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Groups in Intersections

Safety Corner logo


by John S. Allen
(adapted from November 2007 WheelPeople article)


Riding through an intersection in a group of cyclists is not to be taken lightly and requires different techniques than when riding alone.
Avoid the temptation to play "follow the leader"—in a group, you must still look out for yourself. Your timing and position are different from those of the rider ahead of you. You can't be sure that it is safe (for example) to merge, or to enter an intersection, just because it is safe for the rider ahead. Look back before merging, and survey the intersection before entering it, as you would when riding alone.

Avoid "swarming". When cyclists must slow or stop before an intersection it is natural to bunch up. The cyclists in the back are catching up, and, while they would like to make it through on the green light, or the first gap in cross traffic, they should stay in the rightmost lane that serves their destination, and let motorists move up to the intersection, when the lane is wide enough to allow it. That's common courtesy, which improves our welcome in the communities where we ride.

Cyclists in a group often take different routes for a left turn. Most use the correct vehicular technique, turning left from the left turn lane or from just to the right of the center of the road. Some however opt for unsafe and often illegal options such as turning left from the right side of the road, or crossing all the way to the left side and making the turn on the wrong side of the street. Taking such unsafe routes across an intersection presents other road users with a phalanx of cyclists, without any escape routes, thereby raising the chances of a collision.

If you are in the middle or rear of a group, don't complicate matters for other riders by blowing past them. Those riders need to focus attention on other traffic, not you.

If you ride in a pace line, please take these additional suggestions to heart. While a pace line usually operates as a unit in traffic, each pace line participant should proceed through an intersection independently. Check for traffic, just as if you were riding alone. Because intersections require you to divert your attention from the rider ahead, and because the pace line may need to slow or stop, open up more space between yourself and the cyclist ahead of you.

Most car-bike collisions occur during crossing and turning movements. Intersections are where most such movements occur. Good, mindful conduct when crossing intersections can prevent most crashes.

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