Riding in a group on open roads is inherently risky however there are a range of things we can do as cyclists to make it as safe as possible. Being able to ride in a group effectively means taking accountability of your own actions and being aware of the surrounding environment in which the ride is conducted.
The Main Points
- Positioning within the group is central to the individual's and group's safety and where to sit within the group is as much an "art" as it is "science". In the end, there are a couple of "golden rules" that we should always follow, but nothing is a substitute for experience and practice...lots and lots of practice.
- When riding in formation, the handlebars of the rider closest to the curb (the "inside" rider) should be level with the rider closest to the center of the road (the "outside" rider). All riders should be no more than 1.5 metres width apart from one another (which is the law WA).
- Gaps between riders along the group in each line should be kept to a distance of preferably 30cm - 50cm in good conditions, and no more than one metre at any stage. Gaps larger than one metre will lead to undesirable situations like surging, gap filling (rider behind overtakes to "fill" the gap) and the potential for people further back in the group being dropped.
- Riders should avoid being too close to each other so as to not have enough room to take evasive action in the case of an emergency. Being too close can lead to undesirable situations like crossed wheels, heavy braking or even crashes.
- Sudden changes in the group can have a dramatic effect, but small changes can be absorbed better if riders adjust their positioning.
- Riding in or too close to the gutter is also a bad idea - many hazards and debris find their way into this part of the road and it also leaves riders vulnerable to riding into the curb in the event of having to take evasive action due to a fast slowing group or obstacle on the road.
- The inside line of riders should be no closer than 1 metre to the curb.
- Group riding is dynamic with many influences well outside our control.
- Riders often just look at the wheel in front of them and grab for the brakes if it starts to slow. They need to look a few riders ahead, so they can see the change in pace before it hits them and make sure they are already in a position to respond.
When the riders at the front have had enough (and there is no set time limit that they have to stay there), there are three ways that the front riders can "peel off".
Neither option is wrong, but there is usually a preference for one over the other. Unless the roads are particularly wide, it is better for both riders to peel off to the right.
The way to do this is for the left rider (nearest the gutter) to speed up and get in front of the right rider, then they both pull right and drift down to the back.
It sometimes helps for them to signal to the next riders to come through, or they may think that the group needs to turn or change lanes.
The second method of peeling off is not always ideal, as it means that the group is 4 riders wide at some point.
With tight lanes and traffic furniture on a lot of our roads, this method can sometimes be dangerous.
There is a third way of peeling off, where the rider on the front of the right hand (outside) line rolls to the front of the rider on the left (inside) line. The next two riders roll through to the front, with the first rolling onto the left line also. Unless this method is clearly communicated to all, and everyone is expecting it, the group usually suspects a roll through is being set up and everyone starts picking up the pace.
In these two videos, you will see how you want your group to be riding, as well as what to look out for where someone might need a little advice or respectful guidance (eg: half wheeling; effective signalling; etc).
If your group rides are like this, it will be safe, fun and satisfying for all riders.
- Knowledge, experience and practice is the key to good group riding; remind people of the key requirements of group riding when you see that they need it and encourage them to keep practicing.
- Rider positioning is key to a safe, enjoyable ride. Ride leaders should regularly check on how people are placing themselves in the group and providing feedback as and where required.
- Riding in a group comes with risks; everyone is accountable for ensuring they know how to ride in a group that matches their skills, fitness and experience.
In the skills sessions you will have the opportunity to demonstrate how you provide support and guidance to people riding in a group to ensure that they are riding in a safe manner for group riding.