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Staggered Ride Starts

Safety Corner logoStaggering ride starts means releasing riders in several smaller groups, rather than one large group, so that riders are less apt to be clustered together on the road. The process is particularly applicable to our weekend rides, which can attract 100 or more riders, and our Century rides, which can attract two to three times this number.

Why Stagger Starts? First, it’s safer and more enjoyable for cyclists. Riding in smaller groups decreases the chances of bike-to-bike collisions, makes it easier to see road hazards, and is generally less stressful. Second, it’s courteous to motorists. It can be very difficult for motorists to pass large groups of cyclists safely. A motorist following a large group of cyclists might have to wait a long time for a safe opportunity to pass. Worse, a motorist may grow impatient and attempt to pass when it’s not safe.

How to Stagger Starts—the Ride Participant’s Perspective. Becoming familiar with the general process, listening carefully to instructions, and being patient will help immensely with staggering ride starts. The ride leader will generally release riders in three groups based on riding speed. The ride leader will announce the speed ranges and ask you to select a group. For this purpose, your riding speed is your typical rolling average speed (i.e., not including stops) on CRW rides. Don’t worry that you might not be able to maintain the pace that you estimate—no one will be timing you. If you have no idea how fast you ride, select the more leisurely paced group. The ride leader will release faster groups first, waiting at least 90 seconds between releases. 90 seconds will feel like a long time when you’re eager to get going, but shorter waits can result in groups bunching up at traffic signals or stop signs. Use the time for a final check of your bike, helmet fit, cue sheet, etc. Unless you’re in the last group, please leave promptly when your group is released. Riders sneaking out between groups can confuse others and tempt them to leave early. Finally, wait for the group that best matches your riding speed. If you move up a group to shorten your wait, the groups can become lopsided, defeating the purpose. Besides, you’ll soon find yourself riding alone as the faster riders leave you behind, and riding alone isn’t nearly as much fun as riding with others more closely matched to your speed.

How to Stagger Starts—the Ride Leader’s Perspective. We recommend (but do not require) staggering ride starts whenever there are more than 30 to 40 riders. The ride leader should announce in advance that he/she will release riders in three groups and indicate the speed ranges. We suggest 1) 18 mph and over, 2) 16 - 17 mph, and 3) under 16 mph. Or, if you prefer, simply 1) fast, 2) medium, and 3) casual (or leisurely). You may find that you need to encourage the fast group to start when you first release them. You may then need to encourage the others to wait. Time the interval between group releases, as it is very difficult to estimate with any accuracy (and you’ll be tempted to cut it short when you’re staring at a sea of eager faces). You may want to use the time between group releases to answer additional questions and provide additional ride information. Managing a crowd of cyclists can be a daunting challenge. Don’t be discouraged if your first attempt doesn’t work as smoothly as you had hoped. It’ll get easier with time.

How Big is too Big? Even with staggered starts, large groups can form on the road. We recommend limiting group size to six riders—eight at the most. If you find yourself in a large group, suggest to those within earshot splitting into two groups. If the pace of the large pack is either about right or a little fast for the splinter group, have your splinter group back off for a while to put at least 100 yards between your splinter group and the old pack, then resume your pace. If you catch up with the old pack, pass it while remaining a separate group. You may have to pass in several steps to be sure that you can still get into single file if traffic approaches. Of course, if you think your splinter group will be faster, simply accelerate to break away from the old pack, and maintain a fast pace for a few minutes to open up some space between the two groups.

As we all gain more experience with staggered starts (riders and ride leaders alike), the process will become more routine and feel more natural. Before long, we’ll wonder why we ever did it any other way!

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

The CRW Rides Committee has established four safety-related priorities for 2005:

1) Keeping Right and Riding Single File in Traffic;
2) Yielding at Intersections;
3) Staggering Ride Starts; and
4) Skills Development.

Please keep these priorities in mind on CRW rides, or anytime that you’re on the road.

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