As Kevin Mulhall pointed out, cycling involves a steeper learning curve than many other activities. For the uninitiated, getting used to riding on the road can be intimidating. Group rides can be even more so.
First off, there is so much to be paying attention to – from the cars on the road to the wheel in front of you to the pothole you just barely avoided.
There are seemingly foreign verbal directions and non-verbal cues. There is strange clothing involved. (Did you really think you’d be wearing pads in your pants as an adult? Or as such a young adult?)
It really can be like trying to fit in with another culture. Because, well, cyclists are kind of an alien culture if you think about it…
Group riding dynamics aren’t that much different than the dynamics of other relationships. There will be ups and downs. We’ll progress in our relationship together. (Or not.) All relationships require trust. And, most of all, they require (copious amounts of) communication.
To open up those lines of communication, we thought it best to begin with a few ground rules.
Special thanks to our customer George Velcich and his fabulous IA2R group for sharing these well-thought-out details about how to best ride in a group to have a safe and enjoyable riding season.
Group Riding Safety Guidelines and General Info
The start time is intend to be just that – when we start riding. So please arrive early enough to be ready to roll at the appointed time. Or you risk being left behind.
“People who ride road bikes without helmets must have nothing to protect. Helmets are mandatory, period.” Blunt, but well said. Wear a helmet.
* Higher Gear note: Helmets should be replaced every three to five years and always after a crash or after they’ve been compromised. This recommendation comes from the Snell Foundation, an independent foundation recognized worldwide as a leader in helmet safety standards. (In other words, this is not an industry ploy to get you to spend more money. This is to protect that precious noggin’ of yours!)
We’re riding in a group – we all depend on each other to ride safely. So please make sure your bike’s in shape – your brakes work and your steering system’s intact. Everybody ought to get a tune-up early in the season, in order to enable a mechanic to fix existing problems and identify potential ones. Plus, a well-maintained bike is far more pleasurable to ride.
Many group rides forbid the use of aerobars because they make bikes more difficult to control and stop suddenly. Even pros riders are prohibited from using them on road stages. While Higher Gear doesn’t prohibit the use of aerobars, we may ask that you stick to the back of the group ride.
You are expected to have materials and tools necessary to fix a flat, such as a spare tube and a pump or CO2 canister. Even better if you’re prepared to know how to use them. For a simple tutorial (which you can cue up on your phone in case you need a refresher out on the course) can be found on Higher Gear’s YouTube channel.
Group Riding Etiquette
We will never ride wider than two abreast on major roads. Not only is this the safest way to ride, but it’s the law. Although we proudly assert and defend our rights as cyclists, we will try to minimize our impact on motorized traffic. In some places, where roads are narrow, we may determine that riding single-file is safest.
On the outbound leg, we will make an effort to stay together. NEWBIES: If you’re having trouble keeping up with the pack and you’re unfamiliar with the route, let the nearest rider know immediately and the word will be passed up the line. The group will then work out an arrangement for you (someone may ride with you, or you’ll be given directions to the next stop).
On the return, the speeds may pick up. Sometimes the group will start to break up as people sprint to the finish.
Maintain a safe distance from the bike in front of you. Stay close for drafting, but NEVER OVERLAP WHEELS!
Traffic Lights & Laws
When approaching a traffic light, lead riders must assess whether the entire pack will make it through before the signal changes. If not, the lead riders should alert all other riders and come to a stop (if there is time to do so safely). Only if lead riders cannot safely stop should they proceed through a yellow light. Then they should wait for the rest to catch up once the light turns green again.
Don’t run red lights or stop signs unless there are absolutely no cars anywhere in the vicinity. Many suburbs, including Winnetka and Glencoe are strictly enforcing traffic laws for cyclists.
Warnings & Signals
Give verbal warnings, like “Stopping” or “Slowing” when approaching traffic signals or obstacles. “Car back” means that there’s a vehicle approaching from behind and riders should move to the right and, on narrow roads, go single-file.
Wind conditions often make shouted warnings difficult to hear. In addition to verbal warnings, also use hand gestures to signify turns, potholes and other road obstructions.
If you’re at the front, you are the eyes of the whole paceline. Point out obstacles early and avoid swerving, especially when we’re pace-lining. More specific pacelining tips and reminders will be sent out in the coming weeks.
Looking for more information on group riding?
- Questions about how to get started with cycling? Please feel free to come in and chat with us.
- Know what cycling essentials you should pack for every ride.
- Want to know how pacelines and drafting work? Read Paceline Rules.
- For a look at newbie mistakes and how to avoid them, check out Leveling Out the Learning Curve.
- How do you learn to love cycling? Check out Kevin Mulhall‘s story and the stories of other Higher Gear customers.
You don’t have to be an expert. We are all cyclists. #WeAreCyclists
Higher Gear welcomes new riders to our group rides. Please come out and join us. We’re happy to have you!
Make sure to arrive early and introduce yourself to the ride leaders before the ride begins.