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UC Bike Ride
Urbana-Champaign, Illinois
 
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A Group Riding Primer

We ride farther, faster, and have more fun as a group! The dynamics of any group ride are directly related to its participants. We have a responsibility to each other to create a safe and predictable pattern of behavior while we ride together. What follows are standard guidelines for participating in a group ride. Communication and accepting guidance from fellow riders is important to group ownership and responsibility for safety for all.

Safety is #1
Be visible and predictable. Riding in a group requires good bike handling skills. Practice riding a straight line and maintaining a steady pace before joining a group ride.

Stay on your line
This is mentioned above but it bears repeating. Stay on your line. During the ride avoid making sudden movements -- this includes sudden bursts of speed, sudden slowing, and sudden shifts to the right or left. If there is a dip or a bump and you do not have time to smoothly and safely avoid it, ride over it as safely as you can. Sudden swerving to avoid road irregularities could cause a crash. As well, avoid movements that could cause you to shift unexpectedly, such as digging in your jersey, until you are at the back of the pack.

Maintain your speed
Do not make sudden changes to your speed. Any sudden decrease will cause the rider behind you to hit your wheel. The fluidity of the ride depends on a steady tempo. Also, be careful when you stand up out of the saddle. Doing so usually throws your bike backwards by a few inches -- with the same effect as slowing down and causing the rider behind you to hit your wheel. Avoid pedaling and then coasting--this makes your speed inconsistent and puts a strain on the riders behind you. Instead, maintain a steady cadence.

Helmets
Wear a helmet. It's not the law but we think you should. You might be the best bike handler in the world but the guy next to you might not be... or a stick could flip into your front wheel and could send you flying over your handlebars... or, heaven forbid, you could get hit by a car. Even the best and most experienced riders have crashes. Think of it like a seatbelt -- you rarely ever need it, but when you do, you really do.

Know where you are... and where everyone else is
Always be conscious of your position in the group. Are there riders to your right? to your left? behind you? Are you riding near someone carrying gear, who might need a bit of extra space? Knowing this will make it easier to make quick decisions about where to go if you need to move off your line.

Riding in a Paceline
If it's windy, you can save a lot of energy by letting the person in front of you block the wind. However, this can only be done safely if everyone is doing it same way.
• Keep your cadence and speed consistent -- do not coast when in a pack.
• Ride in as straight a line as possible. This will maximize the wind blocking effort for everyone behind you.
• If you need to slow down try soft pedaling -- do not apply brakes unless in an emergency. If you slow suddenly the person behind you will hit you and at least a few of you will go down.
• If you are in front call out road hazards. If you can avoid potholes without any sudden movements, do so. Otherwise, ride over them as safely as possible. Sudden movements can take the whole pack down.
• If you are in position to see oncoming or trailing traffic, and other potential issues, call out them out: Car up/Car Back and so on. This is important information for those screened from seeing traffic and other hazards for themselves.
• If you are the lead rider and want to move back, signal the rider behind you with a quick flick of the elbow, do a couple of hard pushes on your pedals to clear yourself of any crossed wheels, and pull off to the outside. Then reduce your pedaling so the pack can move ahead of you. Rejoin the group in the back. Note: if you are the last rider in the group let the rider coming back know they are at the end of the line.
• If you are riding in a "double paceline " (two riders across), the rider on the right should pull off to the right, the rider on the left should pull off to the left.
• More experienced riders of pacelines may call for echelon riding to better deal with angled winds. Care and communication are essential to making this work.
• Be mindful of the width and type of road you are riding on. Country roads come in a variety of sizes and paving types with some being trickier to ride on that will preclude riding more than 2 abreast (which is the law in Illinois). Be prepared to move to single file to address oncoming or overtaking traffic. Don't ride on the hump in the middle of a narrow road.
• If you are taking over lead position, make sure not to try to "bridge the gap" between where you are and where the lead rider was. Just mainting the pace you have been riding. If you speed up you will create a gap behind you. Follow the wise words of Michael, "Take what you are given".
• Do not feel pressured to pull for too long. Do what you feel comfortable doing and pull off.
• Hazardous conditions require an even greater distance between riders. You will still get good "draft effect" if you are a wheel length behind the rider in front of you. Do not overlap wheels. Your front wheel should be behind the rear wheel of the rider in front of you.
• If you're not comfortable riding in a paceline, ride at the rear and open up space in front of you when a rider comes off the front.
paceline
(image from Lost River Cycling)

Mind the Rise
Stay to the right when you can't see over a rise in the road. Cars coming the other direction won't be able to see you either and nobody wants to get hit. Likewise, on blind curves.

Call Outs
Let the other people in the group know about potential road hazards (pothole, gravel, etc), if you are turning (left turn, straight, right turn), speed changes (slowing, stopping, rolling, etc) and of approaching traffic (car up, car back, etc). Signals can be transmitted verbally and/or by pointing. Pass the signals throughout the group. Be sure to repeat to call out when you hear it -- not only so the next person will hear but also so others will know you did.

Communicate
If you feel uncomfortable in the group for any reason, say something. It's very likely others feel the same way. Stop and discuss your concerns before continuing. It's much easier and faster than dealing with the aftermath of a crash. It's not personal, it's about our safety!

Listen to your fellow riders
Regardless of whether you're a new rider, new to group riding, or have been riding with groups for years, we all have some bad habits and sometimes make mistakes. Different groups have their own rules and quirks so if you are new, have a suggestion, or have a question, please communicate. If a fellow rider asks you to do something differently, listen and take that advice to heart. Save the debate and distracting conversations for the post ride.

Have fun, make friends -- it's a bike ride!
 
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Please be safe, follow the rules and have a good ride!