Safety First

15 Common Riding Mistakes — And How To Avoid Them

Riding in a group is one of life’s most enjoyable activities. Cycling with friends, traveling rapidly and safely with confidence with your companions, is a joy. Cyclists should be courteous, efficient and aware. Below is a practical guide to safe group riding from the Crescent City Cyclist, New Orleans, LA.

Be Predictable – The rule for safe group cycling is “Be Predictable.” Other riders expect you to continue straight ahead at a constant speed unless you indicate differently. This principle underlies all vehicular traffic maneuvers, but cycling in a group requires even more attention to predictability than solo cycling, since by choice we ride close together.
Look Before You Make a Move – A good cyclists always looks before making a maneuver; this is especially important when the cyclist rides as part of a group. Make your own decisions using the cues provided by others in the pace-line.

Use Signals – Cyclists use hand and verbal signals to communicate with members of the pace-line and with other traffic. The turn signals are the same as driving a car. Put your left arm out with the palm to the rear to signal slowing or stopping. For railroad crossings use the above signal, but wave it back and forth.

Give Warnings – Group rides require an awareness of others. When riding in a pace-line, each rider must feel a responsibility toward the riders behind and to the side. You must warn of road hazards and of changes in your direction or speed. To notify the group of a change in path, the lead rider will call out “left or right turn,” along with the hand signal. The ride leader should announce the turn will in advance of an intersection, so that members of the pace-line have time to position themselves properly for the turn.

Change Positions Correctly – Often we change our position in the pace-line. Generally, slower traffic stays right, so when we pass say “on your left” to warn others ahead that you are coming by. Moving to the back of the line can be awkward when in a pace-line. Swing out far enough to the left to let the pace-line pass you safely. Continue to pedal slowly until you are at the end.

Announce Hazards – When riding in a pace-line, most of the group do not have a good view of the road surface ahead, so it is important to announce holes, glass, gravel, and other hazards. Pointing down to the left or right informs those behind to watch out for trouble. Shout “glass,” “hole,” “bump,” etc. can help, but save the yelling for important road hazards, you will quickly learn when to yell and when to simply point at hazards.

Watch for Traffic Coming from the Rear – Riders in the front cannot see traffic approaching from the rear, so it is the responsibility of the rear riders to inform the others by saying “car back.” At intersections anyone can yell “car left,” or “car right,” but it is not necessary to do this if there is no danger.

Watch Out at Intersections – When approaching intersections requiring vehicles to yield or stop, the lead riders should say “slowing” or “stopping” to alert those behind to the change of speed. Every cyclist is responsible for verifying that the way is clear through all intersections. Do not assume it is safe until you see for yourself.

Stop at Stop Signs – At stop signs we come to a complete foot-down stop or “rolling stop.” Here, we look both ways while keeping one foot on a pedal. This will allow you to retain better control of your bicycles.

Don’t Pass at Intersections – Do not pass other cyclists at an intersection. Immature cyclists sometimes come from behind and ride through while other cyclists are taking their proper turn at the intersection. This is highly dangerous and discourteous, and any observers will mark your group as another bunch of crazy cyclists who should not be allowed on the roads.

Warn of Foot Traffic – Pedestrians, including joggers, travel on the left side of the road, so we often encounter them head on. Worse yet are pedestrians on the wrong side, moving with their backs to us. Since we travel fairly close to the edge of the road, it is important for cyclists in the front of the group to warn of foot traffic on our side saying, “runner right.”

Watch Out for Railroad Tracks – Railroad tracks require special care. It is important that you cross perpendicular to the tracks to avoid having the track divert your wheel from under you. Many cyclists can testify to the dangers of violating this rule. Cyclists need ample warning in order to prepare to cross the tracks properly, so yell “tracks” in plenty of time. When crossing tracks watch carefully for traffic approaching from behind. Most motorists will not understand your problem when crossing tracks. So, plan ahead, position yourself properly, and give clear indications of what you are doing. Do not crowd or pass other cyclists during the crossing maneuver.

Ride One or Two Across – We ride single or double file as appropriate to the roadway and traffic conditions. Riding double file is fun, and on club rides we are eager to get out of town and into quiet roads where we can double up. Nevertheless, as a courtesy we should be quick to single up when this will permit faster traffic to bypass us more efficiently, Or when there are hazards ahead. “Car back” is the signal to get into single file. Riding more than two abreast is illegal.

Move Off the Road when Regrouping – When we stop to regroup, we should move completely off the roadway or bike path wherever possible, so that we do not interfere with traffic and can relax our attention to the road. When we start up again, each cyclist looks both ways then merge into the traffic.

Drafting – Experienced cyclists enjoy drafting, or riding close behind the wheel of the cycle in front because of the greatly decreased wind resistance experienced by the following cyclists. The effect is so pronounced that we try to draft whenever we can. Several cyclists may form a pace line in which each cyclist follows the preceding rider closely, separated by only a few inches. Each cyclist takes a short turn at the front breaking the wind. Drafting requires the ultimate in predictability, since even minor unannounced variations in the forward cyclist’s motion, such as shifting gears or rising out of the saddle, can cause the rear rider to crash. The rider in front is usually unaffected, but the following rider , whose front wheel has bumped the bike in front, takes a spill, usually hard. If you are learning to draft, pick a steady rider to follow. Cyclists who wish to draft other riders should say ” on your wheel” to let the forward rider know someone is close behind.

Be Attentive – Conserve Energy – Each of us has an occasional weak day when we become fatigued before the end of a ride. When this happens, our attention is decreased and our reactions are slowed, and we can become hazards to ourselves and others. Cyclists must make a special effort to remain attentive when fatigued. Drafting is an excellent way to conserve energy, even when a cyclist is tired, since the wind drag is reduced for several feet behind another cyclist. A fatigued cyclist can draft at a greater distance than usual, thereby recouping lost energy for the rest of the ride. Also, drink plenty of sports drink and eat an energy bar.

Be Courteous – As responsible cyclists, we care about our image, so we try to be courteous to others with whom we are sharing the road, whether they are motorists or other cyclists. When the group must stop at an intersection, avoid hogging the space that might be used by other vehicles taking different directions. For example, if we are going straight ahead we should try to stop in the middle or left of the lane so the right-turing cars can get around.

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