Building better cyclists – Explaining wheel overlap

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One of our goals at Gran Fondo NJ is to build a better community of cyclists.  We want all of you to arrive safely at our finish line with a sense of pride and accomplishment.  That said, it can be a pretty daunting experience for our newer cyclists to be in amongst 2,500 other participants at the start of the day.

Through our blog (and on our training rides) we will be sharing with you some pointers on how to ride safely in a group.  Today’s topic is Wheel Overlap, and why you should avoid it.

What is wheel overlap? Wheel overlap occurs when the front wheel of a cyclist overlaps the rear wheel of a cyclist in front of them (Think of two intersecting “Olympic rings” rather than separate circles when viewed from the side, or the AUDI logo rather than separate circles).

Wheel Overlap

Why is it bad? If the cyclist in front makes an unannounced shift in his/her path, and the rear wheel touches the front wheel of the cyclist behind, (or the touch is caused by the cyclist behind changing path) it usually results in a crash as a result of a bad combination of forces.

Rotational forces
Opposing forces…


A bad combination of opposing forces. The forces of the rear wheel of the rider in front are pushing upwards, and of the front wheel of the rider in back are pushing downwards. Unfortunately for the rider in back, his/her front wheel what the rather monumental task of trying to push the rear wheel deeper into the pavement (and try to move the earth).  The rear wheel of the rider in front will be working against half the weight of the rider behind, and air. The most likely result will be to lift the front wheel off the ground causing a crash of the rider in back (and usually the rider in front as well).

How to avoid it?

  1. POSITION: If possible the rider behind should maintain a healthy gap (at least 1/2 wheel length) between the back of the rear wheel of the rider in front, and the front wheel of their bike. If this back-to-front gap cannot be maintained, you should maintain a comfortable side-to-side gap (2 to 3 feet).
  2. COMMUNICATION: The rider in front should always indicate an intention to change path/line, either verbally or visually (hand signal, or head turn) and check that the path/line into which you intend to move is clear. Riders overtaking should verbally communicate their intention with an “On your Left” or “On your Right”.
  3. AWARENESS: Always be aware of the positions of the riders around you and adjust your position accordingly – if they drift or move left or right, you should do the same.

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