NCNCA Women’s Series Q & A with Safety Committee Chair Marissa Axell: How to Ride Like a Rockstar… Safely

Recently, we sat down with Marissa Axell, who’s a Cat 1 road racer for JL Velo Cycling Team and serves as an NCNCA board member. This year she also heads up the safety committee. “One great things about the NCNCA is its ability to directly impact and give back to the cycling community,” Marissa said. If you want to do more and become a member of the NCNCA, let us know about it!

NCNCA​: As someone with a lot of experience racing, what was the major motivator for you to become a member of our Safety Committee?

Axell:​ Crashes! They happen, and they always suck! One of the biggest reasons people leave our beautiful sport is a perceived lack of rider safety, which manifests, namely, in crashes.

NCNCA:​ What’s the best way for riders to keep themselves safe in a race, especially one that includes riders with diverse ability levels?

Axell:​ I could wax poetic for at least 48 hours on that topic (hello Facebook NCNCA group), but honestly, it boils down to the following fundamentals:

  • Be predictable;
  • Be assertive;
  • Protect your front wheel;
  • Use your peripheral vision, and;
  • Communicate.

NCNCA:​ Those points are great advice for new and seasoned racers alike. Can you go into more detail about each fundamental idea?

Axell​: Sure! Ultimately, it’s best to ride predictably​! If you follow the wheel in front of you, you’ll generally ride in a straight line/lane (especially around corners) and minimize any lateral movement. That way, you’re going to minimize causing or reacting to crashes.

NCNCA:​ Yikes! What else can a rider do to stay clear of someone’s blind spot and avoid “touching wheels”?

Axell:​ Use your peripheral vision!​ Before making any lateral moves, scan to your left and right, look and notice what is going on either side of you. Make sure there’s room before moving to the left or the right. But, don’t look all the way behind you, the race is up the road and the riders behind you should be focused on what is in front of them—in this case, that’s you!

NCNCA:​ Any other pointers for staying safe in a race?

Axell:​ Be sure to communicate with your fellow riders! It’s okay to talk to people while you’re racing.

NCNCA:​ These are great insights; thanks for sharing. Since the JL Velo Giro di San Francisco is coming up soon, can you share any insider details on what riders can expect from this unique race course?

Axell:​ This L-shaped criterium in downtown San Francisco has several distinctive features that riders should keep in mind as they had out to race. First, the Giro has eight corners and an uphill/downhill section. For this course, it would be safest to follow the wheel in front of you as you round each corner. You will want to enter the corner wide, cut through the apex near the inside of the corner, and exit wide out of the corner.

So for example, corner one (which is a left-hand corner,) ideally a rider would swing towards the right side of the course as they approach the left corner, and then navigate to the inside of the left hand turn (the apex) and then exit relatively wide out of that corner. After you’ve cleared the turn, keep your head up and make sure you are not moving laterally. Riders will start moving left to position themselves for corner two, which comes quickly after corner one. Entering and exiting corners in this manner allows you to maintain speed without slamming on the brakes which will make for a much safer race.

NCNCA:​ What other details should riders be aware of who are interested in competing in the Giro di San Francisco?

Axell:​ This course historically features bumpy bad pavement and train tracks, so do yourself and everyone a favor and arrive at least 2 hours early before your race, get onto your bike between races, and check the course at least one time all the way through. Look at the pavement, find the potholes, orient yourself and know how to safely avoid them without resulting to sudden, lateral moves.

Also, you should be aware of, not afraid of, the train tracks. They appear on the inside of the course after the first turn, and are not (generally) where you would be riding your bike.

NCNCA:​ This is awesome insight, Marissa! Thank you! Do you have anything else to add?

Axell​: Let’s go out, ride hard, have fun this labor day weekend at the JL Velo Giro di SF! Also, if anyone is interested in becoming a part of the NCNCA, please run for the board or join a committee!