Riding in Groups:
A Guide to Safe Bike Riding
Riding bicycles in groups can be a very satisfying, rewarding, and safe experience. It can also be a less-than-safe experience. When riding a bike, you are operating in a multivariable world where the dynamics are constantly changing. Rider positions change, traffic conditions change, the road surface changes, the road direction changes, topography changes, the weather changes; and additional variables constantly enter and leave your immediate environment. While riding in a group, the safety of everyone in the group is dependent upon each individual riding safely, and a single misstep by one rider can affect the safety of the whole group. When something goes wrong in a group ride, there may be very little time to react. Accordingly, knowing how to ride safely in groups can go a long way to keep everyone safe.
Whether the group is two people or 20, the same principles apply. After many miles on bikes and observing many safe and unsafe riders and riding conditions, we are sharing our observations, recommendations, and guidelines for safely riding in groups. These are only guidelines. Ultimately, all riders are responsible for riding safely and constantly being vigilant of the situation around them. Although many of these points seem like common sense, they still warrant inclusion in this list. In this context, a leading rider is anyone ahead of you and a following rider is anyone behind you.
- Be aware of your surroundings, both the other riders and the greater world in which you’re riding.
- Expect the unexpected.
- Be anticipatory, look for unsafe situations that could be developing.
- Use a rearview mirror. Sunglass-mounted or helmet-mounted mirrors, in our opinion, are far better than mirrors mounted in the end of handlebars. Handlebar-mounted mirrors require that you look down to see behind yourself, making you take your eyes off the road ahead. Sunglasses or helmet mounted mirrors are lightweight and versatile. They move with your head, and with the momentary flick of your eye, you can see what’s happening behind, while still maintaining visual contact with the road and riders ahead.
- Pay attention to what is going on around you, road markings, traffic signal status, the presence of other riders, and the presence of cars.
- Visibility in a group is limited, so each rider needs to be on the lookout for all other riders. The leading riders cannot see everything behind themselves because there are other riders in their line of view. Riders in the rear have limited forward visibility because of the riders ahead of them. Riders in the middle cannot see fully forward or backward. Call out any hazards in the roadway so following riders can avoid them. Call out when traffic is approaching from the rear so riders ahead of you will be aware of it. Point to and call out glass or other road hazards that could pose a risk to other riders.
- Follow far enough back from other riders that you can stop if the rider ahead does something unexpected. You will have to gauge this distance according to your speed, but a good rule is to maintain a two-second interval between you and the rider in front of you.
- Other riders will do unexpected things, so it is incumbent upon you to make sure you are alert and prepared to take evasive action if another rider does do something surprising. Unanticipated actions can result from a whole host of things, such as a dog running into the roadway, a rider trying to avoid a pothole, a sudden puncture flat, an insect flying into a rider’s eye or ear, or a car that veers too close to a rider. The possibilities are almost endless, so remain vigilant about maintaining enough distance to react before colliding with another rider.
- Signal turns, stops, and slowing, in advance, so other riders know what you are going to do, and they can adjust their course and speed accordingly.
- When other riders call out “car back,” it means that a car is approaching from the rear. You should make every effort to move toward the right side of the road, form a single line, and give the car ample room to pass.
- When a rider calls out “riders up,” it means that your group is overtaking another group of riders and will probably pass them, or that one or more riders is approaching from the opposite direction. You need to move toward the left to provide clearance for the riders being overtaken, and to the right to provide clearance for approaching riders. This same principle applies when your group is approaching a runner, a walker, a person on horseback, or any other obstruction in the roadway. Ring a bell (except for horses, which can easily spook), or call out your presence to others to let them know you are approaching.
- Passing another rider or group of riders should always be done to the left of the rider(s) being passed. Call out to the rider being overtaken and announce, “on your left.” This lets the rider know you are approaching.
- On descents specifically, and passing in general, pass on the other rider’s left. Pass on the straightaways, and not in the curves. The curves are the most dangerous part, and a collision there would be painful for all involved.
- Do not ride between a leading rider and the curb side of the roadway. You do not want to overlap the leading rider’s rear wheel on the inside. If the leading rider experiences an unexpected situation, his/her normal reaction is to move toward the curb. If you have your front wheel slotted in there, the lead rider will hit you and potentially take both of you down.
- Stay on your own side of the road. DO NOT ride in opposing lanes of traffic. DO NOT cross the double-yellow lines; they’re there for a reason.
- Be smooth, consistent, and predictable in your riding style. Avoid sudden starts, sudden turns, and sudden stops. These abrupt actions can distract other riders and cause accidents.
- When passing another rider, give plenty of room before you pull back in.
- Watch the road ahead for potholes or other potential bike-damaging hazards and avoid them. Avoid riding through puddles. It is hard to know how deep they are, how steep the sides are, or what is in them. Water can adversely affect braking. Avoid riding through leaf piles. You can’t know what is in them, and leaves are notoriously slippery.
- Pacelines should be left to the experts. Drafting in another rider’s slipstream is an effective way to reduce wind resistance, and in turn conserves your energy. It is also a dangerous practice and can lead to serious accidents and injury. Drafting and pacelines provide the riders with significantly reduced visibility and reaction time. A tiny mistake can put the whole group in the ditch.
- Give cars the greatest possible respect, even when they are in the wrong, because challenging a car may end poorly for the cyclist. A typical bike and rider weigh somewhere between 125 and 250 pounds, all encased in Spandex or other cloth material. Spandex offers little in the way of abrasion or impact resistance. A small car on the other hand weighs at least 1,800 pounds and is covered in steel. In any collision between the two, the cyclist invariably loses. It is not enough to be right; a higher priority is being safe.
- When changing lanes in a group of riders, point to the spot you are going to move into before you move over. Again, let the other riders know what you are planning before you do it.
- Be careful after a car or truck passes. The vehicle may be pulling a trailer, and you may not see it or know it is there. Don’t pull back out after being passed by a vehicle until you make sure the road is clear.
- Be aware of the wind. A strong crosswind can blow you off course and into other riders or into traffic. This is especially true when riding from a protected area, behind trees for example, into an open area beside a field. The trees protect you from the effects of the wind, but as soon as you become exposed to the wind it can cause you to swerve. This is more pronounced on bikes with bladed spokes.
- If you need to stop apart from the group, for instance to attend to a flat tire, first signal your intention to slow down, and then indicate that you are pulling over. Sometimes you may need to move toward the center of the road to disengage yourself from the group before you are clear to pull over to the right. Once stopped, move completely off the road onto the shoulder. If you remain in the roadway, you expose yourself to being hit by other bikes or vehicles.
- When you blow your nose, be courteous to any riders following you. Remember, courtesy is good, snot is not.
(Several club members contributed ideas to this article. We on the safety committee thank them.)
Safety Committee: Steve Price, Joel Loh, Dave McQuery, Mark Lander, Members at Large