As many of you know, I was essentially born into the cycling community. My father drilled the "rules" of the road and group riding skills into me from the time I could walk. He'd bring me to races and tell me what safe and non-safe bike handling looked like and he always schooled the new racers if they got careless. His job, as he saw it, was to prevent any possible crashes on the bike.
Now, as a participant in group rides, and someone who wants to be an ambassador for cyclists, I take what my father taught me very seriously. I try my best to mark debris or issues with the road so others behind me know what's about to come, I stay the furthest to the right as I safely can, I drop into single file if traffic is around, and I try to be a predictable rider.
Up until now, I have never caused another rider to crash. I say "up until now" because I was partly to blame for another rider's crash on a group ride this past week. Essentially it was a hillier ride with fast descents and a fair amount of loose gravel at each turn. I felt pretty strong that night and was climbing smoothly. On one of the faster descents, however, I took the final turn a bit too fast, not knowing how much gravel was at the base. I remember looking behind me prior to the turn, noticing no one was on my wheel at the time (I do this to make sure I have a clear line), then marking the upcoming gravel with a hand gesture and yelling "GRAVEL". I had to feather the brakes and take the turn a bit too wide and that's all she wrote. I felt another rider's hand on my shoulder and bars rub my thigh. I went completely off the road, into the gravel shoulder and at that moment, I heard him crash behind me. There is NOTHING worse for a cyclist to hear than a bike and body hit the ground. I, along with several others, came to a quick stop. Thankfully the rider, although road rashed, bruised and a bit shaken up, was okay. His bike was ridable and he didn't seem to have a concussion. He and I, along with another rider, ended up riding back into town together slowly. We kept asking him questions to make sure he was doing alright and in between, I just kept playing the scenario over and over again in my head. How did this happen? Why didn't I do more to prevent it? How much of this was my fault? No matter what the answers were, I felt bad for him. We got back just fine, he got cleaned up thanks to another rider, and sent on his way to urgent care and the only thing that seemed truly ruined were his kit and mine. But here's the thing, now I'm spooked as all get up to go on any more group rides. I don't consider myself a reckless rider at all, but I also don't want to be tagged as one by others (probably the worst black mark I can imagine) and I certainly don't want to ever have this happen around me again.
There are no answers to this for me right now. I'll have to figure it all out over time. All I know is if I do choose to partake in larger/faster group rides in the future, I'm going to be extra cautious and will most likely get spewed off the back each time because of my concerns.
Writing this is most certainly a difficult thing. We, as cyclists, love to write and talk about the grandeur of our endeavors, not the ugly things that sometimes happen in between. I chose to write about this to not only expose my mistake and apologize for it, but also make others very aware that a split second decision can make or break a ride. Be careful out there folks--on solo or group rides. Be aware of your surroundings, be predictable and err on the side of caution. No Strava KOM, bragging rights or ego boost is worth causing or ending up in a crash...ever.