But there is a dark side to group rides, the Mob
Mentality that anything goes. It's what you get when you put
any group of like-minded people together who may or may not
know what they're doing. They all think they're right, and they
think they can get away with anything. In a setting like this,
individual responsibility and common sense are diluted by the
ignorance of the masses.
Unless you have been formally trained in how to
conduct yourself on group rides it is certain that, to a greater
or lesser degree, you are a dangerous rider. Group riding is
a subtle and complex skill. If someone hasn't taught you, you
don't know it. Worse yet, you may think you know how to ride
in a group, but let me tell you: You don't.
Here in Dearborn our Wednesday Night Ride(s) have
become so dangerous I don't participate anymore. For years I
have told people "Someone needs to take responsibility
for having a clinic on how to ride in groups and there needs
to be an appointed ride leader". Last year I had a lengthy
conversation with a club officer about the role of cycling clubs
in teaching new (and most importantly, old) riders how to safely
ride in groups. "That's a great idea" he said, and
that was the end of it.
So, to avoid turning this into a rant, let me
change direction and talk about what is exceptional conduct
on a group ride. If the vernacular I use during this discussion
is lost on you, you need to learn it because it means you don't
know what you are doing.
First: Group rides are just what the name suggests-
a group. Every decision you make on the ride as an individual
must first take the group into account. Read that sentence again.
It means that before you act as an individual you have to think
"How will my actions impact the riders behind
That needs to be the primary focus of your decision
making. Are you going to stand to go up a hill? Are you going
to make a turn to the left? Do you want to move from 1 foot
next to the curb to four feet away from the curb because you
saw some glass in the road ahead? Think like this- you are the
driver of a big semi truck and you are towing a trailer of riders
behind you. The safety of those riders in your trailer is your
responsibility when you are in front of anyone. Let that guide
your every decision.
Second: In apparent contradiction to the first
rule, never yell, "braking!" or "clear!"
on a ride. Each rider is responsible for the safety of the group,
but also responsible for their own safety. If one rider yells
"clear!" going through an intersection the others
are likely to assume it is clear and just follow like lemmings.
And we all know what happens to them. You need to check every
intersection to be sure it is free of traffic and safe to ride
through on your own. If it isn't safe, it is appropriate to
make some kind of loud noise, but using words is an invitation
to misinterpretation. If you just yell "Whoa!" it
is likely you will get everyone's attention and they will find
the threat themselves. But if you try to yell "Green Vega
coming right!" the guy three riders behind you may hear
"My leg feels kinda tight!" and then get plowed by
a car you swear you warned him about. Also, if your situational
awareness is so poor that a rider in front of your has to yell
"braking!" to let you know they are slowing down,
they don't have to yell louder- you have to pay better attention.
If the bike in front of you suddenly begins to get closer to
you and you're not speeding up, it means they are slowing down.
Do that too before you overlap wheels and plow into them.
Third: Learn the subtle ebb and flow of moving
at the front. Most riders have no idea what appropriate conduct
at the front of a ride is. They speed up when they reach the
front, don't swing off in the right direction when they end
their pull and don't get to the back fast enough. This creates
an accordion effect. That eventually leads to crashes. The only
way the subtle craft of leading a paceline is to be instructed.
I suppose you could watch hours of guys riding in the Tour de
France and glean some information. The likelihood is you would
never capture all the details of what is going on though. Better
to have someone teach you. If you can't find a teacher one of
the best resources in Eddy Borysewicz's book "Bicycle Road
Racing". Yeah, I hear you, you aren't a racer. But the
group ride skills in Eddy B's book are mandatory knowledge for
Fourth: Group rides are ambassadors of the sport.
Act like ladies and gentlemen. When you get to an intersection
stay long and narrow and take up one lane. Don't clog the entire
intersection with cyclists milling about until the light turns
green. If a policeman sees you he will likely take some kind
of action. Motorists see this and think "Those bike people
have no business on the road". Sometimes they are right.
Fifth: Drafting isn't riding behind another rider.
N the U.S., where the subtle nature of cycling is not well known,
riders think you are drafting when you are strung out, single
file, behind each other. On a calm day or into a direct headwind
that is true. But in a crosswind riders need to learn to ride
in echelons. Echelon riding is a complex skill that requires
precise coordination and careful practice as well as a high
degree of situational awareness. One boo-boo and you have a
pile of riders lying on the pavement going "What just happened?"
Sixth: Never assume you know what you are doing
100%. If you think you know everything about group riding I
guarantee you, you are wrong. Learning group riding is like
learning about people. It's a never ending skill.
Bike clubs are a great source of new riding partners
and finding new routes and group rides. Bike clubs also have
the responsibility of teaching riders how to interact on a ride.
That is an essential part of the club system. When cyclists
in the club become club officers that needs to be one of their
priorities. If there is no organized club system in place in
your area take it upon yourself to create one and learn how
to conduct safe, fast fun group rides. Rather than being a hazard
and a nuisance you'll create a resource.