive to the Super 2R, the removable chin-bar is. With three simple latches, one in the back and one on each side, you can easily add or remove the full-face protection that will preserve those pearly whites in the event of crashing head first into trees or rocks. This is the pinnacle in off-road head protection with applications ranging from cross-country to chairlift-assisted downhilling.

Key risk: Traffic from behind. Aside from a helmet, no piece of safety gear is more critical to road cycling than a rear flasher. The most common auto-related collisions happen from behind. The goal, then, is to make yourself as annoyingly visible as possible to motorists. The new-for-2015 Sentinal is not just bright, but it has a new "laser lane" feature that projects a virtual red lane around you, thereby letting cars know that this is your space.

Key risk: Traffic ahead. The need for a front light at night is obvious. What most don't realize, however, is that the flashing function is essential for daytime riding. As with a rear light, it's about making yourself visible to motorists in front of you, such that they hopefully won't swerve into you, pull out in front of you, or swing open their door as you're approaching. The weight is negligible, and it can be mounted below the bar so you barely notice it's there.

4. Sugoi Zap Jacket

Key risk: Intersections and the elements. In addition to shielding you from rain, wind, and even snow -- it's waterproof yet breathable -- the Zap jacket employs a highly reflective "Pixel" fabric designed for high visibility in low light. In other words, the Halogen lights of a car make you look like a firefly on a bike. Which is particularly effective for riding through intersections, as the second highest incidence of auto-related collisions are side impacts.

Key risk: Trees and rocks. The Forefront inspires confidence, thanks to a superb fit and its honeycomb-like "Aerocore" construction. This protective layer is highly breathable while giving you a sense you're wearing an airbag on your head to absorb sudden cranial impacts. It's also the Swiss Army Knife of mountain bike helmets with attachments for a GoPro camera, lighting system, and goggles.

Key risk: Road and trail debris. Eye protection is a must-have piece of cycling gear to shield road and trail debris. The Pivlock series provides maximum surface area in a very tight package. It comes with three interchangeable lenses -- dark, light, and clear -- to account for all lighting conditions, and they can be easily swapped out by snapping off the arms and nose piece. What I particularly like about the frameless design is the ability to get a quick glance over my left shoulder, checking for traffic, with zero obstruction of my view. It might seem like a small thing, but it makes all the difference.

Key risk: Under-nourishment. In last year's Tour de France, GC contender Alberto Contador crashed when he was reaching for food in his jersey and had to abandon the race. If that can happen to him, much worse can happen to you. The Vital pack puts your nutritional support front and center, which minimizes the time your hand is off the bar and eliminates the need to dig blindly into a jersey pocket for a snack.

Key risk: Hit-and-run. Cycling component manufacturer Shimano recently introduced a wide-angle HD POV camera to challenge the likes of GoPro. Although it lacks some of the features and capabilities, the camera profile is smaller and, therefore, more cycling friendly. I include it here because it wouldn't be unreasonable to mount the camera under your saddle facing backward to record an entire ride. Hit-and-run accidents are all-too common, and this would aid in identifying and prosecuting the offender.

Key risk: Head trauma. Safety can often be an afterthought when it comes to road cycling helmets. Aerodynamics and ventilation are the key qualities at the highest level of cycling. With the Cypher, you get all of these and a superb fit thanks to dual-density EPS foam and a polycarbonate internal cage that reinforces the vent bridges. I particularly like the added cushion of the EVA pad in the retention system. It's the most comfortable high-end road helmet I've ever worn.

Key risk: Dehydration. Decades ago, CamelBak revolutionized hydration with its backpack system. More recently, the company did the same thing for the good ol' water bottle with its Jet Valve cap that eliminates leaking while delivering more volume per squeeze. The Podium Ice adds "Aerogel" insulation to keep water noticeably colder for long periods -- as in three hours later in 80-degree heat, ice is still ice.

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