Safe Cycling Tips

Group Biking for Fun and Safety: Rules of the Road
Rules of the Road – Group Biking for Fun and Safety

If you are riding with a group or even with one other cyclist, you have a responsibility not to do anything that would compromise the safety of the other rider(s)! No way around it – you assumed that responsibility when you joined the group.

Whether you’re going on a casual group ride or joining a challenging pace-line that’ll push you to the limit, a few key rules will enrich your biking experience.

Imagine, on one hand, riding with other cyclists; psychedelic patterns of bikes, helmets, and jerseys; a sense of shared exertions; camaraderie, but no fear. What could be more exhilarating?

Then picture, on the other hand, riders cutting in front of you, blocking you in, never letting you know what’s going on, leaving you behind at every stop sign, unpredictably braking or sprinting. The result: constant angst, occasional panic, risk of injury, and no fun.

The reason those two experiences are vastly different is straightforward: Whenever two or more riders get together, a set of rules come into play to help ensure everyone’s safety and enjoyment. Do you know what those rules are? Do you practice them? Do you insist that all group members know and practice the same rules?

When you’re finished with this short article, you’ll know the basics. Then you’re on your own when it comes to practice.

Here we go, five essential rules of the road:

1. BE CONSISTENT AND SMOOTH.

  • Stay relaxed, loose and fluid.
  • If you do nothing else, remember: A cyclist is probably behind you and another cyclist behind. Unpredictable moves will cause a problem for the entire group behind you. Multiple bikers are depending on you; so try not to do anything unexpected.
  • Speed up, slow down, and change directions gradually. Brisk changes will make riders behind you work harder, take much of the enjoyment out of their ride and may cause a wheel-touch, which can put the cyclists behind you down.
  • Don’t accelerate to fill a gap and then suddenly brake. Close gaps slowly and smoothly.
  • When you stop pedalling you will instantly slow down (yes, even going downhill). So keep those pedals in motion when someone is behind you. Soft-pedalling beats no pedalling.
  • Standing up as you ride causes your bike to stop for a split second. And that’s long enough to stress the rider behind you. The best bet is to accelerate slightly and, when you stand, do it on the down stroke.

2. GO EASY ON THOSE BRAKES.

  • If a cyclist is behind you, never brake without early and clear warning.
  • When descending in front of a pack, keep pedalling (lightly) so the group will not have to brake.
  • Instead of braking, sit up or move out of the draft to catch some air.
  • If you must brake, feather your rear brake smoothly and lightly to slow down. Be sure to communicate that you’re slowing.

3. FOLLOW THE WHEEL IN FRONT OF YOU.

  • Protect your front wheel. Stay alert. Without training and practice, even a slight touch of your front wheel on another’s rear wheel virtually guarantees a spill for you.
  • Ride in a straight line. If a rider behind you is overlapping a wheel (they really shouldn’t, but …) and you sway unexpectedly, it may cause a fall. Maybe you won’t go down, but you’ll have contributed to a nasty pileup.
  • Drafting (roughly one-to-four feet behind the wheel in front of you) is very efficient. You’ll expend 15 to 30 percent less energy than the leader -- and it looks cool to boot. But don’t focus on the wheel in front of you. Instead look forward several riders to see what the group is doing.
  • When you draft, don’t let gaps open. If you’re not at ease drafting, then pull out of the line and move to the back of the group.

4. COMMUNICATE.

  • Call out your actions and road conditions: “Turning.” “Slowing.” “Stopping.” “Dog.” “Car back.” You get the idea. Learn and use standard hand signals as well as verbal commands. They’re indispensable to inform cyclists behind you that they may be required to take some action.
  • Short, brusque commands can seem rude or offensive. In fact, they’re just time-savers. Don’t take them personally.
  • If you’re passing or coming alongside the next biker, let them know “On your right.” That command is crucial to protecting yourself, the rider in front of you, and anyone behind.
  • Give advance notice of turns, obstacles, and road hazards. Telling the group about a pothole when you’re on top of it, or a turn that’s underway, is too late. Allow time to plan and react.
  • Talk to anyone who isn’t following these rules. It’s about group safety. Everyone should know about, and practice, safe riding.
  • If you don’t understand something going on, don’t be afraid to ask. You need to know.

5. ABOUT CHANGING POSITIONS.

  • Never change lateral positions without looking first.
  • When you want to stop or slow down, or you’re not comfortable with your position, for whatever reason, first signal and pull out of the line, then drop back. Do not slow down before pulling out.
  • If you need to drop back, signal or call your intentions. Then pull out of the group (usually to the right) and slow down.
  • When you change positions, match the group’s speed before sliding back into line. Otherwise, you’ll have trouble catching up, especially if you’re already tired.
  • Be conscious of the other riders when you pass them or they pass you. And give them a turn at sharing positions. It’s more fun for everybody. Most important when you or another rider is shifting position: look, talk, be predictable, and be considerate. Safety depends on thinking as a group member.

Rules courtesy of BlueRidgeBicycleClub.ORG