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Breaking Chains

Your weekend projects are all done and you’re enjoying a relaxing ride along your favorite backcountry roads. The bright summer sun in the cloudless sky warms you as you slice through the sweeping curves of the twisting asphalt. Suddenly you hear a strange noise and the engine of your beloved bike begins to scream. It’s never fun having a chain or a belt break while riding as it tends to put an early end to your ride.

If you’re lucky, the broken chain or belt will simply come off your bike and lay quietly on the road allowing you to coast safely to a stop. Alternatively the chain or belt could flog you perhaps ripping your pants and slashing your leg. It’s also possible that the chain could get wrapped up between the sprocket and swing arm, locking up your rear wheel and causing it to skid. Being unexpected, you’re likely to lose control and face an even more disastrous end to your ride.

On the other hand, there are chains that we may want to break during our rides to improve our safety and enjoyment while riding. Samuel Johnson said, "The chains of habit are generally too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken." The longer we’ve been riding, the greater the likelihood that some bad habits may have snuck their way into our riding style. Often these changes in what we do are so slight that we don’t even recognize the difference.

There are many insidious bad habits that can easily slip into our riding without us noticing. The good news is that if we pay attention to our riding, we may be able to identify them before we get bound by these chains. For example, finding ourselves white knuckling it through a curve might tip us off that we’ve entered it too fast to have a little extra in reserve to deal with a mid corner correction. We might want to assess our cornering technique.

We can also get chained up when we start feeling like we’ve ridden for so long that it has just become instinctive. We may find ourselves approaching intersections with a greater expectation that everyone else will play nice and not cause us any problems. Experiencing other vehicles suddenly violating our path of travel could alert us to the need to rethink our mental strategies.

If we find our mind wandering during a long ride, it could mean we need to think about how well we listen to our bodies. Ignoring the signs of fatigue or dehydration can greatly increase the risk to which we expose ourselves. Taking a break to refresh our minds and fluid levels is time well spent. Overriding our limits can be much more damaging to our bodies.

We invest the time and resources to check out our bike and to keep it well maintained to reduce the chance of having a mechanical problem like a broken chain while we’re riding. Shouldn’t we be just as diligent in evaluating and maintaining our riding skills so the chains of habit don’t become so strong that they break us during a ride?

Ride Smart! Ride Safe!