There are no published statistics about cyclists who are killed or injured as a result of their ownfatigue. It’s just not a part of the story that is kept track of by any local or national administrations. HOWEVER, in my opinion it is a huge issue and needs to be addressed to increase bicycle safety. Fatigue definitely affects mental cognition. As cyclists we need to do our part to keep our guard up as there is no shortage of careless drivers hitting us on the streets.
For example, we know that the most recent national report (2010) shows a national total of 52,000 reported accidents. I say reported, because we all know that there are many many moreaccidents that occur as hit and runs which cyclists don’t report because they don’t know they should. Of the 52,000 reported bike crashes with a vehicle – 618 were fatal bicycle/vehicle collisions. We also know that total traffic fatalities in 2010 were 32,885. This means that bicycle fatalities make up approximately 2% of all traffic related fatalities in our country. Even further, we know that of the 618 cycling fatalities 19 were in Arizona and 7 were in Utah. We do not know or even pretend to know the extent of the fatigue of each of these cyclists who were fatally killed, or even pretend to link their fatigue to the accident. These facts are simply unknown and that is OK. What we want to emphasize in this post that in spite of not knowing everything about every accident we do know that our chances of getting in an accident increase for various reasons. For example, we have a much higher chance of getting in an accident when we ride between the hours of 4pm-12:00am.
We also fundamentally know that our alertness and attentiveness decrease with fatigue. Physical exertion greatly affects our ability to think clearly, decisively, and quickly with response time. (Numerous studies cite the conclusion of physical exertion affecting mental cognition and alertness – see for example: The Effects of Physical Exertion on Cognitive Performance, conducted by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, November 2012; https://www.arl.army.mil/arlreports/2002/ARL-TR-2844.pdf) This is likely no surprise to us cyclists as we have all finished those long hard rides and felt a little out of it at times. Or at the conclusion of a hill sprint feel light headed and dizzy or even just tired. When we are in this state we may not be able to avoid an accident if our guard is down.
Let me give you a personal example of a fatigue induced accident. Although this example may be extreme it will definitely show the principle of fatigue and bicycle accidents. My 3rd time at Ironman St. George was an interesting experience. I had already competed in the 1st and 2nd Ironman St. George events as well and happily came back for a 3rd time. The short story was that I made it out of that nasty swim with the 4-5 foot white capped waves and severe winds. I swam harder than normal to make it out of the water under those conditions and was definitely tired as a result. Continuing to feel pressed for time and in an effort to make up time began the difficult bike portion of the Ironman up into the canyon. The up hill and windy sections proved to be very grueling. I was definitely fatigued and had already bonked. On my second loop I pedaled into Gunlock reservoir and literally passed out on my bike – taking out the aid station table and afew volunteers. I awoke to their splashing water on me and asking if I was OK. After a few minutes I realized they had called the ambulance to come pick me up. In my mind that was unacceptable, I only thought: “Had to finish. Had to keep going.”
Notwithstanding I had just passed out and crashed I ignorantly, yet bravely, took my bike and kept on pedaling before the ambulance could get to the aid station. This I did against the Ironman staff and volunteers’ best advice. I knew I was tired, I knew I was fatigued. I mean how could I not know, I had just passed out? But in my mind quitting wasn’t an option so I kept going in spite of my body screaming at me. The next thing I remember is waking up in the ambulance. Apparently I only made it a few miles down the road and passed out again. Luckily for me the ambulance was already on the lookout!
I wasn’t thinking clearly and my judgment was definitely impaired. This is probably an extreme example of fatigue causing an accident. But in real every day experience as a cyclist we all know that after a good long and hard ride we are just wiped! Its in those moments that sometimes we become less attentive. It is every driver’s responsibility to NOT HIT us. Yet, when a driver is careless AND we are too tired to notice their mistakes we may not be able to avoid the potential collision. Let me be clear, I am not suggesting that as cyclists we are ALWAYS able to avoid being hit by a car. What I am suggesting from practical experience that its possible sometimes that we can avoid a vehicle collision by noticing the mistakes and carelessness of drivers AND that IF we are TOO FATIGUED we may not be able to notice or prevent some of the preventable accidents. Haven’t we all seen the car pulling out of the street or shopping center and see that the car has no idea we are there and we were able to avoid the collision by stopping, or going behind the car or any other evasive maneuver? It happens to me all the time as a cyclist. In fact, I try to make eye contact with the driver pulling out in front of me before I ever go in front of the driver. What if we were too fatigued to notice that scenario? My guess, it happens more than we should let it.
Some tips to avoid from being too fatigued.
- Know you body and know your limits. Stop and take a break when necessary. Fuel effectively and efficiently to prevent nutrition induced fatigue or bonking. If you are feeling tired, dizzy, light headed, or you can’t stay focused – STOP and take a break.
- Train appropriately. Make sure you put in the appropriate level of training for the ride you want to do. Include some strength and conditioning training. Most cyclists do not even attempt weight or core strength training, and some do not do interval/speed work. Building core strength, and strong conditioning will help prevent fatigue and increase your endurance. It will also increase your focus as a cyclist.
- Don’t over train. Take rest days in your training schedule.
- Cross train. Ditch your beloved bike and take a run on a nearby trail for a mental and physical break. Or go for a swim. A break in a rigorous training routine can pay big mental and physical fatigue dividends.
At the end of the day, if you are cycling and you are not tired after your ride you may not be pushing yourself hard enough anyways! This post is meant to help some of those over achievers that do not balance their training and rest days very well, or push so hard for so long they may become vulnerable to accidents. If you have been involved in a bicycle accident we can help. Or call us any day at any time 365 – 24/7 at (855) ONE-EZ-CALL (855.663.3922).
As always we wish everyone the safest of experiences out there. I love cycling and have never stopped cycling. I have my 7th Ironman coming up in Texas in just a couple of short weeks. I hope to make better decisions out there as well as I push hard under race day conditions. Be safe out there, have fun, and ride it like you stole it!