One of the things we love most about cycling is its simplicity. The bicycle itself—despite modern advancements like electronic shifting and high-tech carbon fiber and other composite materials—is a relatively simple machine, and one can reap all of the benefits that a bicycle offers with a solo ride. However, cycling can be made all the more joyous when you ride with a group of friends. The sport offers one of the most unique arenas for social interaction, and the benefits of group rides are innumerable. From organizing efficient workouts to catching up with your buddies while enjoying the outdoors, group rides can turn any old spin into a special occasion.
Of course, the global COVID-19 pandemic has made group rides challenging in various regions around the world. The need for social distancing remains paramount to public health, so we always recommend consulting with your local advisers and experts to determine whether or not riding bikes in groups is recommended in your area. But if your local health regulations advise it, then take advantage of the social aspect of cycling and enjoy a group ride with friends. Here are some tips to help make sure you’re riding safely and maximizing your fun with a group of fellow cyclists.
Before jumping into a group ride, make sure your handling skills are sufficient. If you’re a novice cyclist who has only been riding for a short time, then be patient and ride by yourself for a while, or perhaps with one friend. Give yourself time to let your muscle memory develop the experience necessary to take turns smoothly, adjust your body weight accordingly, and execute quick, reactive movements to avoid road debris, among other skills. If you’re an experienced cyclist but haven’t participated in many group rides, then you probably have the proper skills to do so safely, but you’ll need to become accustomed to the nuances of riding in close proximity to others. Always remember that every group of cyclists is different, depending on the makeup of the individuals involved. The number of cyclists, their experience levels, their fitness levels, and their goals for the ride can all differ from group to group and from day to day. So be prepared to be flexible when it comes to group dynamics. Don’t ride any closer to you fellow your cyclists than you feel comfortable, and never overlap wheels with the cyclist in front of you (wherein your front wheel is in-line in any way with the rear wheel of the cyclist ahead of you)—this can easily lead to a crash if the front cyclist swerves or turns sharply. Also, avoid engaging your brakes unnecessarily and instead focus on making slight speed adjustments by modulating your pedaling speed accordingly.
Like any relationship, communication is key when it comes to interacting with other cyclists on a group ride. Being able to effectively communicate with one another not only ensures that everyone will have an enjoyable time, it’s also vital to everyone’s safety. Cyclists at the front of a group are responsible for acting as the eyes and ears of the group as a whole, and they should actively call out the presence of potholes, cracks, and any large pieces of debris in the road that could cause someone to crash. This should be done with a combination of speaking loudly and clearly (and shouting out if necessary) and using hand gestures to point out any obstacles in the road. This is also true if the group encounters a vehicle parked along the side of the road, or any other situation where the group of cyclists needs to drift sideways to avoid any pitfalls. If the group approaches a stop sign or stop light, or encounters any other situation where they must slow down and/or stop, the cyclists at the front should indicate this as early as is feasible by calling out, “Stopping!” and gesturing with their arm pointed down at the ground or placed behind their back. Remember, every group is different, and announcements or hand gestures may vary from region to region. So always be alert and ready to learn how a new group conducts itself.
If your fitness level, handling skills, and confidence are sufficient to do so, then you should be prepared to contribute to the pace-making efforts on a group ride. A well-formed group of experienced cyclists is like an ecosystem with all parties contributing to the effort. It requires a significant amount of additional energy to ride at the front of the group—where the wind resistance is greatest—than in the middle or back of the pack. As such, cyclists will switch places or rotate accordingly, with the front rider(s) spending some time at the front and then making way for the rider(s) behind to move forward. When the front rider(s) vacate their position, they should do so by communicating their intentions to the riders behind, usually with a hand gesture or flick of an elbow, or with a verbal cue. A group of cyclists continually rotating positions in a smooth and safe manner will use less collective energy thanks to everyone sharing the workload of being on the front. If you find yourself on the front, do the work and make an effort to keep the group’s overall pace akin to what it had been before you arrived at the front. Consistency is key, and your goal should be to maintain the group’s steady pace, not attack anyone by riding too hard. If you’re feeling tired, then transition away from the front accordingly, with clear communication and smooth bike movements.
Group riding is a social affair, and it’s up to each individual to show respect and courtesy to one another. This is the best way to ensure that everyone has an enjoyable experience, as well as a solid workout if that’s the group’s goal. Before you even arrive at the group ride, make sure your bike is in proper working order. You should always be having it routinely inspected and maintained by a professional bike mechanic or local bike shop to ensure that you don’t have any loose bolts or other abnormalities that could cause you to crash. Crashing by yourself is never fun, but doing so amidst a group of other cyclists is a recipe for disaster. Safety is everyone’s responsibility. During the ride, have fun and smile, and converse with your riding mates if you’re feeling up to it. The group ride is a unique experience where all of you are sharing in a collective effort, chasing fitness and fun. Courtesy also includes maintaining a high level of effective communication (see above), so make sure you’re repeating any call-outs about road hazards.
Laws governing bicycles and other vehicles vary from country to country, state to state, and municipality to municipality. So you should familiarize yourself with your local region’s laws and regulations whether you only ride by yourself or you also ride with groups. Like any cycling situation, when it comes to the group ride, obey the law. This means stopping at stop lights or stop signs, yielding to pedestrians, and following posted speed limits, among others, as required—again, always be familiar with your riding area’s specific laws. If the cyclists leading your group ride aren’t following the law, politely mention it to them, or be prepared to exit the ride and continue pedaling by yourself. If you’re riding at the back of a particularly large group and encounter a situation where you need to stop (such as a fast-changing stop light), then do it. Just because some cyclists at the front of your group were able to legally and safely pedal through an intersection doesn’t necessarily mean that those at the back can do so, as well. Always remember that you and your group are acting as cycling ambassadors whenever you’re out on the road. Show respect to your fellow cyclists, motorists, pedestrians, and other vehicle operators, by obeying the law. Doing so otherwise only besmirches the reputation of all cyclists everywhere.
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