bike safety

Guidelines for Safe Group Riding

There is a bicycling etiquette or “rules of the road” for group riding. The following guidelines seek to bring every club rider to a level of competence that will ensure safe riding for all. Remember, your safety is your responsibility, but following the rules will make everyone’s ride safer.

If this is your first time in a group ride It might be a good idea to let the ride leader know this, so that the leader and others can offer coaching if needed and be aware that this may be a learning experience for you.

State Law Bicycles have equal rights on the road as other vehicles. Bicycles have equal responsibilities to follow all motor vehicle laws. There are also laws requiring that bicycles be kept in a safe condition.

Control your lane Whether you are riding alone or in a group the safest place to be is in the right lane on the right side. The bicyclist has the legal right to be on the roadway in the traffic lane. “Every person riding a bicycle upon a highway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle (625 ILCS 5/Section 11-1502).”  This will improve your vantage point and safety margin, avoiding potential hazards that are common on the side of the road. This will make you more visible to motorists and alert motorists to use the adjacent lane to pass. A single lane is too narrow for both motorist and bicyclist to share the lane side-by-side with a 3-foot separation (625 ILCS 5/Section11-703(d)).

Don’t get “doored” Stay clear of parked cars when passing them. Occupants leaving the car may not be looking for bicyclists.

Be courteous to drivers We say, “Share the road”. Bicyclists should take this same advice and take care not to block traffic unnecessarily. Even when riding double is legal, riders should ride single file when there is traffic. A rider may take a full lane for your own use when passing parked cars or avoiding potholes or road debris.

Be courteous to other riders Get to the ride early enough to be ready to start at the advertised time. Be prepared to ride at the advertised speed. Stay with the group. Those who ride ahead are responsible for getting themselves back safely. Those riders who do not intend to finish the ride with the group must notify the ride leader. If you are not sure you will be able to keep up with the group, be prepared to finish on your own and inform the ride leader you might drop off.

Be courteous to pedestrians Pedestrians have the right-of-way. Bicyclists must slow down and yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk or on sidewalks. Pedestrian movements can be unpredictable. Before passing a pedestrian call out a warning such as “on your left”.

Be courteous to equestrians On some trails it is possible that you will be sharing the trail with a horse and rider. To be safe slow down, make sure the rider is aware of your presence, ask the rider if it is alright to pass and pass slowly giving plenty of clearance.

Be predictable Group riders should ride in a straight line. Weaving in and out of traffic or stopping unexpectedly can cause accidents. Look before moving left or right. Announce your intentions. Before stopping, pull off the road (or trail) to avoid blocking other riders.

Be attentive Group riders cannot simply follow behind another rider, trusting that lead riders will point out all of the hazards.

Use signals Always use arm signals: left arm out for left turns, left arm bent up at the elbow or right arm out for right turns, left arm down for slowing or stopping. Also call out “slowing”, “stopping”, etc.

Give hazard warnings When riding in a group, most of the cyclists do not have a good view of the road ahead. Call out hazards as you see them: “hole”, “glass”, “grate”, etc. Also point to the hazard to let those behind you know what’s coming up. Watch for and announce traffic coming from the rear: “car back”. Pass along warnings from the front or rear of the line.

Change positions correctly Generally, slower riders stay right and riders pass on the left. Announce “on your left” to warn the cyclist ahead that you are passing. If passing on the right is necessary, announce “on your right” clearly since this is an unusual (and unsafe) maneuver.

Keep a safe interval Don’t ride too close to other riders. Three to eight feet is a safe distance for less experienced riders. Never overlap wheels.  Overlapping wheels restricts your movements and may result in an accident. Overlapping is more dangerous for the rider behind; if wheels touch, the rider behind falls more often than not. This often happens when the rider in front moves around an unexpected obstacle.

Obey traffic signals at intersections Even though some riders get through on the yellow, all riders must stop at a red light. Call out “stopping” to warn those behind. Riders who have crossed the intersection should slow or wait for those left behind. Be cautious when calling out “clear” when passing through an intersection because traffic conditions can change quickly and each rider should remain responsible for his own safety.

Negotiating busy intersections

  1. When turning right, stay as far right as practical.
  2. When turning left, stay to the right side of the left turn lane. While turning left, be aware that vehicles may turn alongside a bicyclist. Remain to the right of the left turn lane throughout the turn.
  3. Alternate left turn: The rider should cross the intersection as if he were going straight and wait until it is safe and cross the intersection in the direction he wants to go. This alternate method is time consuming and cumbersome and should be used only when required for safety reasons.
  4. When going straight ahead in the presence of a right turn lane, remain on the right side of the center lane. Do not enter the right turn lane.

Obey stop signs As tempting as it is to breeze through when you know there is no cross traffic, police officers in some areas are ticketing bicyclists for this violation. Bicyclists can use stop signs as a chance to catch their breath and regroup.

Ride one or two across Ride no more than two abreast, but only where this will not impede vehicular traffic. Always be prepared to form a single line due to traffic conditions or other users if on a trail. The rider on the left should accelerate and the rider on the right should reduce his speed to merge into a single line.

Ride safely No headsets. No hands-free riding. Wear a helmet and proper clothing. Helmets are required on all club rides.

Ride defensively Always assume that a driver doesn’t see bicyclists on the road. Make eye contact with the driver at potentially hazardous points. Use a flasher and headlight to enhance visibility. At dusk or at night, wear reflective clothing.

Drafting Riding in a tight group or “drafting” is a good way to go fast and save energy. Drafting should only be done when riding with experienced, predictable riders. Don’t concentrate on the other rider’s rear wheel. Watch the rider’s shoulder or elbow for cues and keep the correct distance. Never overlap wheels. When slowing, let the rider behind know and slow gently.

Pacelines Pacelines are another way to go fast and save energy and again should only be done when riding with experienced, predictable riders. Your ride leader should make sure everyone understands the rules of any particular ride. Try to keep an even cadence by using your gears. “Stop and start” peddling in a paceline creates gaps and difficulties for those behind you. When going to the back of a pace line signal and go out of line to the left of the group, then let the group pass by to where you wish re-enter. We all have a natural tendency to accelerate when rotating paceline leaders; try to maintain current speed when rotating leaders in a paceline. During paceline rotation the rotating riders move out to the left and slow slightly. Riding three across is necessary ONLY when rotating leaders in a two lane paceline. Call out significant rider gaps or dropped riders, then decide to either ease the pace or split the group.

Thanks for reading this and have miles and miles of safe and enjoyable riding this year!

By Dave Ackert and based on principles taught in the League of American Bicyclists effective cycling program and the State of Illinois laws governing bicycle use. Updated November 2012.