Riding is more fun when you ride with others! There’s no better source of motivation, networking, being social, sharing knowledge, and camaraderie than your fellow CBR riders. However, the prospect of joining a group CBR ride for the first time can be intimidating. Riding in a group requires adherence to certain rules. It also requires skills that may take a little practice before mixing it up with other riders close by. Worried that you might not know ‘the rules of the road’ of a CBR group ride? We’ve got you covered! Simply read the following rules and etiquette reminders to increase your enjoyment and safety.
Pick the Right Group Ride - Group rides and objectives vary. Finding out the group’s pace, distance, and goals will ensure that you join a ride that’s right for you. Is the ride social or a training event to build endurance and stamina? How far will the group go? What route will the ride follow? Will the ride regroup at certain spots to let stragglers get back on? Are there any rest stops? Answer these questions before the ride so you don’t get yourself in over your head. If you are not sure what type of group ride you are getting yourself into, just ask the ride leaders before the ride starts or see the description on the CBR Website Calendar.
Be Prepared - Always bring a tube, CO2 or a pump and the tools to change a flat. It also a good idea to bring some money on the longer rides because often group rides stop to fuel up. Bringing a cell phone is also good to have in case something happens and you need to call for help.
Don’t Be Late - Group rides typically start within minutes of the official starting time. If you’re late, you could miss the ride. It is a good idea to arrive at least ten to fifteen minutes before the start of the ride so you can get your helmet on. Plus, you want to make sure your bike is ready to go.
Helmets Yes, Earbuds No. - Wear a helmet for safety and as a role model for children. Don’t wear headphones or use your cell phone while riding. This interferes with your ability to hear and respond to situations on the roadway.
Stay hydrated and nourished – Plan to drink at least one water bottle and eat one snack for each hour of the ride. Remember to drink before you’re thirsty, eat before you’re hungry. If you get shaky or wobbly, your chances of having an accident increase.
Ride Predictable - This may be the most important rule (even for solo riding) and it involves every aspect of riding from changing positions in the group to following the traffic rules. Smooth predictable riding isn’t just a matter of style...here the word survival comes to mind! Have you ever been on a ride where the group stops at an intersection and people scatter all over the lane? Some going through on the wrong side of the road and others turning left from the right side? Some running the red light and others doing it right? It’s confusing and irritating to drivers of vehicles as they approach a situation where cyclists are going in all different directions or just blowing through intersections! Part of being predictable is riding within the rules of the road as a vehicle. Groups should maintain integrity when approaching intersections. That means staying in the correct lane, stopping together, and starting together as traffic allows. Do ask questions of more experienced riders when you’re not sure what is occurring.
Ride Safely - Your actions can place a rider behind you in danger so be careful of your surroundings. Ride single file except in areas where it is safe to ride side by side. Pass others on the left only, no one will expect you on their right side. Stay alert at all times.
Be Considerate - It is the responsibility of each cyclist to operate their bike in such a manner as to not offend motorists, pedestrians, etc. While not required, a "thank you wave" to a motorist who yields to the pack does make friends! A "hi" to a youngster that we pass may encourage the youngster to begin cycling.
Practice skills ahead of time - For example, if you can’t look behind you without veering into traffic, work on that before joining a group ride. Another skill is the ability to drink while riding. Another skill is the ability to make hand signals while riding.
Don’t Overlap Wheels (also called “half-wheeling”) - This habit will get you in real trouble. Some people do it from lack of concentration, others may just not know any better, but sooner or later they'll crash. All it takes is for the person in front to move sideways a few inches...if someone is overlapping their wheel, that someone will go down along with practically everyone who is behind him. Many times, the person in front can recover, but not the people behind. If you accidently overlap the wheel of the rider in front of you, announce to that rider that you are overlapping them. Then immediately yet gradually ease off the speed until you are no longer overlapping their rear wheel.
Be Steady - This includes speed and line. When everyone is working for the group, maintain a steady speed as you ride. Ever notice how easy it is to ride behind some folks? If you take note of their riding style you’ll probably notice they don’t yo-yo around in the pack. They are rock steady. When they take their turn at the lead, they don't accelerate. They ride a straight line and their speed will be constant with the conditions. What a joy to ride with someone like this. When you are following someone like this, life is good! No suddent stops. Sudden braking will set off general alarms from everyone in the rear and make you very unpopular. If you do use the brakes, “feather” the brake only. This means apply the brake very lightly.
Lane Position – Lane “position” means where on the roadway does the group attempt to ride. It can be confusing to cars and other riders if we are “all over the road”. That means different individuals riding in different places on the roadway. It makes it hard for anyone to pass or navigate around the group. So here are the typical lane positions depending upon the circumstances:
Announce Hazards - When you are in the lead, you are responsible for the safety of everyone behind you. You will become very unpopular if people behind you keep bouncing off of potholes, running over rocks, or reacting to unsafe traffic situations that you fail to point out. Use hand signals for most roadway hazards. In addition, verbally warn other riders of “Car Up”, “Car Left”, “Car Right”, “Jogger Up” “Glass”, “Gravel” and “Sand”. Note: riders in the pack are expected to relay these warnings to the rear. If you are in the back of the group, announce traffic approaching from the rear (“car back”). In this case riders in the pack should relay this info toward the front riders.
Hand signals can be overdone. Avoid excessive hand signals for hazards that are not in the path of the group.
Signal - You need to be very vocal when approaching intersections, slowing, stopping, or turning. All actions should be smooth and deliberate. Hand signaling lets everyone (vehicles and riders) know your intentions. This makes you predictable. Also, it’s a good idea to make eye contact with oncoming traffic at intersections. One note here, use the conventional driver’s arm signals so both vehicles and other riders understand your intent. Putting your right hand on your right butt cheek doesn’t communicate to cars that you are slowing/stopping. Use your left arm bent downward 90 degrees at the elbow to indicate stopping. Also, use your right arm straight out to signal a right turn. Why? Because when your torso is bent forward on a road bike, your left arm bent up to signal a right turn doesn’t even look like a right-hand turn signal. It’s awkward and ineffective. In a big group combine your hand signals with a loud vocal warning of your intentions.
Don’t Fixate - If you are staring at something (i.e., the wheel in front of you), eventually you’ll hit it! When you walk in a crowd, you don’t stare at the back of the person in front of you…so you shouldn’t ride like that either. Learn to be comfortable looking around or through the riders ahead of you. This will allow you to see things that are developing in front of the group. With a little practice you will be able to "sense" how far you are off the wheel in front of you.
Stay Off Aero Bars - They are too unstable to be used in a group ride. Plus, you won’t be able to easily steer around obstacles or manage hand signals for hazards and directions when you are in your aero bars. Finally, you don't need to be on aero bars if you are in a pack as you will receive more aerodynamic effect from the other riders anyway.
We Don’t Leave Stragglers - If you get separated at intersections, as a matter of courtesy, the lead group will typically soft pedal (slow the pace) until the rest have rejoined. If you see that riders behind you got caught at the light, announce that to the lead rider. Another note here is that if you are the one who will be caught by the light, don't run the red light to maintain contact.
Climbing hills often will lead to the group getting spread out. Regrouping at the top of most hills (where it is safe to do so) is typical. Additionally, regroups are common at turn points to ensure everyone stays on the route.
If you are falling off the back of the group, say something! “I’m off” generally means that you are having difficulty staying with the group. As a courtesy to those who may not be able to stay with the group, the group may choose to slow the overall pace or announce certain points along the route to regroup.
When Turning Back - If you need to drop off the route or turn back, be sure to tell the ride sweeper, the ride leader or someone in the group. The ride sweeper has the responsibility to ensure all riders are in contact with the group.
We Don’t Leave You Stranded - If you have a mechanical issue (e.g. flat tire, dropped chain), let the riders around you know by yelling “Mechanical” or “Flat”. This alerts your fellow riders that your bike is compromised and you may be having trouble controlling it. They should give you more space to bring your bike safely to a stop. Riders around you should alert the ride leader. The ride leader will typically stop the whole group to determine what has happened. Sometimes, the group leader may suggest that slower riders continue while stronger, experienced riders stay with the person who has the mechanical until it is repaired.
Change Lead Positions Correctly – Group rides are “led” from the front. When the lead rider is ready for a break, they will signal by hitting their fist against their hip and then waving their hand forward on the side they want the line to pass them. After this signal, they will then shift to the left or right and allow the rest of the group to pass them. It is the leader’s choice to shift to the left or right, typically based on the leader’s perception of the safest location for allowing the group to pass. Sometimes the shoulder is available, sometimes it is better to go into the roadway.
A common error is to stop pedaling just before signaling to pull off the front. This creates an accordion effect toward the rear. Keep a steady pressure on the pedals until after you have given your signal and shifted to the left or right. After shifting left or right, soft pedal and let the group pull through. As the last couple riders are passing through, begin to apply more pressure to smoothly take your position at the rear of the group. If you don’t time it correctly, you’ll create a gap and have to sprint to get back on.
Note that it is safer to allow the lead rider to give up the lead. Don’t be that other rider who assumes the lead rider wants a break and attempt to pass the lead rider. Other riders passing the lead rider can create confusion for everyone else in the group about who they are supposed to be following. It can also be viewed as challenging to the lead rider that they were not going fast enough or doing it right.
Know Your Limitations - If you’re not strong enough or too tired to take a turn at the front, stay near the back and let the stronger cyclists pull in front of you instead of making them go to the back of the line. Don’t be a hero. Don’t let your ego get the best of you. Or you may find yourself falling off the back of the line. Another point here, don’t pull at the front faster and longer than you have energy to get back in at the rear.
Standing while climbing - Ever been behind someone when they stood up going uphill and all of a sudden you almost run into them? If you need to stand, announce “Standing”. Then shift up a gear to compensate for the slower cadence and stand up smoothly keeping a steady pressure on the pedals. This will keep you from moving backward relative to the rider behind you. Apply the opposite technique when changing to a sitting position. Downshift and keep a steady pressure on the pedals to avoid abrupt changes in speed. It takes a little practice, but your CBR buddies will be glad you spent the time learning how to do it right.
Descending – While your speed naturally increases going downhill, if you are leading the group, keep the speed reasonable and in line with the skills of the group. Downhill acceleration spurts can cause the group to get dispersed and weaker riders spending lots of energy to catch up in the flats. When descending, the lead rider should moderate or even stop pedaling to avoid having the group accelerate too much. The ride leader may naturally accelerate going downhill even if they are coasting. However, some speed moderation by the lead rider may be appropriate. Riders to the rear will tend to accelerate even more going downhill due to the draft. If you are following, back off to compensate for the greater effects of drafting to avoid running into those in front of you. If you need to use your brakes, remember to feather them to avoid surprising anyone behind you. On large descents (e.g. Bogus Basin Road, Cartwright Road, Hilltop), it is best to break up the group on the descent and have a designated regroup spot at the bottom.
Relax - This one is really important. It will allow you to be smooth and responsive. You can bet that if you see someone who is riding a straight line and is very steady, they are relaxed on the bike. It not only saves energy, but it makes bike handling much more effective.
You will be a valued member of the CBR club if you practice the good, safe riding techniques discussed above. Riding in a group can be fun and exhilarating. It is safest when everyone knows and follows the rules. Happy cycling.
Community Bicycle Rides is a 501(c)7 non-profit organization in Boise, ID.