Leading: Riding on the front of the pack is a position of responsibility. Not only are you the eyes of the group, but more importantly you are also the one responsible for making decisions that affect everyone else on the ride. What may be safe for you may not be safe for the other riders behind you. Running red lights, splitting cars, squeezing through traffic, etc., forces everyone behind you to do the same thing. The whole point of a group ride is to ride as a group, therefore think of the safety of the other riders.
Set a pace that is appropriate and keep the pace steady and smooth. A group bike ride is NOT a race. You are not to “Attack” off the front or try to show everyone how strong you are. That’s what races are for.
Holding a Line: To avoid overlapping wheels ride as if you are on rails. Use verbal and hand signals to avoid obstacles in the road. Ride smoothly and predictably, do not accelerate or brake too quickly and announce when you are stopping or slowing. Do not at any time sprint ahead and disrupt the flow. Even if there is a corner coming up, stay side by side and go through the corner like a well oiled machine. Riding with your bars ahead of the rider beside you is called “half-wheeling” and is a major faux pas. It’s up to you to keep up with the speed of the slower rider next to you. And for goodness sake, please try to keep to the side of the road, there is no need to take over the whole lane and annoy car drivers.
Following: There should be NO gaps in a group ride. As soon as you see a gap, fill it by riding into the space in a steady and controlled manner. There is no need to sprint into the space and then slam on the brakes, just gradually fill in any gaps as soon as you see them.
Peeling Off: When you are tired of riding at the front, and you feel it is time for you to go to the back, make sure the rider beside you knows you are tired and want to go back. Once you have both established that you are going back, check briefly that there isn’t someone overlapping your back wheel, then both riders slowly and gradually move to the outside and let the group come through the middle. Do not suddenly veer off to the side, peel off in a steady and controlled manner.
Too Tired To Go To The Front: If you do not want to go to the front, sit at the back and let the riders coming back from the front of the group slot in ahead of you. It is not acceptable to work your way up to the front of the group and then look around acting lost and confused, slowing down because you don’t feel strong enough to be at the front. If for whatever reason you do find yourself at the front, go through and take what is known as a “token pull”. You go to the front for a couple seconds, agree with the rider beside you that you are both peeling off, and go to the back.
Moving About In A Group: If you need to go to the back of the group, or need to move out away from the side of road because the road is damaged (for example), just steadily move in whatever direction you want to go in. The key to all group riding is to do things gradually and steadily. Even if there is a rider right next to you as you pull out to the side of the road, if you do it gradually, the other rider will naturally have time to move over with you. If you do anything sudden you will likely cause a crash. This is also very important when “peeling off” and “filling a gap”.
Obstacles and Hand Signals: Now, this is a very important rule. I’ve recently seen in both the US and Australia that people in group rides have gotten into the habit of yelling. I’m not too sure where this habit has come from, so let’s set a few records straight.
When you see a hole in the road, it is absolutely NOT acceptable to yell “HOLE” at the top of your voice, then weave around it at the last minute. It is also unacceptable to yell “SLOWING” when you slow down. If you can’t see the riders in front of you are slowing down, then maybe you should stick to monopoly on a Sunday afternoon.
All obstacles should be warned of by a simple hand signal. This does not mean pointing at something for 5 minutes after you have passed it. When you see an obstacle in the road ahead of you, put your hand down and give a signal that lets the riders behind you know if which direction they should go to avoid it. Traditionally a quick wave of the hand will suffice.
If you only see the obstacle at the last minute, ride through it! Better to get a flat than to take down the whole group. On the subject of obstacles, please only point out those that are worth pointing out.
What obstacles are worth pointing out? I hear you ask. That’s simple. An obstacle worth pointing out is one that will damage a bike or person behind you. Please don’t point out manhole covers unless they are deeply set in the road, and don’t point out leaves or small cracks in the road, and certainly don’t point out obstacles in the next lane.
Slowing and Adjusting Speed: This is probably the biggest crash causer on group rides. For some reason, when someone slows down ahead of them, a lot of riders jump for their brakes and yank the heck out of them, almost skidding and taking everyone down with them. You should be riding ever so slightly to the side of the rider in front of you; so when they slow down, you either stop pedaling and start to slightly overlap your front wheel with their rear wheel, or you touch the brakes gradually, once again using the “wheel overlap” as a buffer zone so as not to slow down too suddenly for the riders behind you.