Cycling in a Group – Group Etiquette
Summary of Key Points
The following are a “Top Ten” items associated with cycling in a Group
- Follow the Rules of the Road
- Communicate hazards on the road to other cyclists in the group using specific hand signals and occasional specific verbal signals
- Move in a slow and predictable way within the group and when avoiding hazards, avoid overcompensating movements
- Remain Alert, Do not switch off, concentrate on cyclists who are several places ahead of you and what is behind you
- Always remain aware of what is going on around you in the bunch and eat and drink appropriately to avoid becoming over tired
- If cycling two abreast ride “Handlebar to Handlebar”
- Do not Half Wheel, the ideal distance of your front wheel is approximately 30cm behind the wheel in front
- Follow the instructions of the Road Captains
- Be familiar with the following calls: “Car Up”, “Car Back”, “Car Through”, “Roll-Up”, “Steady”, “Single Up”, “Up”
- If you wish to leave the group, do so in a safe fashion (e.g. from the rear of the group) and advise others of your intention.
- Enjoy the benefits of riding safely within a group (Slip streaming, increased visibility to traffic, load sharing, team work, quicker pace, social interaction).
This document is modified from an original document available at the following link to describe the specific calls used by Over The Hill Cycling Club on Group cycles.
This document is aimed at those who have recently started cycling with the club, but will be useful for more experienced riders to brush up on their skills. It outlines what to expect when riding with other cyclists in a group, or ‘bunch’ as it is known, in a variety of situations and discusses how to stay safe and take most benefit from each other’s slipstream. It will not cover the real basics of how to ride a bike on public roads, the rules of the road etc. These are all covered by the ‘Rules of the Road’ in the ROI, accessible online via:
Dangers on a bicycle come in many forms, but the most common are from other road users and obstacles on the road itself. In order to stay safe all the riders in the bunch must avoid hazards whilst not colliding with each other in the process. Communication between riders in a bunch is the only real way of doing this.
Some other basics are to ensure your bike is in good working order, that you carry a range of spares and that your clothing is appropriate for the weather. Food and drink is also important to keep you alert and make sure you get home having enjoyed your cycle. If you are unsure about these things the best way to find out is, as always, to speak to experienced riders who are generally helpful and more than happy to offer advice.
There are quite a few guidelines that apply to any situation when a group of riders are riding together be it a weekend club run, a road race or a leisure event.
As outlined above there are two main things a bunch of riders must do to stay safe:
- Everyone must avoid hazards (i.e. potholes, other road users, etc.). This is achieved by communication using a series of hand signals and occasional verbal signals which should be acted on, to avoid the danger, and then repeated by each rider down the line, to pass the information on to those behind.
- Riders must not collide with each other, particularly when in the process of avoiding a hazard; this is achieved by moving in a slow, predictable way and riding in a way that doesn’t endanger other riders.
The second point is the most easy to deal with so let’s look at it first. It is achieved by always making sure your movements within the bunch are slow and predictable.
There are many things that make riders’ movements in a bunch unpredictable and dangerous. Some of the most common of these are:
- Watching the rider in front. In a bunch you are quite close to the rider in front, if he/she has to react quickly to something your reaction may be too late. It is much safer to watch several riders ahead, you will see any sudden movements progressing down the bunch and be able to avoid them. You will still be able to see the rider in front of you through your peripheral vision. By using this method you try to predict what will happen, not react to it when it does.
- Throwing a Wheel / Out of Saddle. This is when a bike moves backwards as a rider gets out of the saddle. This is dangerous as the back wheel can easily hit the front wheel of the rider behind. To avoid this happening riders should take care to move their body forwards, and ensure they keep pressure on the downstroke, when standing out of the saddle rather than pushing their bike back. Also when sitting behind another rider be sure to sit slightly to one side of their wheel in case they throw a wheel at you. Cyclists should call “Up” when they plan to get out of the saddle to advise others in the group.
- Overlapping a Wheel / Half Wheeling. When a rider, who is sitting behind another, has their front wheel overlapping the back wheel of the rider in front. This causes problems if the rider in front has to swerve to the side for some reason. If this happens the two wheels can collide and the rider behind can find it difficult to stay upright. To avoid this simply don’t overlap a back wheel.
- Overcompensating movements. If a rider near the front of a bunch makes an unexpected movement, either sideways or by grabbing the brakes, the rider behind reacts to it and instinctively adds a bit onto it. The next rider does the same, the next the same and so on. By the time this movement reaches the back of the bunch the small movement becomes a large movement causing riders to collide with each other or forcing riders onto the wrong side of the road. These movements are usually sideways and are known as ‘switches’. The best way to avoid this is for everyone to avoid any sudden movements, particularly near the front of the bunch. However, sometimes these movements cannot be avoided and so it is always best to look a few riders ahead and predict these switches coming down the bunch and try to move in a slower and more predictable way as they approach you.
In the big sprint finishes of the Tour de France and other pro races, when the pressure is on and riders are riding very close to each other switches can easily happen, and are responsible for the majority of crashes in big sprint finishes.
- Riding beyond your limits. Inexperienced riders who ride closer to other riders than they can cope with can also cause problems. Only ride as close to other riders as you feel comfortable doing. The riders around you may be very experienced and can ride closely with ease. With practice you will feel more comfortable riding closer to other riders.
- Lack of concentration. All of the problems above can be exaggerated by lack of concentration. This can be for many reasons, including tiredness. Always remain aware of what is going on around you in the bunch and eat and drink appropriately to avoid becoming over tired. Towards the end of a long ride look out for signs of tiredness and lack of concentration in others; slow reactions, more erratic movements than usual, dropping their head, locking their elbows to name but a few, and be aware that they will react more slowly than usual.
When riding in a bunch you have different responsibilities depending on where you are riding, at the front, in the middle or at the back.
Riding at the front
The most important member(s) of the bunch at any one time are those at the front. They are the eyes of the bunch as everyone else’s view is obstructed by them. It is down to them to spot dangers in good time and ensure everyone in the bunch avoids the danger.
If the rider(s) at the front spot a pothole, poor road surface or obstacle such as a large stone or brick, with plenty of time they should:
- Slowly move across the road to a position where they will avoid the hole. 2. Point to where the hole is to allow those behind to avoid it (see Fig 1) and continue to point until the hole has been passed.
- Slowly move back to their original position on the road.
If the hole or bad surface is larger than about 30cm (1 foot) the same process is used but a waving hand is used instead of a pointed finger, this shows the obstacle is larger (see Fig 2).
For particularly dangerous holes riders may choose to shout “HOLE” to accompany the hand signal. However, care must be taken to shout in a clear way without startling other riders, particularly the less experienced, as this may be more dangerous than the original hazard. Shouts of ‘HOLE RIGHT’ or ‘HOLE LEFT’ etc. should never replace the hand signals as following riders have only a vague idea of where the hazard is. Pointing is much more accurate, less startling and therefore safer.
Parked Car etc
The same procedure is used for parked cars etc but the hand signal is different. It is a difficult signal to explain but hopefully Fig 3 should give you a good idea of it.
Many vehicles approach and meet the bunch from the other direction and for the majority of these no action is required. However, if the vehicle is particularly large or might pass closer to the bunch than riders behind might expect, the same signal as above is employed except the right hand is used, see Fig 4. This may also be accompanied by the shout of “CAR UP”. The UP referring to the vehicle coming from Up the Front.
In the Middle
Riding in the middle of the bunch should be reasonably easy. Just follow the riders in front, react to their signals, then repeat them for those behind. If you hear any shouts from behind, pass them on up the bunch and remember to avoid any unnecessary erratic movements.
At the back
Riding at the back of a bunch is much the same as riding in the middle, with two notable exceptions.
(1) You are the rider(s) who warns the rest of the bunch about other road users who are overtaking the bunch. When you become aware that a vehicle is overtaking the bunch shout, clearly but without startling other riders, “CAR BACK”. It doesn’t really matter if it’s not a car. You may also shout “CAR THROUGH” to advise that the vehicle is overtaking the group.
(2) If the bunch intends to turn left or right, you are the rider(s) the traffic behind will see, so make sure you check behind you to see what the other traffic is up to, advise the rest of the bunch when it is safe to move across the road, if turning right. Make your hand signals very clear to alert motorists behind.
On Club Training / Touring Rides.
All the points mentioned in the general riding section apply when riding in a bunch. But the points below apply when you are not racing but riding with other cyclists in, for example, a club run, a reliability trial or a leisure event.
Usually in these situations the bunch forms into two lines beside each other. Riders then ride in pairs until told to change by the group leader. At this point the rider on the right at the front of the bunch moves in front of the rider to their left and the rider that was behind them rides up alongside them. Everyone in the right line then moves up one place. This is quite similar to the ‘Up and Overs’ discussed in the racing section, except the changes don’t happen continually but occasionally on the call of the group leader. How often the changes are made are down to the group leader and are based on how fast the group is moving and how strong the riders are at the front.
Every group should have a leader. Most clubs will have selected a club captain who is in charge of their club runs. On other types of rides the experienced riders will casually select a group leader amongst themselves as the run begins. It is the job of the group leader to call directions, i.e. left or right turns onto different roads, control the pace of the bunch and decide when the riders at the front should change by calling “ROLL UP”.
Usually the Road Captain decides on the route of the club run, quite often deciding as they go based on many different factors. However, they are usually open to suggestions of different routes if the suggestion is reasonable. It is very important that the Road Captain and only the Road Captain calls directions. These directions should be passed on by the members of the group but no rider should shout their own directions or pre-empt the call from the Road Captain. You can imagine the consequences of this if someone shouts ‘LEFT’ for example and the group leader then calls ‘RIGHT’. Confusion reigns as some riders turn left, others turn right and collisions are almost inevitable.
When at the front of the bunch ride steadily. The group leader will shout “STEADY” if you are riding too hard. If you find yourself riding slightly ahead of the rider beside you when at the front you are riding too hard. This practice is know as half-wheeling, from riding half a wheel ahead of the other person and is considered bad manners as they constantly have to try to match your pace.
While out with a group you should ride at a reasonable pace, as set by the group leader, and look after everyone in the bunch. There will be times when you can test yourself against the other riders who also enjoy ‘a bit of a race’. You will learn when these sorts of things happen after a few times out with the bunch and you are free to join in. It is important though to let the bunch regroup, making sure nobody is left behind, before continuing on your way. It is essential that everyone who leaves with the bunch, returns with the bunch. This is particularly important with young and/or inexperienced riders who may not know the way home. Leaving riders behind to fend for themselves is bad manners and is not the act of a true cyclist.
At times, on particularly narrow sections of road or with a large build up of traffic, the group leader may call for the bunch to “SINGLE UP”. In this instance the inside line allows gaps to open between each rider and these gaps are then filled by the riders from the outside line forming one single line. When this happens make sure to keep well in to the side of the road and expect traffic to pass. Once the traffic has passed the signal will be given to reform into two lines which is simply done by reversing the process.
When cornering keep a smooth line. The ‘racing line’ of cutting the apex may or may not be the best choice, think of those around you and behind you when making the choice for the best line through the corner.
Leisure events can attract bigger fields, and therefore bigger bunches, than races. As in racing every movement gets multiplied down the bunch and so it is important to ride smoothly.
If you have read this far well done, the key is to learn from the experienced cyclists in the group who are there to help you and you will enjoy the benefits of cycling safely and efficiently in a group.