Group riding – do you know how to stay safe?

What does safe group riding mean

To me safe group riding means that all cyclists are able to ride safely on the road as a group, and interact with other road users in a safe and respectful manor. In this article I try and highlight some points which we as cyclists can improve upon.

The key takeaways from this article are that groups should

  • Ride as a single unit
  • Act like a vehicle on the road
  • Ride together
  • Lookout for each other

To ride as a single unit effectively riders should have control of their bike, ride predictably and trust their fellow cyclists.

Groups should try and limit their road presence to only take up as much space as a car, van or small bus on the road, to do this the sweet spot for group sizes sits around 10-12 riders. Making for 2 lines of 5 or 6 riders.

In groups riders follow the wheel in front of them, therefore lane change lanes happen together and the group acts a single unit on the road.

Groups also need to ride over and around imperfect road conditions in unison, without breaking the group formation. This requires everyone in the group to possess the ability to correctly identify road obstacles and assess their danger, while also having the ability to safely ride over non-dangerous road conditions.

Riding in a group, with the above points in mind has the advantage of safety in numbers while taking up less space on the road. You can also go faster with with less energy and better drafting.

Cyclists in good formationCyclists in bad formation

Why it’s important to ride with good group formation

  • Rider Safety
  • Driver Safety
  • Sharing the Road

Rider Safety

When riding in good group formation one of the biggest concern riders have is the inability to see what is coming directly in front of them on the road.

You, as a rider, implicitly trust the riders in front of you to judge the road conditions and take you safely over a rideable surface on the road, missing pot-hole, drains, grates and other road debris.

That is to say the riders at the front of a group are responsible for taking a safe and rideable line along the road. This includes judging the road conditions and surface as either rideable or non rideable. If something along the road is non rideable riders at the front of the group should make the decision, as early as possible, to move to a safe line on the road.

When the riders at the front of a group move either left or right, the following riders will naturally follow the rider in front of them. The whole group will then avoid the obstacle and any danger. If the obstacle is hazardous, could cause a puncture or a crash the riders in the group should call it out, starting from those at the front.

If for some reason a rider in the middle of the group is either not following the wheel or decides they don’t trust the riders in front they will break the trust in the group. This will affect all riders behind them, and potentially the safety of all riders in the group.

Usually these riders not following the wheel will try and sight road surfaces for themselves. This has a fragmenting affect on the group and the group can become nervous as a result.

Safe and trusting,
good formation
Nervous and fragmented,
bad formation

A nervous group is one which riders do not know what is happening in front or around them. In turn riders will not feel safe. When riders do not feel safe they can become hypersensitive and twitchy. This can lead to a broken group formation, erratic road use and eventually could lead to accidents.

If a rider reacts to a “nothing” on the road by pointing it out unnecessarily or by swerving to avoid it, riders behind will react. When this happens multiple times riders further back in the group will be unable to trust the riders at the front of the group. Riders further back in the group will constantly react to unneeded calls or movements and create a fragmented, nervous group.

A nervous group is an unsafe group as the group loses unison. This affects not only your safety, but the safety of the group and the safety of other road users.

For Example

Let’s look at a scenario where an unneeded call could potentially cause an accident.

A group of 12 cyclists are riding in the left most lane of a 2 lane road, riding 2 abreast. A vehicle is passing the group in the 2nd lane.

In the middle of the group one rider points out a non serious surface change and then swerves right to avoid it, the riders behind will swerve left or right thinking there is something dangerous or an obstacle to avoid on the road.

Trailing riders will most likely also point to where the obstacle was indicated. The group becomes fragmented and nobody will be following the wheel in front of them. If riders swerve right at the same time the vehicle passes, we can see 2 potentially bad scenarios playing out:

  1. The driver slams on the brakes as they see a bunch of cyclists scrambling in a lane. This could cause an accident with other vehicles on the road.
  2. The driver does not see the cyclists swerve. One rider is pushed to the edge of their lane. The vehicle passes, potentially colliding with a cyclist.

In both cases the driver cyclist relationship is damaged and riders are put at risk.

Drivers Safety

When groups are riding in unison, cars and other road users will view the group as a vehicle. With that other road users can predict the groups movements. When a group acts as a vehicle, the amount of space occupied on the road will be reduced. Movements will be predictable and all road users will be happier.

Group lane changes can look like chaos to a driver. This is usually the case when the group is not riding with the same understanding.

During a lane change, if riders up front don’t trust riders behind to make a safe call and start looking over their own shoulder to check the lane, this can cause a wave of nervousness in the group. These moments are when accidents can happen.

Drivers will (usually) respect a group of cyclists who look and act like a unit on the road. They will not respect a group of cyclists who look disjointed and disconnected. An example of disjointed movement would be a group executing a bad lane change by breaking up into single riders before reforming in the next lane.

If groups are riding in unison, cars will not have to take evasive action (as per the scenario above). Also when a vehicle needs to overtake, the group can stay tight and the vehicle can pass quickly and safely.

Sharing The Road

Road infrastructure is there to share. Everyone person who pays income tax is putting money into road infrastructure. This is true in every country.

The Singapore highway code says the road infrastructure is for use by Vehicles, Bicycles and people on foot. This means cycling groups need to share the road with cars, busses, trucks and people on foot.

It’s very easy to feel entitled on the road when you feel endangered by other road users, however reacting negatively, screaming, gesturing or becoming agitated does nothing to build good relationships with other road users.

Groups need to respect traffic flow and slow down if the lane in front is occupied by another road user. Groups also need to be courteous and patient if we as cyclists expect other road users to do the same.

The sensible way to share the road is to give way to the less vulnerable road user. Walkers being the most vulnerable and Trucks and Buses being the least vulnerable road users.

Walking Person
Bicycle Person
Motorbike Person
Car
Truck

Sharing the road is probably the most frustrating point for many cyclists. We have to remember the road is there to share. If a car is impatient or honks their horn it’s best to react with a smile and a polite wave to acknowledge their presence.

We as cyclists need to build good relationships with other road users and respect them, if we expect them to respect us.

How to safely ride as a group

There are three main things to consider when riding safely in a group. They are to ride in unison, to be predictable and to trust your fellow riders. All three go hand in hand.

It is your responsibility to take care of the riders around you. It is also your responsibility to possess the bike handling skills to ride predictably over and around imperfect road surfaces and road furniture.

Your safety is your responsibility, not someone else’s responsibility. Trusting your fellow rider does not shift responsibility onto them.

Unison in Groups

Riding safely, smoothly and in unison are almost one and the same.

Smooth riding is safe riding, it is also fast riding. When we ride in unison on the road we are smooth on the road, and when we smooth on the road we are safer on the road.

Smooth riding starts with the ability to hold the wheel in front of you.

Smooth riding means pedaling smoothly in the group, not free wheeling on the flats or down hills. This goes for all riders in the group. Whether you are on the front, in the middle or at the back of the group you should be pedaling to keep a steady, constant pace.

Movements forwards and backwards in the group should be done slowly. That is to say if you need to speed up or slow down the change in speed should be done gradually.

Do not surge forward with a stomp of the pedals. Also do not grab a handful of brakes and slow down rapidly.

While riding in a group you should be looking up the road and over the shoulder of the riders in front, doing this you should be able to detect if the group is changing speed and adjust your speed accordingly. This takes practice and every rider should be practicing in each group ride.

Riding smoothly doesn’t mean you have to ride slowly, it means your changes in speed should be gradual. Your movements should be purposeful and your riding should be predictable.

When setting off from lights clip in and slowly ride up to about 20 kph over a count of 5 to 10 seconds before accelerating to the desired group speed. This will give everyone a chance to clip in, and get into a good formation without expending excess energy or causing a concertina effect.

Group position in a lane also plays a part in safety. Ride too far left and vehicle traffic will squeeze you towards the gutter, ride too far right and you risk crossing into the next lane.

A good rule of thumb is to stay 1-1.5m from either edge. Yes this means you have to ride close to the person next to you. Your handlebars should be no more than 30 cm from the rider next to you. If you do not feel confident riding this close you should attend a skills session so that you can build that confidence.

Predictable Group Riding

Perhaps the most important part of group riding is predictability. You should be riding in such a way that riders behind you do not need to think about what you might do next.

Your movements should be purposeful and changes in speed or direction should be done deliberately and without swerving or jolting. This includes changes to your position on the bike, getting out of the saddle, and taking a drink.

The rider directly behind you should feel safe enough to ride within 10 cm of your back wheel without fear of you moving backwards, left or right and hitting their front wheel.

You should be riding over road surface changes with correct indications to those around you and only deviating from your line when absolutely necessary, to avoid a pothole or manhole which would cause an accident.

The correct calls need to be made.

Rough surface which could unsettle riders or bikes

Smooth surfaces which riders can roll over

Do you need to call out a flat manhole or a smooth grate and swerve to avoid it? Probably not.

Groups Riding with Trust

Once riders in a group are riding predictably and in unison everyone in the group can ride with trust. You can trust the riders next to you and in front of you will take a safe line on the road. They will point out obstacles which could cause accidents. Safe group riders will not swerve left or right. Their acceleration and braking will be done smoothly. The group will then be the safest possible place to be riding.

When all three points come together unison, predictability, and trust, the group can ride faster, for longer and with less energy expenditure making for the best, safest, and fastest possible riding experience.

Riding in a group can be a little bit of an art form, but when done right the group will feel like one unit, move like one unit and everyone will have a super fun ride. 100% satisfaction guaranteed.

Wrapping Up

Group riding is a skill which will is to be honed over years, with lots of practice. One of the most important things is to continuously work on your bike handling skills. Each ride you should be trying to ride better than your last ride. Together we make the roads a safe place for cyclists.

What do you think about group riding? Do you have any tips for new comers or seasoned riders? Put a comment down below and let me know.

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