Design your Ride for Safety
by Bob Zogg
Designing a ride for group cycling involves more than simply connecting together attractive stretches of roadway. Whether you're developing a new ride or modifying a ride you've been leading for years, make safety your first consideration. Even if you're not a ride leader, your knowledge of best practices for route selection will help you recognize weaknesses so that you can provide constructive feedback to ride leaders. Some pointers on ride design follow.
Ride Start: Your ride start should be convenient to the metro Boston area, easily accessible from a major highway, and convenient to a commuter rail station, if possible. In addition, look for a start location that is on a quieter street (that is, quiet on the day of the week and the time of day that you plan to start your ride). If possible, have your ride leave from a different exit than used for those arriving by car. That will reduce the chances of a collision between a latecomer and a departing rider.
The First Few Miles: Your goal is to spread out riders as quickly as possible to reduce the potential safety issues associated with congestion. Even if you plan to stagger your ride start, there will often be congestion in the early part of the ride. If possible, design your ride so that riders exit to the right from the parking lot to facilitate safe departure. Keep the first few miles of your route simple, with few turns (especially left turns). Because of the large concentration of cyclists, missed turns early in the ride are more likely to cause pileups if the riders stop abruptly. Even if they don't stop abruptly, they may lead others off course and cause confusion. Also, avoid numerous traffic signals in the first few miles as they may keep riders from spreading out.
General Routing: Keep the following in mind when laying out your route:
- Steep uphills are safer than steep downhills. If you have a choice, climb steep routes rather than descend them. A steep descent forces a rider's weight further forward, reducing stability and making it much more difficult to stop. On the other hand, steep ascents are generally safe despite the physical challenge that they present.
- Try to avoid stop signs and traffic lights on fast downhill stretches to reduce the temptation for riders to blast through them without stopping. Descents followed by long, gradual run-outs are also more enjoyable. Try to avoid turns on fast downhill stretches—not only can these be difficult to navigate, but there's an increased chance of a pileup when riders brake hard on a descent. Also, try to avoid downhills on rough road surfaces.
- Try to avoid intersections that provide a limited line of sight. Cyclists tend to need more time to clear an intersection compared to motorists, and may need a deeper line of sight to enter the intersection safely.
- Minimize the number of busy intersections, especially if crossing the intersection or turning left.
- Keep off bike paths. Bike paths are not suitable for group rides, as they tend to be narrow, often have frequent road crossings, and (most significantly) tend to be packed with users who behave unpredictably.
- Try to avoid dirt roads and excessively rough or broken pavement. Longitudinal cracks in pavement (those running more or less in the direction of travel) are the most dangerous—they can pinch a cyclist's tire and throw the rider over the handlebars, or steer the front wheel to one side and throw the rider to the opposite side.
- Try to avoid very sharp turns (those significantly sharper than 90 degrees). They can be tricky to navigate and some riders may drift into the oncoming-traffic lane.
- Include at least one food/beverage stop. If this isn't feasible, provide instructions on your cue sheet and during your pre-ride talk on how to find food/beverages. Running out of food/drink is more than unpleasant—it can be dangerous.
For additional information on best practices for ride design, see the CRW Ride Leader Guidelines, available to ride leaders at http://www.crw.org/leaders/.
While no route can be totally free of potential hazards, make safety your top priority when designing your ride. It's better to forgo a beautiful stretch of roadway than to put riders at unnecessary risk.
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