Group Ride Techniques, Etiquette and Safety

Safety

Every ride is with a new group of cycling enthusiasts who have not ridden together before. To ensure that everyone is as safe as possible it is essential that each ride participant reads this document before joining a ride. Riding in a group (and as a group) requires additional skills to riding solo.

Rides will be enjoyable and safe if everyone keeps two principles in mind at all times: Be predictable and Communicate. 

DO

  • Communicate constantly – both verbally and by hand signals
  • Pass any calls up or down the line
  • Keep at least one hand on the handle bar at all times
  • Concentrate – be alert to your surroundings and keep your head and eyes up (don’t fixate on the wheel in front)
  • Listen for the group leader’s calls and obey them at all times
  • Announce hazards clearly and loudly
  • Ride no more than two abreast and no more than one metre apart
  • Obey all traffic laws
  • Ride smoothly and predictably; riders who change speed and/or direction in a jerky fashion make other riders nervous.

DON’T

  • Overtake another rider if it unsafe to do so; never overtake on the left
  • Overlap wheels with the person in front
  • Brake suddenly
  • Conduct involved conversations, as this takes away your focus

 

Etiquette

Work as a group. For example, the front riders calculate actions for the group as a whole, not just themselves (eg at traffic lights). Tail end riders assist with lane changes by calling “over” when it is safe to so. We wait for riders who have punctures or mechanicals. We regroup if necessary after hills or other difficulties, if the group gets split. Stronger riders take more turns at the front and ease the pace if necessary to keep everyone together. Don’t half wheel the person beside you.

If a rider needs to drop out of the ride, they will be collected by the bus.

Do not deliberately block other traffic from passing when it is safe to do so, remember we share the roads and are courteous to all road users and pedestrians.

 

Basic Calls and Signals

Each rider will be provided with a wireless communication receiver and single bud ear speaker, which must be worn throughout the ride. This will enable the Group Leader to communicate to all riders clearly and unambiguously. This, however, does not replace any of the calls or signals that should still be used by all riders.

  • “Slowing/Stopping” put your arm to the side and point your open palm towards the rider behind
  • “Clear” call when intersection/roundabout is safe to enter; also to advise rider on your right that it is safe to roll over in front of you (used when pace line rolling)
  • “Rolling” used to commence pace line rolling – hand raised above head and rotated
  • “Last wheel” informs the last rider on the left that it is their turn to move across to the right hand line when the group is rolling
  • “Ease up” slow down to allow the group to reform or assist slower riders
  • “Regroup” slow down significantly or stop to bring everyone together (sometimes after a steep climb)
  • “Car back/Riders back” alerts riders in front of passing traffic (stay left to make room)
  • “Wait” called repeatedly by back of group while it is unsafe to change lanes
  • “Over” called from back of group when it is safe to change lanes (rear riders indicate with right arm signal to traffic behind)
  • Avoid hazard on the left – signal by placing bent left arm behind your back and call the hazard, eg “car left”, “sand left”
  • Stay behind me, it is unsafe to overtake – signal by placing bent right arm behind your back. Make an appropriate call to support the signal, eg “walkers up”
  • “Single file” one finger pointed up from an extended arm
  • “Pair up” two fingers pointed up from an extended arm

 

Group Riding Techniques

Riders pair off in 2×2 formation. Keep a distance of approximately 0.5 to 1.0 metre off the rear of and slightly off to the side of the rider in front (more in wet weather). This gives the rider better vision down the line and more time to react to hazards.

riding-technique

Sitting on the Wheel

Focus on the person in front of you and what is ahead. Do not focus on the rear of the wheel. By focusing on the person you will be more aware of what is happening in the group.

When you ride a 2 x 2 formation, your goal is to ride evenly with your partner, hub to hub, handlebar to handlebar.

Do not overlap wheels. This is extremely risky as you will be positioned in the front rider’s blind spot and any sideways movement by that rider could result in wheel hits and an accident involving any number of riders.

 

Position on the Road

Riders have clearly defined rights on the road that in simple terms allows riders to occupy a full lane, ride in pair formation and have the same responsibilities as motorists. However, not all motorists are aware of the rights cyclists have. As a cyclist you must take this into consideration and ensure all movements that you make are clear, noticeable and predictable to all of those around you. Erratic or inconsistent cycling puts pressure on drivers of vehicles.

Riding too close to the kerb or road edge can also create problems for riders. Slipping off the roadway shoulder poses risks as you try to recover. Drains, grates, road debris and rough edges also present hazards.

 

Riding at the Front of the Group

When riding on the front, try to ensure an even pace with no surging, and keep your partner right alongside so that your handlebars are level.

The lead riders take the greatest responsibility for the group. They set the pace, they make the calls for road obstacles and warn the group of any traffic changes. This is not the time for the social chat.

Lead riders should scan the road ahead for obstacles and other potential risks – scanning up to 100m ahead and scan back to the front of the wheels. The lead riders’ eyes must be focused on what lies ahead at all times.

When riding in pair formation and obstacles are identified, the lead rider makes the call. If a hole in the road is identified, the lead rider calls “hole left” (of the left hand lead rider) “hole middle” (of both lead riders) or “hole right” (of the right hand lead rider). The calls also apply for all hazards including rocks, glass, sticks, branches and other debris, car doors opening, pedestrians, stray animals that may cause a risk to the group.

The lead riders also will indicate if riders should move across, eg, with obstacles on the side of the road, such as parked vehicles or garbage bins. A hand signal behind the back of the lead rider closest to the obstacle will indicate to riders behind to move over. The signal is passed down the line.

A rider or group of riders ahead also need to be called. The call “riders up” and the hand signal behind the lead rider’s back to move across is given by the lead rider. “Car up”, “Pedestrian up”, “Riders Up” are examples of calls signalling that vehicles, cyclists and people ahead of the bunch.

The opening of car doors by drivers who do not look first can pose a real hazard to cyclists. Lead riders also scan for cars that may have pulled into the curb ahead, or the shopper who has just returned to the car, to assess whether the threat of an opening car door may prevail. The call of “door” is made and the group readies itself to move across from the risk. The call can also help alert a driver to take care when opening the vehicle’s door.

It is important to identify what is deemed hazardous to the group. Calling hazards that pose no risk to the group is dangerous in itself (eg the hazard is too far to the side to pose a risk to the group, the hazard is too minor (eg a few leaves, a small amount of sand) as the group will start to ignore the lead riders’ calls. Later, when a real threat has been identified and signalled, there is the risk that it will be ignored by the group.

 

Riding at the Back of the Group

The riders on the back of the line also have a huge responsibility, particularly the rider on the right hand (outside) side. This person must call the bunch across a lane or lanes (see below) or warn of trucks, cars etc that are approaching the rear of the pack when on narrow and/or single lane roads.

When crossing over lanes the call from the tailender, after checking to assess the situation, is either “wait” or “over”. It is important that the instruction is relayed up the line and when crossing over the bunch moves as one and does not fragment. The rider on the outside rear must maintain a distinct hand signal until the manoeuvre is completed.

On a narrow or single lane road the last rider must warn of vehicles behind. A call of “car back” is a simple call that all should understand. The same applies for when a cyclist, or bunch, is over-taking our bunch. The last rider must warn other riders by a caller of “bikes passing”.

The tailenders need to ensure whenever their sight is off the riders in front that they have assessed the motion is steady and that that they have moved back from the rear wheel of the rider in front of them in case the bunch suddenly slows.

 

Communicating Messages Up and Down the Line

All riders play an important part in group riding and clearly relayed communications is paramount. The lead or back riders can give the best signals possible but unless they are acted upon by being passed down or up the line, substantial risks can remain. In group riding there can be a tendency for riders in the middle to hear the call and react by avoiding the hazard, but omit to act by passing the call down the line. Sometimes a middle rider may assume the call was loud enough to be heard well behind, but we know the risk of making assumptions. The middle of the group must be alert to relay the calls at all times to ensure the entire group’s safety.

 

Intersections, Roundabouts and Lane Changes

signal-lane-changeWhen entering a roundabout or turning at an intersection the lead riders must call “clear” or “car left / right” or “stopping”.  At roundabouts, the group takes the lane to ensure that motorists do not attempt to overtake whilst negotiating the roundabout. All calls should be relayed clearly and swiftly down the line so that each cyclist makes the call for the riders directly behind.

When the group needs to change lanes, (eg to move across to turn right at an intersection) the lead rider on the side of the lane to move into should raise an arm up, pointing high in the direction of the lane, to signal to the group that a lane change needs to occur. The rear rider will give the call of either “wait” or “over”, ensuring that is clear not only for the rear rider to move, but for all riders. A well executed lane change will see the rear most riders change lanes first and gradually the riders ahead also change lanes until finally the lead riders move across.

 

Traffic Lights

It is the responsibility of the leading pair to make the “stopping” call on the approach to red/orange traffic lights, or the “roll through” call on approach to green/orange traffic lights. Remember to think of the group as a one slow moving vehicle, if the back cannot get through safely, stop the group.

The “roll through” call is not a blind invitation to those following to proceed through a traffic light.

If you are say the 8th pair and decide it is no longer safe to go through the light, then you may stop – but you must then make your own loud and clear “stopping” call to make those behind you aware of your intentions.

 

Rotating the Lead

Rotating the lead is the process of moving the lead riders from the front, so that other riders can do the work at the front. It is a similar procedure to pace line rolling (see below) but at a slower speed and the lead riders roll over when they wish to move back. The lead riders should not attempt to stay on the front too long. If you are starting to feel tired, it is too late and you should have rotated back earlier. If it is windy, change over more frequently. This gives everyone a chance to go to the front. If you feel that you are not fit or strong enough to do a turn, advise your partner and both remain at the back of the group.

The roll over procedure is simple. The manoeuvre involves a rotation of lead riders in an anti-clockwise direction.

rotating

The lead riders call “rotating” and the front rider on the right moves ahead of his partner and smoothly moves into the left line.  This step is repeated once more which results in two new riders in front. If the right front rider is happy to stay in front, then only rotate once.

As a courtesy to other riders, lead riders should not rotate off just before the commencement of a hill. A rotation of the lead should always occur on the flat.

If you do not wish to take a turn in the lead, inform the riders around you and stay at the back of the bunch.

 

Pace Line Rolling

This usually involves cycling at higher speeds, pending riders’ abilities, weather conditions, road and traffic conditions and duration of the pace line. The rotation is the same procedure as rotating the lead above, but at a faster speed. A rolling echelon forms.

The rider rotating to take the front position of the pace line must maintain the same speed as when he or she was drafting. The temptation is to accelerate and this only breaks up the pace line formation, as it demands ever-accelerating surges of speed from riders following. – do not increase speed as you get to the front, hold the pace, move over smoothly when your rear wheel passes the left rider’s front wheel (look under your left arm) and that rider has called “clear”. As the rider rolls over to the slower left line they soft pedal (or change down one gear whilst maintaining the same cadence), resulting in a small change in speed of about 2km/h.

As the tailender transitions into the faster moving ‘pace line’ he/she calls “last wheel”. This informs the new last rider to get ready to move across as well. Without this call, the pace line can easily break up as the riders do not transition to the right quickly enough which creates gaps or getting dropped. This gets worse the faster the pace line is going.

A good pace line requires all riders to maintain consistent speed, smooth motion, clear calling and heightened situational awareness of impending hazards.

If you cannot do a turn at the front, stay off the pace line, rather than try to slot in mid-line, or stay in the same position. Move to the back of the pack and indicate to riders around you that you are not joining the pace line.pacing

 

Single File

The lead riders (or group leader) are also responsible for calling “single file” formation when the road narrows, or traffic increases, or a cycle lane is marked on the road. A raised hand above the helmet with your index finger pointing up and the call “single file” indicates to the bunch that single file formation is to occur.

The left side rider is to slow their speed to allow the right side rider to move in.  The rider on the right moves in front the rider on the left.

If it necessary to ride in single file for some time and the lead rider wishes to move back, he/she signals by pointing the right elbow out (like a bird flapping its wing) and calls “rotating”. The lead rider then moves left slightly and the line of riders pass by on the right (to protect the rider from traffic as they move back). The rider usually moves right to the back of the line but in some instances may rotate only a few positions back so as to stay with the group of riders who are rotating turns at the front.

 

Climbing

On gentle or rolling inclines, the bunch should stay together, maintaining the speed of the lead riders. When commencing an ascent, the lead riders should accelerate into the hill to avoid the bunch slowing as normally speed would reduce going into a hill. Once at the crest of the hill the lead riders need to keep pedalling for another 100m to let the riders behind complete the hill at the same constant speed. If the lead riders relax at the crest and slow, a “concertina effect” (where the bunch closes in and then expands repeatedly) will result with the following riders having to slow or even brake on an uphill session.

On hills that are steeper or longer, riders may agree to climb at their own pace. If agreed, the bunch will break up for the climb. After the top of the hill, the lead riders or Group Leader will nominate a safe area to stop and wait for the group to re-bunch.

 

Descending

Lead riders need to pedal when going down hill. The bunch behind will have the advantage of “slip stream” and can travel faster without pedalling. To avoid the “concertina effect” the lead riders should always pedal downhill and upon reaching the bottom of the hill, pedal faster to maintain the same speed for 100m. This allows the following cyclists to maintain a constant speed down into the flat, avoiding the concertina effect.

If you are in the leading pair, continue pedalling on all but the steepest downhill sections, as the draft you create allows those behind you to increase their speed even when not pedalling.

When descending, open up the distance between bikes to a couple of lengths and continue pedalling. Cyclists don’t like having to ride constantly under brakes.

 

Traffic

When in slow traffic, do not ride between lanes to move past vehicles. It is hard for the driver to see, it distracts the driver’s vision and creates uncertainty for the driver as to what the rider/s may or may not do next. It also splits up the bunch with cyclists positioned between different vehicles.

Stay with the lane. It may mean the trip takes a couple of minutes longer, but you are reducing the likelihood of driver uncertainty, frustration and an accident.

When traffic is stopped at intersections, stop behind the last stationery vehicle as you would in a car.

 

Wet Weather

  • Slow down and be extra careful in wet weather. Your standard bike brake effectiveness is reduced to 25% in the wet.
  • Keep feathering your brakes to dry them out.
  • Avoid road markings especially lane arrows. These become very slippery in the wet.
  • At intersections where engine oil builds up, the centre of each lane becomes very slippery in the wet.
  • Allow more distance between riders to give you room to stop and react.