Group rides are a blast and one of the most enjoyable ways to see Summit County. You get a great workout, likely push yourself harder than if riding alone (without needing to be competitive), cover more distance, and get to hang out with fellow cyclists. It's a great opportunity to meet like-minded people and share information about routes and experiences.
Although groups of cyclists are more visible on the roads than individual cyclists, they still face significant hazards. Ultimately, your safety is your responsibility. But there are also lots of practices and etiquette for group riding that will make your outing much more fun and help you ride safely with others. Here are some to get you started:
Communicate - 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 pointed out.
Common Hand Signals - The turning signals are the same as for motor vehicles except that it is permissible to point right with the right hand when turning right. Slowing is usually an arm held out and down, palm back with the hand open. Good idea to yell "slowing" at the same time. This signal is also commonly used for stopping. Good idea to yell "stopping" if that's the plan. Another "stop" is a clenched fist held behind the back. The alternative to signals is be vocal. Sometimes things get a little hectic and you don't want to let go to make a signal. Just yell "right turn" or "stopping". Getting the idea to the other riders is the main thing.
Road Hazards - The rider at the head of a line or group is responsible for calling and pointing out hazards. It is incumbent on the following riders to also yell and point out the same hazard. The person at the back of a line or group doesn't know what's coming if the people up front and all the way down the line don't repeat the warning.
Ride Cautiously & Considerately - Your actions can place not only you, but other riders around you in danger. Doing so is certain to cause problems and mistrust. Be careful of your surroundings, ride defensively, predictably, and in a straight line. Always pay attention and look ahead, even if you are talking to another rider.
Avoid sudden or sharp movements - Don't make sudden movements, whether forward, to the side, or by braking to the rear. Don't overlap wheels with the rider in front of you. Signal before you stand up so the rider behind you doesn't accidentally contact your rear wheel.
Be helpful to others - Be an ambassador of courtesy and kindness when cycling in a group. The other people in the group should recognize you as being an enjoyable part of the community rather than a nuisance. Look for opportunities to help and assist others.
Maintain your bike - Keep your bike well-serviced, clean and with good tires. An un-roadworthy bike is a danger to everyone in the group.
Pacelines & Drafting
Riding as part of a more formal, cohesive & cooperative group allows you to cover distances much faster than your could along and save energy at the same time; as long as the group works well together and safety remains the number one priority. The power of an organized group can help lift your cycling to the next level and create a sense of teamwork on two wheels. As you become a more experienced rider, you will find that riding in a paceline is an exciting way to enhance your riding experience.
Nevertheless, riding in a paceline or drafting are advanced riding techniques and appropriate only if you are very comfortable with not only your bike handling skills, but those of everyone involved. Know those you are riding with!
Here are a few good practices for paceline rides:
Take advantage of the draft - Get used to following closely to the rider in front of you to get the benefit of the draft. Top riders feel comfortable riding within inches of the wheel in front; however, if you or others involved are not top riders, leave more room.
Be predictable in all actions - Avoid sudden braking or changes in direction. To slow down move gently out into the wind and sit up a little to move out of the draft and reduce the need for braking.
Give loud, clear calls & signals - As the people behind generally can't see where they are going, the leaders have to be the "eyes" of the bunch. Signal when slowing, stopping or turning. Point to all obstacles and communicate the hazard in a loud, clear voice. Try to give these calls & signals at least 4 seconds in advance and pass them down the pace line from rider to rider.
Rotating Out of the Lead - When rotating out of the lead you need to have a standard signal or method that all are in tune with, including which side the lead will rotate out to. The signal for rotating out is a quick slap on the side of the leg or buttock (audible to the rider behind) and point in the direction you are headed. Don't wait to drop back. The most dangerous part of pace line or group riding is a rider dropping back and another rider swerving out because of slowing or overtaking the next person and getting tangled up.
Don't slow to talk with some one unless you both are at the back of the pack. If you just have to talk, get out of the line and talk at the back where lack of attention will only take you down and not the whole group. Unless you are in a very experienced group go to the back to take a drink. Don't stop peddling when taking a drink.
Look ahead - Keep your eyes up at all times so you can see what is happening up the line. Avoid looking at the ground in front of you or the rear wheel of the rider ahead of you. Keep an eye on the arms and shoulders of the rider in front of you. This gives you the best indication of a quick turn or change in direction usually associated with debris or obstacles.
A consistent pace is key - Keep the pace smooth and steady, particularly on up-hills. Avoid surging when you come to the front of the line. Try to establish a pedaling rhythm before reaching the front, and maintain it until just after pulling off. If you're feeling especially strong take a longer pull rather than accelerate. Consider others and maintain the pace. Maintain your speed when pulling off the front of the paceline. Once you have cleared the front of the line, decrease your speed and drift to the back for a deserved rest.
Pedal on downhills if in the lead - The leaders of the group should never coast on the downhills as this leads to the group behind bunching up due to the benefits of the draft and causes unnecessary braking. When moving from a seated to a standing position, signal and then stay on the power so you do not fall back into the bike behind you.
Avoid opening gaps - If you find yourself behind a gap close it slowly. If that is difficult due to the pace, then signal for someone to fill the gap from behind, or peel off to the rear of the bunch. A skilled group will remain in a tight paceline through 95% of an average ride.
Re-group - If the group splits after lights or longer climbs slow down or in some cases stop to allow the bunch to regroup.
Riding 2 abreast - Never ride more than 2 abreast. Most roads will require single file. Some double lane roads without a shoulder dictate that it is better (and legal) to sit in the middle of the lane rather than have vehicles squeeze past.
Bike skills - If you are not confident of your bike handling ability or feel that the pace is too fast for you to do a proper turn on the front of the bunch then request to stay at the back of the bunch and call people to change in front you. The ride leaders may encourage you to have a turn at the front even if only to learn techniques for changing positions in the bunch.