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Speak up on Group Rides

Safety Corner logoby Bob Zogg


Quiz time. You’re in the middle of a large group of riders, approaching an intersection. A motorist having the right of way approaches on the cross road. The cyclists in front of you proceed across the path of the motorist, forcing him/her to stop. What do you do?

a) Follow right along without stopping, and wave a “Thank you” to the motorist
b) Signal, stop, and wait until the motorist proceeds, hoping you can catch up with your group
c) Signal, stop, and wave the motorist by, hoping no one behind you rides through the intersection and hoping you can catch up
d) Scream at the riders ahead, and then follow either b) or c) above.

The answer is at the end of this article. (No cheating-you have to read the whole thing.)

You probably know that safe group riding requires additional skills and knowledge compared to riding alone. As you reflect on group riding, you may realize that:

• “I don’t have to do what others are doing. I can make my own decisions.”
• “I don’t have to keep up. I can wait for those behind me, or even ride alone.”
• “I need to communicate effectively with other cyclists.”

Let’s consider communication further. You may know how to signal and call out road hazards. Communication with other cyclists whose behavior endangers the group, however, is altogether another issue. You really wish that someone would talk to those cyclists to try to influence their behavior. Finally, you realize that it’s up to you-there is no one else in a better position, and no one having a greater responsibility, to speak up.

How do you do it? What do you say? Here are some suggestions:

• Try to speak to the rider privately, away from the pack. Sometimes waiting for a rest stop is the best strategy.
• Start by introducing yourself or making a friendly comment. People respond more to your tone than the content of your speech.
• Be positive. It is generally more effective to suggest an appropriate action, rather than to condemn an inappropriate action. Assume that the rider meant well, but didn’t know the appropriate action, or simply made a mistake. If you’re angry, wait until you’re calm before you speak.
• Empathize. Imagine how you would feel if the situation were reversed.

For example, some good openers are:

• “I find that riding in groups can be tricky, don’t you? Take, for example, the interesting situation we just encountered. Perhaps it would have been better to ...”
• “Hi. May I introduce myself and offer a suggestion?”
• “Hi there. I just wanted to mention that it’s generally safer (more courteous) in group riding if we ....”

And, when you’re the recipient of constructive feedback, remember to thank your critic for the reminder and to reflect upon what you heard. Sometimes it’s best to think about the feedback later on, when you’re less apt to feel defensive.

Oh, yeah-the answer to the quiz. Your fellow riders have left you in a tough spot, but “b” is the safe, courteous, and lawful choice (stop and wait for the motorist to proceed). If you are able to catch up to the group, you can take a crack at providing constructive feedback.

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

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