Changing Lanes as a Group
by John Allen
Many aspects of cycling become more complex, and require coordination, when riding in groups. One example is lane changes (often necessary to get into the correct lane at an intersection, or to overtake a slowed or stopped motorist). Some riding groups use a technique that CRW riders might find advantageous, although it requires extra coordination and communication among the riding group. A random assembly of cyclists on a typical CRW ride isn’t going to apply this technique, but it works for small groups which ordinarily ride together and have an opportunity to train and work out techniques.
First, let’s describe what happens if cyclists in a group change lanes individually. Let’s consider a riding group moving from the right travel lane to the left travel lane to get in position for a left turn. Cyclists near the front of the group are usually first to change lanes. Motorists who are overtaking cyclists near the rear of the group can’t finish overtaking the group because the lead cyclists now occupy the left lane, making it nearly impossible for the trailing cyclists to change lanes safely. They either have to stop, or they have to overshoot the turn and then turn around. At best, this snarls progress for both motorists and cyclists. At worst, it creates the potential for a collision, if the motorist moves to the right lane prematurely, or if a cyclist cuts off the overtaking motorist in an unsafe attempt to stay with the group.
A better technique is to begin the lane change from the rear of the group. First, the lead cyclist—if cyclists are riding double-file, the lead cyclist on the left—announces the turn (or lane change) with a hand signal well in advance. Second, the rearmost cyclist checks for approaching traffic and initiates the lane change when it is safe. By doing this, the rearmost cyclist secures the lane, preventing motorists from attempting to overtake the group on the left. Third, the rest of the group changes lanes, all at once or starting from the rear.
This technique has several benefits.
- The cyclist at the rear is in the best position to check for overtaking traffic and negotiate with a motorist behind the group.
- A motorist cannot easily split the group during the lane change.
- It takes less time for the group to change lanes, reducing the time that the group is occupying two lanes. This means less delay for approaching motorists.
- While every cyclist should individually check for the safety of merging, cyclists in the middle of the group are at less risk from having their view to the rear blocked by other cyclists.
- The group presents an orderly and mindful appearance to other road users.
For this technique to work, though, there are a few requirements:
- Everyone in the group has to understand and use the technique.
- The group must be short enough that the sweep can see the leader and the group can change lanes together - generally, not more than six cyclists in length. The group must be together before the lane change is needed.
- It is helpful if at least the leader has a rear-view mirror, to glance back and see when the sweep has begun to merge, and initiate the lane change for the remaining cyclists. Otherwise, a look to the rear or verbal communication is needed.
This all may seem complicated, but it isn’t, really. It works not just with experienced road cyclists, but also with novice cyclists as long as the lead and sweep are experienced. A short explanation at the start of the ride is sufficient for the cyclists who will be in the middle of the group. The group lane change is actually of great advantage when leading a group of novice cyclists.
How easy it is to introduce this technique on CRW rides depends on the type and size of the ride. On arrowed rides, some groups decide to ride together from the start, but other groups assemble and dissipate during the ride, and are unlikely to use this technique. Fitness rides tend to attract the same people time after time and to be smaller, making it easier to spread messages about group riding technique.
More information about group lane changes, with a video and animated graphics, may be found at http://commuteorlando.com/wordpress/animations/group-riding/.
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