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Mob Rules.
Editorial by Tom Demerly.

Tom Demerly in Store
It's standard practice to tell a new rider that group rides will improve their cycling. "Do some group rides" The old hands will tell a newbie.

"It makes you faster because it pushes you and you learn some bike handling skills." There is a lot of truth to that. Group rides are fun, a great source of motivation and structure and a good way to learn new ride routes and network information about cycling in general.

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 this:

"How will my actions impact the riders behind me"

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 every rider.

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.


© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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