On the last post, I divided group rides into two forms: pack riding and pacelines. I discussed 7 very good rules that are in place during pack rides, erroneously giving the impression that they don’t apply to other types of group riding (pacelines, for example). Let the record show that these seven rules…
- Hold your line;
- Don’t overlap wheels;
- Only follow as close as you are comfortable;
- Don’t use your brakes;
- Be aware of what’s going on around you;
- Do not use “aerobars”; and
- Know the law
…also apply during other kinds of group rides. With the exception of following only as close as you care, these rules apply to all group riding experiences. And, for the most part, these rules are pretty constant wherever you ride in the world. Although there might be slight flavors or idiosyncrasies here and there, even cultural differences don’t come into play. Cyclists the world over hold to these rules.
Now, there is one very important item that I did not mention. It’s kind of a long one, and since “Holding your line” was a bit lengthy, I thought I’d give it its own page:
A rider in the midst of other riders needs to know how to communicate his/her intentions to the rest of the field, or at least, those in the immediate vicinity. Automobile drivers can use turn- and brake-signals, headlights, and even facial expressions when needed to convey their intentions and even apologize for an error in judgement. Cyclists–generally–do not have turn-signals or brake lights, so a few alternative methods have arisen over the years.
Automobile drivers do not find it necessary to inform other drivers about poor road surfaces or other hazards. Cyclists, however, do take it upon themselves to look out for fellow riders. They warn each other of glass that may cause a flat, or holes and cracks that may be dangerous, or motor vehicles who don’t apparently see them approaching.
There’s an interesting peculiarity in communication that should be noted: the greater the experience of the riders, the more subtle the methods of communication. Riders are expected to be aware enough of their surroundings and potential dangers that others should not have to provide help in this. They mostly do, but it will mostly be minimal. Any alerts to potential dangers will only be as obvious as the perceived situation is dangerous. The more dangerous the situation is, the more loud and outspoken the warning is.
In grade school, we were taught how to use arm signals to convey our intention of turning or stopping. These signals were carried over from the automobile culture. They are highly culturally dependent and don’t convey our message as quickly or concisely. So they have been ever-so-slightly modified by cyclists.
Left Turn This is executed by simply raising your left arm and pointing to the left. Be careful in group situations that you do not hit somebody who may be approaching your left side from behind.
Right Turn In the olden days, when we were younger, we were taught to signal a right turn by raising our left arm, and bending it at the elbow, pointing to the sky. Very intuitive. However, this has been changed. To signal a right turn, you raise your right arm and point to the right. I hope you are not confused. It might help if you practice this. (The previous method was brought from the idea of a driver sitting on the left of his car–in the U.S.–and signaling out his window with his left hand. His right arm couldn’t reach out the right window.)
Slowing & Stopping The basics are the same as we were taught: extend your arm down toward the ground with your palm facing the rider behind you. But, this signal is often flavored by the rider doing it. For instance, it can be done with the right or left arm; when slowing only, I open the palm of my hand only, but when stopping, I will clench my hand into a fist and perhaps repeatedly; and last, some riders will place their hand behind their backs as opposed to pointing it toward the ground.
There are also a few signals that have been added to our repertoire that motorists do not use, nor need. As we cyclists tend to look out for each other, it is considered good manners to point out bad pavement or other obstacles when other riders are following (as in a group ride).
Warnings As riders follow, it is entirely possible that they cannot see around you to avoid potholes approaching quickly. A quick, pointing finger toward the obstacle in question will suffice. If the obstruction is on your right, you point with your right hand. If it’s on the left, you use your left hand. Simple. I may use two fingers to point at it so that riders can clearly see me pointing instead of them thinking I’m signaling to slow.
Intent There is also, an occasional need for you to maneuver your bicycle around within the pack (perhaps you see a friend and wish to talk). If there is a rider in the way of your desires, but slightly behind, it is permissible to point a finger toward the space you wish to move into. This finger pointing is usually preceded by you looking over your shoulder to see if anyone is in the way. Turning your head is usually sufficient to convey to others that you’re planning on doing something and they’ll be alert to your sudden movements. In our example, the following rider should move ahead or ease up slightly to create space and allow you in. If they do not (perhaps they’re blocked and can’t get out of the way), then you should certainly not move as it would be dangerous.
As many people (and cyclists) across the world are inherently lazy (okay, okay… imho), hand signals are actually becoming more rare on group rides. Fortunately, hand signals are not strictly necessary to communicate with other riders as we have another communication devise: our voice.
Visual communications (hand gestures) are useful more to motorists because drivers may not hear us speak over the roar of their engines and streaking wind. Fellow cyclists, however, should more easily be able to hear us (another argument against the use of earphones on group rides).
And so cyclists have developed…
These are pretty simple but often vary from place to place. They’re usually used to indicate a warning about a situation coming up.
Verbal warnings can pretty much be anything. The only rule of thumb is: keep them simple, short, and easily understood: one word is best. Responses to any of these warnings should be done safely, smoothly and predictably. Over-reacting can be more dangerous than not reacting at all.
“Right!” , “Left!”, “Right side!” or “Left side!” mean: caution there’s something on your right or left that requires your attention. You should immediately start scanning the area to your right or left to find what it is that others want you to be aware of. In fact, if the shout-out is to your right, you should probably start moving to your left (and vice-versa) so that you don’t ride into whatever it is.
“Slowing!”, “Stopping!”, “Right turn!” and “Left turn!” mean just that. These are used especially when you can’t take your hands off the bars to signal your intent, like if you were descending a hill and needed both hands to brake to a stop.
“Pole!” has been used on group rides to bring attention to a traffic control pole in the middle of a bike path.
“Car back!” or “Car up!” mean that there is a vehicle approaching from the rear (back) or front (up). Riders should be aware of this so they don’t accidentally cross the yellow line if a car is coming from the front, and so they can try to get farther over to the side of the road and out of the way if the vehicle approaches from the rear.
The downside of using verbal warnings (especially when in a large pack, or moving very quickly) is that other riders may not be able to hear you clearly.
On the positive side, the exact word or phrase really doesn’t matter. The act of making a loud noise is the most important part. Even if riders don’t know what to say in that split second, and only garble out a startled, “Hey!”, the warning is not contained in the word, but the act of making the warning. More than once after hearing a verbal warning, I’ve thought, “What did they just say?” But, because there was a warning, I readied myself to deal with whatever was coming. I was prepared and alert when I saw the car coming from the right side and had my hands firmly on the brakes so I could stop quickly and safely.