Rider and Ride Safety - time to do better?

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Rider and Ride Safety - time to do better?

Post by JamesB »

Rider and Ride Safety - how much longer should we wait to share ONE clear and common set of rules and expectations?

Oh … here we go again! What’s this James Dude going on again about here … will he ever shut up and get off his soap box? (Yes - but not with respect to safety - not until I try just a little bit harder)

OK, so with only our public forum available to share these thoughts in a community-spirited manner (Spond is now restricted to management posts only), let me start by saying that if you’re reading this here on the forum, you are likely one of the few who still uses it as a communications tool.

When “Safety Issues” was given it’s own title here in the Forum, while it was a step in the right direction, we all saw how long it took for someone to add to it. And, as we can all clearly see, while “Portable Rollers?” in our Classified section has earned 36 views in only 2 days, “Kamloops Crash” posted June 20th, has only got 83 views and that’s over a period of like 25 days!

You see Safety is not something that simply comes from the Top Down. … Yes, it can and has. It most certainly will again and that’s often good and healthy. But for Safety to truely mean something and be effective, it has to become the culture. And that means it has to come from the bottom up just as often!

Still, this archaic forum is what our club has chosen (by that I mean, You and Me … every TS club member has - mostly by default - chosen) this tool as one of our primary ways of communicating. And if you’re here in the Forum like me from time to time, it means at least that we share an interest in matters related to Club activities.

A few Fridays ago I inadvertently rode our club’s B1-1 ride. As a result of a couple incidents - scenarios that I happened to see play out during the ride, I’ve reached out to at least one rider and want to assure You that I’ve got permission to share some details here and now - without any ulterior motive or intention except for SAFETY.

OKAY so unfortunately what Safety is NOT is a “BRIEF” conversation … so be warned, this is not likely to be a short message - yes, get a beverage.

So why did James feel the need to ask permission of this rider before talking about SAFETY?

That’s because in James’ experience so far with TS since 2018, he’s noticed - on both a personal and general level - varying degrees of a “shut up and do as you’re told” culture.

Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes we all (me especially) need to head those words … for example, sometimes SAFETY (at least in my own profession) is not about a negotiation nor is it a “democracy” … but it most certainly is and to hold any credibility it has to be a “consultation” and achieved through respect for all opinions and perspectives.

For those who don’t know me or where my perspectives often come from, I’ve been an airline pilot for the last 17 years and for the 10 years before getting hired with my current employer, I flew business jets, turbo-props in the bush and up North, floats and spent a number of years in the training of new pilots as a flight instructor.

So I suspect you can likely better appreciate that Safety (specifically Flight Safety) is something that gets drilled into me and every other airline pilot each and every working day - but especially with the regular and routine training that we experience in both the classroom and the simulator every 6 to 8 months.

If I could share only one message about Safety (flight or ride safety) it would be this:

Pride, Ego and our individual or collective insecurities have No Place in the conversation about Safety. In fact they’ve been identified as the so-called “cryptonite” to any and all efforts to positively affect Safety.

Just 18 days ago our Simulator Instructor and Training Evaluator began our last session’s briefing with the following statement and overall theme: “We have to push our egos and pride to the side”.

As airline pilots and pretty strongly type-A personalities being challenged with pressured decision making and evaluated performance during high-consequence maneuvers and testing, this is often far easier said that done!

… So what about this B1-1 ride … what happened?

Well, something very simple and often celebrated and maybe even inadvertently encouraged happened. One of the riders in our paceline reached into a back jersey pocket, pulled out a cellphone, and with one hand on the handlebars/brakes, then entered the security code to essentially activate the phone and access the camera app … and then while travelling along Blenkinsop with 12+ other riders, travelling at 30ish kms/hr and vehicles sharing the road, took a number of group photos.

Now back to a few more words about Safety … it’s not about the person or persons but rather all about the behaviour and the how and why it seems to fall through the safety net we all thought was there for us.

You see in aviation, although this might come as a surprise to those who are still reading here - air crews, executives, management, legal and financial experts all know that incidents and accidents (some perhaps the result of pilot error - but many not) simply cannot be avoided!

One of my buddies who recently retired from my place of employment as a senior Captain and director of our Flight Safety department (he’s also an avid cyclist and former racer and very qualified aviation accident/incident investigator) would frequently say, “the only way we could ever reduce accidents and incidents to Zero, would be to ground each and every airplane”! … but we obviously can’t do that because we’re in the airline business.

What we CAN DO about SAFETY (Flight or Ride Safety) is extend the time interval between these incidents and accidents.

Safety is not a destination. Safety is about Culture and it is about Process, efforts and commitments both by the individual and by the group.

Here’s a link to a model of James Reason’s Swiss Cheese diagram. Sadly this one is not exactly the one I’ve been staring at on the wall of our training facilities for the last 10+ years.

http://asj.nolan-law.com/2007/10/failur ... nion-says/

If I can dig it up I’ll post it so you can see that with my employer, within our training department, the layers of the Swiss cheese were labelled as items we as flight crew could actually have some level of control over. They were adapted and even personalized to our specific work environment. Like, for example Pilot Decision Making … eg. You’re fatigued; in the middle of a divorce; and one of your teenage kids is giving you a really hard time at home. … Is it really a good decision to leave home right now for an all-night flight overseas? It’s winter, the roads between you and the airport are slippery and you know full well there are going to be delays as all airplanes will need to be de-iced before take off adding procedures, time and maybe frustration. “If the passengers knew all this, would they want you to be their pilot? … How about your colleagues? And how will they feel about your cough and sniffles … ? What does your employer REALLY want you to do in this scenario … ?

Other “slices” of the cheese include: Policies and Procedures; Company culture; Training; Rules and Regulations; adherence to SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures); Industry supports; Management Support; etc.

Don’t be put off by the diagram, because all we have to do to stop the accident or incident from happening, is to plug the holes in the cheese!

So guess what … we study incidents and accidents! We tell flight attendants, ATC, ramp crews, pilots and everyone else involved that we need You to self report scenarios we might learn from. Scenarios where You saw something that created a hole in the cheese slice … or maybe, had you not intervened, could have created a hole. It’s entirely NON-PUNITIVE and de-identified to protect anonymity and ensure we don’t actually open up a hole by somehow making people feel threatened by speaking up!

Another aviation quote I can offer here is that although the “perfect flight” has never yet been flown, “perfection as it relates to pilot behaviours and decision making has remain as the objective, but it simply doesn’t exist.”

We all know we’ll never get there, but we still have to try — and we all want that don’t we!?

Recently one of my fellow TS mate’s who just so happens to be an MD said it like this:

“You airline pilots are so far ahead of us in medicine because, You actually have skin-in-the-game.”

His comments were about flight safety and specifically about pilot fatigue rules. He was referencing a situation where Doctors can and do wind up doing surgeries beyond an excessive number of hours despite being adversely affected by just how long they’ve been awake and their level of alertness … they themselves might make different decisions if they were on the table as the patient!

So please don’t ever think James is trying to win some volunteer award here with being the sacrificial safety-nerd guy talking about boring and unpopular stuff like rider and group behaviour and decision making. … Just like when I’m at the pointy end of the plane, I’ve got skin in the game with You in any and all pacelines!! Other people’s behaviour affects and impacts my safety too so I’m very much in favour of helping us all share a common and clearly communicated set of rules or guidelines who’s intent are to help keep us all safe.

This brings us to the often overlooked but yet so very fundamental observation about our group rides.

It’s so easy to forget just how much TRUST we place in each other when we ride in a paceline. (Yes, gravel rides have a need for trust also, but I think we can appreciate the slightly higher concern when we travel in such tight formation on the road together.) As we all know, this trust get’s magnified or increased with the speed and dynamics of the group. For example, a C ride likely does less paceline and drafting and shares more social conversation during the ride than would a faster group or one that was more motivated by the group’s performance of the training efforts required to contribute to this group - as we see on Thursdays during the TTTs.

Back to calling out the behaviour versus calling out the individual …

Recently, on a few other rides, fellow TSers have communicated to the group in the post ride that even though James (or another experienced rider) is talking in general terms, he or she must be talking about ME here … should I be feeling “offended”?!

So just to be clear, this is part of that negative culture of taking things personally (ego, insecurities or whatever) - and it blocks us from moving the conversation forward in a positive manner.

No doubt we all need thick skin when talking about Ride Safety. How thick is your skin? How wide are your shoulders? Can you handle this so far? (Pro tip … If I didn’t think You could handle it, I wouldn’t be posting it here!)

Just this last weekend there was a very unfortunate crash on a social ride.

Thankfully, and perhaps by the grace of God (or whatever higher power You recognize) no motorized vehicles were involved.

But what have we done so far to learn from that? Have we taken the time to ask ourselves and each other some maybe “tough” questions? Was calling a friend and fellow club mate instead of an ambulance really the right decision? (I’m not qualified to say yes or no … but was that in keeping with our Club’s policy of how to act in these situations? … do we even have an official club policy on how to act in this scenario?). A few months ago a similar scenario occurred during our Tuesday boxes. The solo rider that went down was dazed and a bit confused. Some of us took up positions to help traffic flow while more medically qualified folks attended to the rider and ultimately an ambulance was called and took the rider directly to hospital.

There’s lots to learn from these situations. We all fully accept that they will continue to happen so long as we continue to enjoy this crazy sport. But asking the questions and sharing a common strategy in a non-punitive, non-emotional, non-taking-it-personally manner is the way to develop and grow the Safety Net that ultimately protects us all - this amazing Club and each and every member.

This Forum category “Ride Safety and Issues” is still pretty new for our Club.

When it first came out, I personally was happy and anxious to see what would populate it’s pages. But as we can all plainly see, it hasn’t garnered much attention or arguably, done much to advance the shared cause of Ride Safety. Instead it seems to be a theme of WTF?! … and then a transition to the “hands up in the air” phase where we give up and feel completely powerless to deliver any kind of positive change.

We can change that …
But solo efforts (mine alone for example) won’t do much, will they?

If the SINCERE appetite for and support of SAFETY is here in this Club, I’m willing commit time and energy to it. I can follow up with a few posts I’ll try to share some more examples of how we might do a better job of communicating with each other and our fellow road users about when and where we are most vulnerable and how we might maximize our individual and collective safety as we share these Victoria roads with such an incredible and growing number of vehicles and users of all ages and abilities, shapes and sizes.

Still not sure about the value or need for this kind of conversation …?

Despite all the various sports and training I have done in my life so far, can you guess which activity (by a factor of about 1000) puts me at greatest risk of personal injury or worse … ?

Here’s a hint, it’s not when you or I ride on the road solo! (Although that one is likely 2nd and considerably ahead of whichever activity comes in 3rd.)

Frequently it comes up in conversation during the 10-14 hours of cruise portion of flight with fellow pilots about what we each do outside of work back home. Many pilots have bikes and they are fit and value a healthy active lifestyle, but even those who previously flew with the Snowbirds say: “are you crazy?! … you ride in such close formation with so many other riders and vehicles on the roads” … ?!

When it comes to cycling, I can guarantee that nobody has ever made more “mistakes” than me. This leads to yet another slogan, this one issued by Transport Canada Civil Aviation:

“Learn from the mistakes of others; you’ll not live long enough to make them all yourself.”

This slogan was featured prominently in every flight training facility in the 80s and 90s. They made it into a poster. (For those who are interested, I’ll give you a link below to see how Transport Canada integrated it into its regular messaging to student pilots, qualified pilots, flight instructors and training departments. We still hear and see it today, but it’s been replaced by a few more timely concepts now.

https://tc.canada.ca/sites/default/file ... 2013_e.pdf

One final “work-related thought” about this safety stuff for this initial very long-winded post.

When any crew member (flight or cabin crew) irrespective of their date of hire (aka: seniority) or rank is sitting as a passenger in the cabin, even the least senior working flight attendant (maybe even doing their first flight post initial training) pulls rank on us as it relates to any operational or safety issues of the flight … While we all know and understand this, in the heat of the moment, it’s easily, understandably and often, forgotten.

So this bring us back to the idea that while Safety can be a consultation, it’s sadly not always a “democracy”. We all know and appreciate that if it’s not this way, things can all too quickly get out of hand. It’s why certain behaviours are more generally accepted in the A1 rides versus say the B1 experience. When we switch groups we have to adapt to the new group. Easier and safer than all of them, trying to adapt to us. (And not to say all things are perfectly safe … no, but as new riders just as passengers, we don’t always have the inside line on why things are they way they are at the moment)

To make these subtle, sometimes simple but hugely consequential changes happen, we need to support each other in a genuine commitment to ride safety as our first and overriding priority. Everything else (eg. Social, coffee, winning the sprint segment, getting a PR or Strava medal) is subordinate to Ride Safety.

Let’s do what we can - perfection is neither required nor expected, but we will still make it our “objective” - to keep each other safe and add as much time as possible to the interval between these unpleasant (or worse) incidents and accidents that are all too often just a normal part of our beautiful and wonderful sport.

Our Amazing club is over 300 members strong.
We come from diverse backgrounds and have a multitude of skills and talents to share not just in helping annual rides take place or a summer or winter parties happen. This club distinguishes itself from Oak Bay and Pro City rides - we’re neither beginners nor high end racers. Instead, we’re kinda everything in the middle! We’re much more than a club that caters to one niche (eg. A1s or the CrossFondo). We do it all … and in an encouraging and social way.

We offer organized rides both on road and gravel. In the A groupings the rides are often used for “spirited training” and mostly by those truely dedicated to the sport in a more competitive (often just with themselves) manner. I mean these folks often ride indoor trainers through the winter to maintain their levels of fitness!

In the B and C groupings, we’re more relaxed and chill about things. We might bounce more between gravel and road rides. We share more stops and conversation and generally a slower pace with less intention or need to “draft” off our fellow riders. But we really appreciate going to post ride coffee and are normally the core of any of the club’s other longer rides and social activities. (A1s … not so much as they are often off at road races and such).

It would be my observation that A1s and Cs are generally not the most “at-risk” group in our club here either. The A1s know each other. Trust each other and as Martin F has often said to me and others: “They don’t mind when You sit in … just don’t challenge the sprints”.

This advice is not just about fair play, it’s about safety. Knowing how to sit in or on the back of the group is a very safe decision we can all make from time to time.

And that’s why I’d observe that it’s in fact with the A2s, B1s and B2s that our Safety Issues would be the easiest to address. These are the riders that switch between groups more often and need to adjust to the greatest variety of riders and speeds. But with such a variety of speeds and levels of fitness (some overtraining while many of us are under training for example - some on a gravel bike during a road ride etc) … well, these groups and rides are where this self-proclaimed safety-nerd sees the greatest number of holes in the cheese.

At long last, a final word for now …

Safety doesn’t mean boring. It most certainly does not destroy the organic nature and flow of a ride or flight. It’s the foundation and framework on which all of the rest (your personality, my socks, someone offering skittles or trash talking etc) is built.

You may notice I advocate for smaller group sizes (12 max); more groups (eg. More “stepping stones” from our slowest/most social rides to the fastest (who often are really only social during post and pre-ride) - the idea being to make the transition easier for those riders feeling stronger than A2 but not yet ready for A1 (or B1 to A2 … or what about C to B2); I also advocate for anything that helps us pre-emptively get and stay organized (eg. Ride leaders who would be chosen by their peers and receive training annually, but also, be absolved of any responsibility if and when any shit hits the fan - and it will! These ride leaders enforce the “not a democracy” approach to safety during the rides, but if you catch them at post ride coffee they can also be available for consultation and could then report these ideas to the board).

I know what you’re thinking … all this requires structure and change!
It would likely involve forms we would each have to sign annually!

Want to see examples of other bike clubs and cycling organizations cover their asses and approach the Ride Safety topic … I can offer a few … actually lots!

Change is happening and nothing we can do to stop it - we all know this. Cycling Clubs know it just as well as the Airlines.

But we can certainly input our unique talents and experience in a way that allows us to manage that change and at least be less (or less frequently) “victimized” by it.

Our incredible Board of Directors are volunteers.
They have families and full time jobs and many other commitments themselves.
This is not something we’ve asked them to make a priority on our behalf - at least not that I’ve read or heard.
It’s honestly and understandably a bit scary to consider actually.

So we need to support them like we’ve never supported them before!

This can’t and won’t happen overnight.
It’s about a series of small and sometimes frustrating steps …
Maybe even some annoying and verbally-diaherretic posts on our Forum!

It demands our collective encouragement, patience and efforts.

So what do you say TripleShot …

Can we do this?

Are we ready to add a little time to the “interval” between these learning experiences, incidents and likely - sadly and unavoidably - even accidents?
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