|Communication is the key to safe group rides. Because roads are full of traffic and hazards, and because visibility is limited when riding in a group, it's important to warn others about hazards and to remain alert at all times to the warnings shouted and pointed out.
Warnings you're likely to hear include:
Car back: there's a car approaching the group from the rear
Car up: car approaching from the front
Group-ride dynamics are interesting and ever-changing. As the pace and terrain changes, the pack stretches and compresses. The latter can cause some very tight quarters and even an occasional crash. In order to ride safely it's important to ride smoothly and avoid hard braking as much as possible. In fact, even light braking or swerving by someone in front can have a ripple effect and cause problems at the rear of the pack. Inexperienced riders who panic and touch a wheel may crash. Never fear! You can avoid problems by practicing these simple rules:
Stay alert at all times. Never assume that it's safe. Keep "reading" the dynamics of the group and always leave yourself an out by keeping on opening to one side that you can escape through if there's a crash or obstacle you have to avoid.
2. Hold your line. This means swerving as little as possible. If you need to move left or right, do so gradually after checking the area for other riders and pointing out your move to make your fellow riders aware of your intentions. If you notice that someone is swerving, he's probably tired or inexperienced. Stay away from him!
3. Don't overlap wheels. Overlapping is putting your front wheel next to someone's rear wheel. This is asking for trouble, because if they move, they'll bump your front wheel knocking you down. Try to always be behind the bike(s) in front unless you're passing.
4. Don't look back! Looking back causes even skilled riders to swerve, which can cause a crash. If you must look back, ask the person next to you if you can put your hand on their shoulder. That will keep you riding straight so that when you look back, you won't swerve.
5. Relax! Use a relaxed grip on the handlebars, keep your shoulders down (not up against your neck) and bring your elbows down and in so that they're slightly bent. These steps will help you stay relaxed, which allows quicker reaction time and prevents tension in the neck and shoulders that can lead to fatigue and sloppy riding.
6. Focus on the rider(s) ahead. Don’t make the common mistake of focusing on the back wheel in front of you. Look up at the shoulders of the riders ahead and occasionally look at the road ahead and the riders up front so you can see what's going on and be prepared for sudden changes.
7. Don’t brake unless absolutely necessary. If you must brake, do so lightly to scrub off a little speed. You can also slow down by sitting upright and catching more wind in your chest.
8. Warn others of hazards. Keep on the lookout for things that could cause problems and shout out a warning or point out the hazard.
9. Pass carefully. Sometimes you'll see the riders ahead starting to accelerate and you'll want to jump up to them. Be careful! Make sure you're not going to get cut off or cut someone else off. Usually, a moment's hesitation is all it takes to make the move safely.
10. If you get tired, move to the rear. Fatigue causes dangerous riding, so it's safer to go to the back of the group than to be in the middle of the action. Don't just swerve and slow, though! Tell those around you that you're dropping back so it's a safe move.
You travel further and faster in the group.
Be prepared for the challenges of the ride. Learn the route ahead of time to ensure you don't get lost. Also, if you know the route, it's easier to shortcut the ride if you get into trouble.
Always bring a tube, a pump and any tools you need. Bringing a cell phone and cash is a good idea, too. And keep in mind that not all rides stop for flat tires, so you may be riding in alone if you puncture.
Group rides can be immensely rewarding. You get a great workout, cover more distance than you would alone and get to hang out with friends. You might even stop for coffee and conversation. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and join the gang!