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Group Riding

Safety Corner logoCRW rides are group rides. Whether arrowed, map-and-cue-sheet, or follow-the-leader, riding in groups requires a new set of skills compared to riding alone or with small groups of friends. Group rides also tend to have greater impacts on the communities in which we ride and on other roadway users. We won’t get into drafting or paceline riding techniques here. We’ll save that discussion for another day.

Some common characteristics of group rides are: a) lots of strangers having a wide range of riding speeds and styles, b) routes and roadways with which you have little or no familiarity, c) possibility of sudden slow downs, stops, or lateral moves (usually to avoid an obstacle or bad pavement), and d) lousy visibility (your view being blocked by other cyclists). While group rides can feel intimidating at first, following a few basic guidelines can go a long way towards increasing your comfort and safety among the masses.

First, keep the group small. Smaller groups are safer for cyclists and easier on motorists. Group size on CRW rides tends to be smaller on weekdays (see the Recurring Rides section of this issue), or weekends when the weather (or weather forecast) is less than ideal. On CRW weekend rides in nice weather, expect a crowd—perhaps 100 riders or more. CRW centuries (which include shorter options) can attract a couple hundred. As you would intuitively think, you can avoid the crowd to some extent on larger rides by getting out in front (and staying there) or by waiting to depart until after the main pack has left. However, these strategies won’t always produce the desired result. Staying in front of the pack only works for the strongest of riders. If you start behind the pack, you may catch up anyway. Still, it can be worthwhile to wait a few minutes. On a large ride, a conscientious ride leader will stagger the start to help keep riders spread out.

Once underway, keep the following pointers in mind:
Try to keep groups to eight riders at most. Even if you manage to start a ride in a small group, you may find that groups merge along the way. Slow down or speed up to join another group if you find yourself in a large pack.

Take in the big picture. While you should focus attention on what’s in front of you, be sure to check to the sides and behind you occasionally so that you know what’s going on and can be better prepared to react. Observe what motorists, pedestrians, pets, and other riders are doing, as well as roadway condition, parked vehicles, intersections, traffic signs/signals, etc. Many riders find a rear-view very helpful, but you must be aware of your blind spots. Turning your head and looking back is more reliable, but it’s best to perfect this skill in an empty parking lot before using it on the open road.

Keep right, unless there’s a good reason not to, such as when preparing to turn left, intentionally occupying a narrow lane in which it’s unsafe for motorists to pass, or distancing yourself from hazards at the right edge of the road (for example, parked vehicles, broken pavement, debris, or drain grates).

If you are not already riding single file, single up at the first sign of traffic from behind. Do the same for traffic approaching from the front whenever the roadway is narrow, hilly, or winding. Call out “Car Back” or “Car Up” to alert other riders of approaching vehicles. Say “Car” regardless of the type of vehicle. According to Massachusetts law, cyclists are required to ride single file at all times.

Avoid “monkey see, monkey do”. If the cyclist in front of you enters an intersection or changes lane position, do not assume it’s safe for you to do the same. Check for traffic and make your own decision.

Signal your intentions. Look back and signal before changing lane position. Signal your intention to turn right or left before approaching an intersection. Signal before slowing (assuming you have time). However, keep both hands on the handlebars on rough roads, when braking, when turning, or whenever you need to for stability. Call out “Slowing”, “Left Turn”, or “Right Turn” to alert other cyclists of your intentions when it’s not safe to signal. Shout it out so that riders behind you will hear.

Always pass a slower cyclist on the left and call out “On Your Left” or “Passing”. Use a friendly voice, loud enough to be heard, but not so loud as to spook the rider you’re passing. Before passing, check behind you for vehicles or other cyclists. Give about three feet of clearance while passing—more on a fast descent.

Alert your fellow riders to road hazards such as broken pavement/bumps/holes, sand, glass, dogs, parked cars, motorists pulling out from driveways or side streets, etc. You can shout “Bump” (for broken pavement or bump), “Hole” (for a pothole), “Sand” (for sand, gravel, or stones) “Glass” (for glass or any sharp debris that can pop your tires), “Dog”, “Car Right”, or “Car Left”. You may also want to point out these obstacles, but be careful—if you hit one bump while pointing out another, you may be the one who crashes!

Ask permission before drafting. The rider may not feel comfortable being drafted, or may not even know that you’re close behind.

When stopping (even momentarily), move well off the roadway, and remind others to do the same.

If you get a flat, walk your bike to a safe, comfortable spot well away from the roadway. Watch out for poison ivy. Ask permission before using driveways, lawns, or other private property for fixing flats.

When approaching a red light, stop behind the motorists already waiting, rather than riding up to the light. Those motorists have probably already passed you once. Why make them do it again? There are exceptions, such as when turning right on red, or in some heavy traffic situations.

Keep it neat at intersections. Stay single file, unless your group is intentionally occupying the width of a right or left turn lane.

Bear in mind that these guidelines do not substitute for exercising good judgement based on the specific circumstances that you encounter while riding. Find additional discussion of group riding tips in Chapter 7 of John S. Allen’s “Street Smarts”, available at your favorite cycle shop or online at

Please report any injuries occurring on CRW rides to the .

Remember—safety is about choices. What choices will you make?

Note to Ride Leaders-How to Stagger Starts
For groups exceeding 30 to 40 riders, staggering the ride start lessens impacts on traffic and is safer. After giving the safety talk and ride description, announce that you will release riders in three groups based on average riding speed: 1) 19 mph and over, 2) 16 to 18 mph, and 3) under 16 mph. Ask riders not knowing their average speed to leave with Group 3. Allow a full two minutes between group releases (time it rather than estimating).

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