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Be Careful Out There!

The sickening news of Wouter Weylandts death in the Giro was fresh in my mind yesterday. I won’t write any profound words, as I don’t feel I can say it better than Greg Keller does here. Please read and reflect.

Yesterday, far from the Giro, our own little group had a reminder that accidents can and do happen, and that the sport we love can be a dangerous one. Luckily no serious injuries occurred, and no serious damage was done. However, I feel it’s a good time for a few reminders on group riding. I wrote the following last year after a particularly nerve-wracking ride, but kept it to myself. I post it now, and urge you all to read it. And your friends. And their friends. Think of it as “The Rules” – but the “Safety and Etiquette” version, rather than the panache version!

Please, be careful out there! The actions you take on the road can and do impact those around you.

I would appreciate comments below on anything I’ve missed, and welcome open discussion on anything that you disagree with or need clarification on.

Group Ride Rules and Etiquette

(in no particular order)

  1. Ride smoothly and consistently.  When speeding up or slowing down in the group, don’t do so suddenly (especially slowing down!) since those behind you need to be able to react.  Don’t swerve or move suddenly.
  2. A good way to slow down safely (subtly) is to ‘soft pedal’ – keep pedaling, but stop putting pressure on the pedals.  Since your legs are still spinning, you can instantly ‘engage’ them again to speed up.  Also, you can sit up slightly or move left/right/back slightly to leave the draft a bit.  Move back into the draft/your tuck to speed back up.  These tactics can be used in combination with each other depending how much you need to slow down.  Note that using the brakes was not one of these options! (slowing subtly is key!)
  3. If you do need to slow suddenly (which should be for an emergency only) yell SLOWING or STOPPING loudly and clearly and signal if possible.
  4. Keep your eyes well up the road so you can be aware of what is going on.  This will help you slow preemptively (slowly and smoothly) when necessary rather than making sudden changes of speed (see Point 1).  In mid-pack, it’s all to easy to get fixated on the wheel in front of you, rather than further up the line.  Constant attention to this is necessary until it becomes second nature.  When on the front, keeping your eyes up the road allows you to spot obstacles early, then choose a line to ride smoothly around them well in advance.  Signal them to those behind you.  If you have to swerve sharply to miss an obstacle, you have not been paying enough attention (or the rider in front has not been signaling properly).  At this point, suck it up and ride over it, then pay more attention for next time!  Try to give the rider behind you notice of the obstacle, even if the rider ahead of you did not do the same for you.
  5. Signal potholes, sand, gravel, etc. to those behind you.  Do this with clear hand signals, and only verbally in extreme cases (e.g. when you don’t want to take your hands off the bars to maintain control, or you are surprised by something [although, if you are surprised, you failed the above point])
  6. Verbally call “Car Back” or “Car Up” ONLY when the car could cause a problem.  We don’t care/don’t want to hear about every car that passes us safely.  If there is a blind corner or oncoming traffic, then please feel free to call “Car Back” so we can be alert to idiot passing maneuvers.  If the coast is clear, don’t scream!  Personally, when on a clear open road and someone yells “Car Back” I assume we’re getting plowed into at full speed. IF this is the case, then YELL LOUD!  Otherwise.. say nothing.
  7. No aero bars on group rides, please!  If you want to train for your Triathlon or TT, please do so solo (it’s better training for those disciplines anyway!) Bring your road bike to all group rides. Don’t have a road bike? Then please reconsider the whole group ride concept.
  8. Always CLEARLY communicate before doing anything other than riding along normally, either via hand signals or verbally where necessary
  9. When transitioning from seated to standing  or standing to seated, be aware that your bike actually ‘moves backwards’ (slows relative to you) when you make the switch.  Be aware of this and how it will affect the rider behind you.  Try to consciously momentarily accelerate  the bike to make up for this when standing or sitting.  If you sense the rider in front of you will be standing or sitting, move slightly to one side or the other in case they do fall back.
  10. Take pulls at the front if your fitness allows.  Don’t take pulls if you will ‘blow up’ and not be able to finish the ride.  Also, don’t take long pulls if they will cause you to blow up.  The group would rather you sit at the back and ride a decent pace than pull once, blow up, and then need to limp home while waiting for you.
  11. Don’t accelerate when you hit the front of the group – yes, this is a very natural reaction, and we’re all guilty of it… but be conscious of it and try to avoid it!  A working computer is helpful here–while second or third in line, take note of the speed.  Maintain this speed when you hit the front of the group.
  12. If the pace is too high for you, let someone know before you ‘blow up’ – our rides are largely no drop, or else someone will likely be willing to slow down and join you.  However, if we don’t know you’re in trouble, you will likely get dropped!
  13. If a gap forms in front of you, close it as soon as possible if you can.  If you can’t, make it clear so that the group in front slows, or someone behind you comes up and fills the gap.
  14. Don’t overlap wheels – stay behind the rider in front of you, not beside..not even a little bit (unless you know when/where it is appropriate.  And no, I won’t tell you when that is. If you don’t know, don’t do it.)  Overlapping of wheels is the cause for many accidents when the rider in front moves quickly to one side and takes out the front wheel of the ‘overlapper’
  15. Don’t “half wheel” – when riding two abreast, don’t ride slightly ahead of your partner.  Your front wheels should be in line.  Otherwise, the speed will constantly increase as the other rider tries to ‘even up’ the line.
  16. Ride as close to the rider in front as possible given your comfort level.  In an experienced group where everyone knows/trusts the other riders, you can be mere inches apart
  17. When riding two abreast, ride as close beside your partner as possible given your comfort level (6 inches between handlebars is a good distance when comfortable.)  You should NOT be in the middle of the road when riding two abreast–this is what gives drivers (legitimate) reason to complain about cyclists riding two abreast.
  18. You should never be more than two abreast except when falling back from your pull at the front.
  19. When falling back from a pull at the front, move to the left and THEN soft pedal (e.g. SLOW DOWN) so that the group goes by you.  DO NOT (for the love of God!) slow down until you are safely to the left of the riders behind you. When reaching the end of the group begin to accelerate again so you can slot yourself in at the back of the group comfortably without a gap forming.

Comments

Comment from Brian Lindblom
Time May 11, 2011 at 9:07 am

If you only have a tri-bike and are riding in a group please stay off the extenders/aero bars at all times. It’s the only way to ride safely in a group. Do not revert to the extenders when your turn at the front comes up. It’s very dangerous and often results in a surge forward as you become more aerodynamic. This in turn stretches the group and we are back to the spread and contract effect that will typically result in riders getting dropped.

Comment from darrencope
Time May 11, 2011 at 9:17 am

Brian,

Yes. If you ABSOLUTELY MUST ride a TT/Tri bike (and the group has agreed to you riding one,) then NEVER user the aero bars. But the best solution is to ride a road bike. I’ve ridden in groups that make you remove clip-on aero bars before the ride even starts!

Comment from Dave Salte
Time May 11, 2011 at 8:14 pm

Hi Darren,
Excellent pointers, you must have been talking to Ian Brown too!
My contribution to OUR crash, (hows the finger?) included excitedly riding closer than normal as I was having a great ride, and not being aware of MORE than the two riders ahead of me. Just thinking about the pack ahead may have provided more time to make an escape.
A difficult habit I am going to practice next time out!

Comment from darrencope
Time May 12, 2011 at 7:47 pm

Dave, you’re right. Perhaps I should re-word point four to say ‘obstacles’ as well as ‘what is going on’ or something. Let me work on that.

The finger is doing ok, thanks. Hope you are well too!

Comment from Ian Brown
Time May 12, 2011 at 8:09 pm

Very happy I missed that accident, had to leave early so missed all the details. To ride safely with a group, it is as simple as remembering that someone is on your wheel behind you. That is how the pro groups of over 200 riders, moving along at 40 to 60 klicks, ride all the time, and even then someone forgets.

Comment from Frank Volkmer
Time May 13, 2011 at 5:10 am

Great riding tips Darren, I only hope that everyone gets a chance to read them. It will certainly make our group safer to ride in. I’m certainly guilty of a few errors over the years but that’s what gaining experience and listening to your peers is all about. Glad to hear that you both came out of the last ride with mostly scrapes although Dave did take the worst of it.

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