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Staggering Ride Starts

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by Bob Zogg
(adapted from the July 2005 Safety Corner article)


Staggering 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.

For several years, the club has encouraged weekend ride leaders to stagger starts. In recent years, we have also employed staggered starts on all CRW centuries by starting the ride over a time period (typically 7 AM to 8:30 AM for riders on the full century). The process of staggering ride starts is not, however, as simple as it seems. It takes a skilled ride leader and conscientious participants. Here is what you need to know.

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) 17 mph and over, 2) 15 – 16 mph, and 3) under 15 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.

Please do your part to minimize our impact on motor traffic, and maximize our safety and enjoyment—listen closely and depart only when released by the ride leader.

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