Riding alone and riding in a large group are two vastly different activities, and each has its own pleasures.
There are basics of etiquette for pack riding, which is one of the more significant sources of friction between cyclists and motorists on local roads. Cyclists ride in packs for a variety of reasons, ranging from simply enjoying talking with their friends to honing racing skills.
Many drivers expect all cyclists to ride in a single file, which isn’t always practical (and contrary to urban legend, is not a legal requirement) because the rider in the lead is working much harder than the riders drafting behind and will eventually tire and have to fall back. Neophyte riders soon discover this, and groups of experienced riders often form pace lines that are basically two lines of riders – one a little slower than the others, with each rider drifting to the back of the faster line and then rotating into the fast line.
Riding in an efficient pace line takes skill, and if a group has a variety of skill levels, of if the terrain is varied with lots of turns, it will bunch up from time to time. This often can’t be avoided, unless you can read the other riders’ minds.
Most experienced riders are happy to teach new riders what is expected of them:
• Don’t overlap your wheels; it doesn’t take much contact on the front wheel to flip the rear rider.
• When you see a rock, pothole or other obstacle, call it out and point to it for the rider behind you.
• Make an immediate but not disruptive corrective action when bunching occurs; don’t form a third or fourth line.
• Communicate with other riders; if you are at the front of the line and the group must slow down for traffic, call out “Slowing,” “Car up,” “Jogger up,” or “Stop ahead,” as appropriate. If you are passing slow riders or joggers, call out “On your left,” but try not to scare them when you do.
Traffic behind riders
Perhaps more importantly, if there is traffic behind you (a motorist or even a faster group of riders), be considerate and help them to pass by adhering to the following protocol.
• If you are at or near the back, let the rest of the group know you’re being followed. “Car back” is the most universally understood callout.
• Merge into one lane on the right; if you are on the left, indicate your desire to merge, and if you are on the right, let the other person in.
• Use hand signs or body language to let the impatient driver behind you know that you’re trying to resolve his or her problem.
• Wave when the car passes you.
Those are the basics, but there are many nuances. Sometimes, there are sections of road where it is just impossible to pass. Don’t encourage drivers to do so if it is unsafe, but at the same time, make it clear that you are looking for the next opportunity to let them by. If you are a new rider, watch what others do. And if you are experienced and exasperated with the inconsiderate cyclists in your group, lead by example.
There are many local racing clubs and large organized group rides that will inevitably interfere with traffic. If you are caught behind one of these large groups, take a deep breath and consider that the problem can’t be solved instantaneously. That’s what I do when I am stuck on my bike behind a slow-moving truck. Whether you are a rider or a motorist, don’t do anything dangerous.
Chris Hoeber is a local resident, avid cyclist and founder of a cycling club. Send questions or comments to chris@ cfhengineering.com.