Those of us who are of Masters age may remember the British comedian Kenny Everitt. Kenny had a fictitious character called Dr. Gitfinger. According to Kenny, “Dr Gitfinger invented the rear view mirror and ever since, has never looked back”.
Our heads are the most important thing we have in a cycle race. The head can enable us to analyse, plan and process snap decisions for better outcomes but it can also provide us with a counter force which can bring us undone.
Human physiology is such that the most natural direction for our bodies to move is forward and our bikes have been designed to cater for this tendency. Our eyes are also positioned in our heads to enable us to see forward with depth of field capability; ears conveniently positioned one on each side of our head to enable us to hear on both sides with some directional sensitivity in stereo; arms which have the majority of performance advantages for forward operation, legs to propel us forward in our chosen sport and a torso which gives us core strength and brings all the appendages together. If aliens were to look at a bike and a human and if they didn’t know better, they might say that humans are perfectly designed to go on a bike.
I do not know of any bicycles with a reverse gear apart from track bikes and fashionable “fixies”and neither of these are intended to be driven in reverse direction. Given that our racing bikes have multiple forward gears and all of the physiology of our bodies for cycling tends toward forward orientation, there is little value in looking behind. Understand the difference between rotating ones head in line with the neck for a quick glance to the side and turning the head across the alignment of the spine for a two eyed look.
How we control the weight of our heads and upper body will have a contributing effect on how well we hold our line whilst racing. If you have the opportunity, when watching a nature program by David Attenborough or other, watch how still a cheetah holds their head when running at full speed. It is very still.
Our race is toward the finish line and is a contest to see who can get there first thus the finish line is the standard by which all participants are measured. There is no value in looking back in the direction from which we have just come. Gymnasts, horse riders, acrobats, runners, dancers and many other athletic disciplines recognise the importance of head control. The same principle applies when riding a bike. Where our head goes so too does our body. As an example, find a line on the ground somewhere and run along it and whilst running, turn your head and look behind, then look forward again and see how far away from the line you have diverged. This margin will be multiplied significantly when travelling at speed on a bike and you will be aware just how small an adjustment is needed to change your line. It’s more about redistribution of weight rather than pointing the front wheel in a different direction. Then factor in the reality of your position within the bunch and what a domino effect type disturbance it can create.
We don’t need to turn our heads to see anything in a race. Establish if you have someone on your wheel by other means: be aware of shadows in peripheral vision, listen, use peripheral or spatial awareness, you can also play the safety card and just assume that a rider is there. If you think there might be a rider there, there probably is. Pay attention to what is happening well in front of you and ignore the distractions of what is happening behind you. DON’T LOOK BACK.
If you had to check for signs of another wheel but ONLY when safe to do so, you can check your near rear margins by glancing under your arms. This method does not require head rotation off the line of travel as the action is in line with your line of travel. Remember, RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME. Turning your head will cause your spine to bend which will adjust shoulder position, arms, handlebars and shifts weight across the line of travel. This is not what you want so DON’T LOOK BACK.
A simple and safe means of establishing if there is someone behind you is to just slowdown a little. They most likely will go around you or will probably tell you to stay on the wheel in front of you. DON’T LOOK BACK.
Turning your head during a race is contrary to self-preservation as it means you have taken your eyes off the road ahead even if just for an instant and an instant is all it takes to make yourself vulnerable. Remember too that a rider looking back is a rider about to get caught or dropped, a giveaway sign of how a rider is travelling in a race so DON’T LOOK BACK.
If you believe it is necessary to look back, firstly you must establish that you are not about to create a dangerous situation for any rider including yourself. You should be: clear of the bunch, any other lone riders, most likely out the back and off the pace. Once this has been established, sit up and put your right hand on your right thigh near your hip and then rotate your head around minimising spine curvature.
Having said all that, DON’T LOOK BACK. Stay to the left of the track or “down the road”. Any approaching riders should announce their pending approach with “riders” or “passing” in any case.
The Dynamo articles are written for the purpose of encouraging greater awareness and thought, to provoke self-education and improvement to empower racing cyclists to become better, safer and smarter racers irrespective of a rider’s level of expertise. We never stop learning. So with all of our potential…
DON’T LOOK BACK.
See you out there,