On group rides over the years, and while observing riders in other groups, I’ve noticed some very bad decisions made by cyclists. So, I decided to start off the year with an article that serves as a reminder to us all of things TO DO & NOT TO DO when riding in a group.
Even though most of these bad decisions were made by less experienced riders, we can all stand to be reminded of safe practices when riding our bicycles. Be especially aware when riding within “protected” bike paths since these will also trap you and prevent you from avoiding collisions with other cyclists.
Of course, these examples are only the tip of the iceberg. Feel free to share your thoughts and ideas in the Comments.
1) Look Up and Pay Attention
This past weekend’s weather was exceptionally nice and brought out hundreds of cyclists. The bad news is that I saw way too many cyclists looking straight down at the ground (or their computer), seemingly unaware of approaching groups and upcoming obstacles.
Every one of these cyclists weaved left and right, veering into the opposing lane where our lead person would have to slow then yell “HEY,” followed by a loud “MOVE OVER” and “PAY ATTENTION.”
Looking up and looking where you are going is even more critical if riders are trapped inside a bike path with barriers on each side. There are several of these near where I live. Several years ago, Cal Trans added miles of K-rails (or Jersey Barriers) protecting cyclists from the cars. The downside is that it does not protect cyclists from other cyclists, pedestrians, dog walkers, joggers running 4 abreast, new mothers pushing their double-wide strollers, etc. So, when you are on your bike, LOOK UP so you can see what is coming at you – and where you are headed.
2) Scan the Road
This ties in with No. 1, and without keeping your head up, there’s no possible way you can do this. Using your peripheral vision, be aware of what’s on each side of you, as well as what obstacles are in the road.
Road obstacles can be anything from pedestrians to animals, poles, rocks, gravel, raised curbs at roundabouts or anything that can potentially take you down. Quick decisions about the best course of action when coming upon any road obstacle is key.
Especially as you are approaching an “organic” obstacle (a person walking their dog, a loose pet, a squirrel in the road), consider what you expect the obstacle to do, and plan accordingly. Does it seem like the loose dog will lunge at you? Is the person walking their dog paying attention to their surroundings? Do they see you?
Again, only by keeping your head up and attentively scanning the road and your surroundings can you be prepared to deal with what’s to come. And, since this article is focused on group riding, let’s not forget the importance of sharing the information about obstacles, etc.
3) Point Out (or Yell Out) Obstacles or Threats
So, what usually happens on a group ride when there is an obstacle in the road? In my experience, all too often no one points anything out. Even within an experienced group, it’s inconsistent at best. I’ve ridden with groups where nobody pointed anything out anything at all, even large potholes, glass, nails, a tree branch.
It’s hard for anyone further back than the first two cyclists at the front to see some obstacles in the road, so, it is their duty to point out, and to YELL out, not just than an obstacle is coming up, but WHAT KIND of an obstacle is coming up (rock, branch, pothole, glass, etc.). The fact is, different types of obstacles are dangerous in different ways, so knowing what you’re facing is vital re: the course of action you’ll take to avoid it, or deal with it. (Just one example: You can bunnyhop a hole, but not a dog!)
Just as those front riders need to be heard by yelling out the threat, they need to (if it’s possible to safely remove a hand from the bar) POINT out the obstacle as well – in a vigorous, decisive gesture (it’s the difference between extending your arm fully vs. a brief flick of your index finger).
One last note on this: If the group is big, keep in mind that only the first few riders are going to see and/or hear the initial warning. Riders need to PASS IT ON by repeating the yelled threat all the way to the back of the group.
4) Hold Your Line
Especially when riding in a group, the last thing you want to do is swerve left to right/right to left, surge forward/backward – really, do anything that a fellow rider does not expect you to do – possibly causing someone else to crash.
In all cases, even when riding alone (because you may have someone tuck in behind you or about to pass you), you want to ride straight down the road and, when turning, keep the same, smooth radius. The last thing you want to do in a group ride is to dive into corners swinging wide when exiting.
Hold your line and ride predictably. Try to achieve the highest honor in a group when they refer to you as a “good wheel to follow.”
5) Don’t Overlap Wheels (Protect Your Front Wheel)
The truth is that you alone are responsible for your front wheel. If everyone follows the DO’s and DON’Ts above, your group ride should be safe and fun. The point is, everyone most assuredly does NOT always do what they should.
What happens if someone’s mind starts to drift? The answer is that their bike starts to drift, too. Often, they slowly move forward, eventually overlapping their front wheel with the rear wheel of the rider in front of them.
If that rider in front moves or swerves quickly, then they will bump into the side of the front wheel, taking it out. The rider behind will end up on the ground, possibly taking out following riders as well. So, pay attention and DON’T overlap wheels.
It’s as simple as this: Protect Your Front Wheel!
Those are my top 5 group riding tips. They may, or may not, correspond to your own top 5. Either way, feel free to add additional thoughts or tips in the Comments.
Tony M says
My club has been stressing pointing out obstacles, rather than yelling, for several reasons. First, people yell at different levels; some you cant hear, some are overly loud. But more importantly, yelling “Hole” doesn’t indicate where on the road the hole is, Even yelling “Hole right” is a relative term (right of what?). We’ve found pointing is much more effective.
Dave Villaneuva says
My club tried applying the same rule but we eventually we found out that any point of time (especially on long rides) you will find a couple of riders being a bit inattentive and miss out the signals.
Dave Minden says
My local path has lots of walkers and kids. I believe roadies need to SLOW DOWN and not yell at these folks. Yelling at slower folks is rude, we need to share our paths well.
Kerry Irons says
Two responsibilities in a group: 1) actually lead when you’re on the front and 2) make it your job to smooth out the pace rather than accentuate speed changes. Per 1): lead the group around an obstacle when possible while pointing out the hazard. The 5th or 6th rider back will not get much of a chance to avoid the hole, stick, rock, etc. even when it’s pointed out if the group suddenly parts in front of them, revealing the hazard. If the front riders had moved the group (or split a double line) in anticipation of a hazard, it would be much better for everyone.
Speed changes destroy the group. Those who let gaps open and then jump to close them are the antithesis of a smooth group ride. Close gaps slowly so that those behind you don’t get caught in the “accordion squeeze”, spread out left or right a bit when the pace slows so that the group can compact smoothly without the screeching of brakes, and think about “constant pedal pressure” as a way to keep the pace steady.
John Tonetti says
“…lead the group around an obstacle when possible while pointing out the hazard. The 5th or 6th rider back will not get much of a chance to avoid the hole, stick, rock, etc. even when it’s pointed out if the group suddenly parts in front of them, revealing the hazard. If the front riders had moved the group (or split a double line) in anticipation of a hazard, it would be much better for everyone.”
Amen, brother. It does no good to merely skirt a hazard by inches. Riders behind may not be *exactly* on line. The leaders job is to lead the group *around* the hazard.
Mark R says
In regard to Items 1 – 3 : regardless whether other riders are pointing out hazards or not, you, as an individual rider, are still ultimately responsible for avoiding obstacles on the road. I’ve seen many instances where a rider’s hitting a pot hole are blamed on the other riders.
My motto, especially for group riding: don’t surprise and don’t be surprised.
Ron Sowers says
I would suggest that a sixth item be added: group “ethics”. Just as it would be inexcusable to fart in a crowded room, polluting the air that others are breathing, it is just as inexcusable in a group to use offensive, vulgar language with four-lettered filthy comments that fills the “air” of everyone around them. Group ethics mandates that we respect the feelings of others around us and not to force our mores on everyone around us.
Fortunately, I ride with a pretty fast group so, I typically fall off the back before long and none of my bad habits are noticeable.
John Klever says
Group riding is inherently dangerous due to the speed, two wheels, close quarters, and the unexpected. Many of the crashes I am aware of have been due to the dangers riding in a group offer. I am also slow enough to not benefit from the minor speed increase riding in a group slow enough for me to keep up with would offer me.
Situational awareness and consideration both make for a better ride.
Tai Vu says
I did a group ride a few months ago and downhill sprints around curvy roads were -scary- and if there were any obstacles it was just better safe than sorry to slow down. Great tips!
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Be considerate with your back light especially in using for daytime visibility if you are not consistently last in the group. 50W flashing is not fun when you are 6 feet behind it, switch it to low power, steady mode and angle a few degrees down.
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Larry Best says
I agree that calling & pointing out hazards is necessary for everybody’s safety. I’m a member of a large club of 350-360 members. The groups I ride with have a few individuals that call out any minor flaw in the pavement & this gets annoying after awhile. For example, if there’s a silver dollar sized hole in the road, someone will scream, “HOLE!” Two or three small pebbles along the side of the road, that are nowhere near the cornering line will warrant, “GRAVEL” at the top of their lungs. I know, better safe than sorry, but excessive call outs like these get boring & downright annoying after a short time, While giving warnings is desirable & necessary, please make sure that a condition that’s significant is upcoming.
Larry Metheney says
In a group ride the cyclist to my left in a double line took his left hand off the handlebar to adjust his left shoe. As he leaned down his right hand remained on the the right handle bar. You guessed it, he hit something in the road and jerked his right handle bar and took me out. I am now post surgery, repairing three tendons ripped from my left shoulder and still in an arm sling, with months of rehab in front of me. Oh, and the offending rider was unhurt and continues to enjoy road biking.
My Tip – Pull out and away to adjust anything and move your stearing hand to the middle of the handle bar
vary good information you shared with us but can you please tell us which club is good for join club for group riding.