No 52, May 2007

Riding with a Group

by Keith Griffin

This article is NOT about peloton riding... that will come in another article. Here we look at riding in less formal groups, much like we enjoy on Easy and Medium Bike North rides.

How is a group of cyclists different from a lone rider? Of course, it depends what you mean. First of all from the perspective of the cyclists within a group it is very different. Other riders can get in your way, do unpredicatable things, or ride too close or too far off the back of the group. From the point of view of a motorist though it is almost the same thing. Motorists expect that a group of cyclists will all do the same thing at the same time. They do not see individuals, but a single group. This must become our guide as to how to ride in a group, at least when on the road. On shared paths things are a little different due to much lower speed, smaller spaces, and the unpredictability of pedestrians.

As a rider within a group you have responsibilities beyond those you might have as a lone rider. In my view the most critical of these is to be predictable. Predictability relies on repeated or learned patterns of behaviour. Since individually we all behave differently, this means that in a group some Norms need to be set.

This group is neat and well spaced

Who is this guy called Norm?

Ride at a safe distance from the rider ahead of you. Naturally this distance will vary according to conditions such as road or path surface, speed, and skill levels, but as a rule of thumb one bike length would be a good distance to work with. If you find this uncomfortably close then move back a little more, but start training yourself to ride a little closer until it feels easier. As with anything, a bit of practice and application to the task makes all the difference, and of course you can always ask for help from a more experienced rider (a ride leader for example).

A point worth noting here is that it is a rider's responsibility to keep up with the group. It may take a little extra effort now and then, but everyone in the group benefits. If a rider is having real problems with the pace, the ride leader will dive into his/her bag of tricks, and decide on the best way to manage the difficulty.

Riding two abreast is allowed on multilane roads, and is often the best way to ride because it gives the group greater visibility but also because it forces motorists to pass in the adjacent lane leaving a safe passing distance. The same rule applies as with riding behind someone: not too close, not too far away. Touching shoulders would be too close, unable to reach the other rider with your arm outstretched would be too far apart.

Ride in straight lines. It may seem a little superfluous to say this, but the number of cyclists who cannot hold a straight line is surprising. Having a rider in front of you or beside you wobbling the handlebars all over the place is very disconcerting. Of course this is a matter of personal practice away from the group. I like to use road line markings to practice on. Once you are confident at moderate speed (20km/hr) try it one handed, then try it slower. Then try it with the other hand only. Slower still. Its more difficult the slower you go. On many Bike North rides I have had to ride very slowly indeed, with other riders around me, while those ahead negotiate a squeeze point or difficult turn. Groups have an elastic effect - the people at the back have to ride slower when the group slows and faster when the groups speeds up, so riders at the front need to be aware that those behind have still to complete the manouvre.

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