Knowing the correct etiquette and having the proper bike-handling skills before you head out on a group ride is important to prevent accidents from occurring. Unfortunately, even if you have the knowledge and skill required, dangerous situations can’t always be avoided.
Whether it’s touching tires or a getting a flat at high speed, it’s important to stay calm and relaxed — and not slam on your brakes. Learn what you need to do to avoid dangerous group ride scenarios to keep you and those around you safe.
Because of the number of cyclists riding in close proximity, one of the most common causes of crashes on group rides is touching tires. This can occur from things like overlapping wheels, riders behind you not paying attention to slowing speeds or the bike moving backward when someone stands for a climb. Whatever the case, recovering properly can help keep you upright and prevent a group pile up.
Survival Tip: The trick is to steer into the rider’s wheel instead of trying to move away, while also slowing your speed to create space. This helps you maintain your line of travel and keep your balance. Steering away from the wheel touching yours instead leads to an overcorrection that can cause you to lose your balance.
Unfortunately, flat tires don’t often happen when you’re riding alone in a parking lot at slow speeds. When a flat happens in a group and you’re riding above 20 miles per hour, the situation can be dangerous and potentially cause an accident with those around you.
Survival Tip: Don’t slam on the brakes immediately. To be safe and keep others around you from crashing into your backside, try to control your speed and yell to those around you that you’ve got a flat and raise one hand in the air. This lets others know you’ve got a mechanical issue and need additional space as you move to the side of the road. Keep control of your bike and slowly steer toward the shoulder once it’s safe to do so.
Sometimes the dangerous scenario you’ll need to avoid is the crash that happens right in front of you. Since other cyclists can go down quickly and leave very little time for you and others behind you to react, one wrong turn can lead to a group pile up.
Survival Tip: When someone in front of you does go down, don’t cave to the initial instinct to slam on the brakes. Look for space to either side and concentrate on going forward past the accident. This helps others behind you follow your line to safety instead of everyone braking and potentially landing on top of each other. If there isn’t space on the road and you have the skill to do so, moving to a gravel shoulder or bunny hopping onto a sidewalk are also safer options.
While it happens most often in races when cyclists are jockeying for position or lining up for a sharp turn, bumping shoulders or rubbing elbows can happen during group rides, too. Like any other dangerous scenario, the important thing to remember is to not overreact.
Survival Tip: When someone bumps shoulders with you, lean into it, pushing your shoulder into theirs while keeping your handlebars away. This keeps your bars from becoming entangled with theirs and helps you maintain your center of gravity, which is important if you want to stay upright. Also avoid sticking out your elbows to protect your space, as another cyclist bumping into an extended elbow (rather than a shoulder) can take you off your line and make you lose your balance.
Potholes, bumps, gravel, glass and other hazards on the road are common obstacles you’ll need to avoid. When riding in a group, this task is slightly more complicated than when riding solo because you’ll have much less time to react if you’re in the middle or back of the pack where your view may be obstructed.
Survival Tip: If you’re the first person to see the hazard, make sure you have space to steer around it without obstructing another cyclist’s line of travel. As you pass the obstacle, point to it and/or call out to the riders behind you so they have more time to react. In a situation where you don’t have the space to avoid dropped water bottle or piece of metal in the roadway, learning to bunny hop small obstacles can be a life saver.
Group rides are filled with riders of different experience levels. While you’d hope everyone involved knows the basic group ride etiquette, this isn’t always the case. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to keep an eye out for cyclists who may be less confident in their bike-handling and aren’t holding a steady line.
Survival Tip: Once you’ve identified a cyclist who may be swerving or unsteady, try to give them extra space. Don’t follow their wheel too closely and be prepared for unexpected reactions when riding next to them. When you stop to regroup or fuel, try to offer some friendly advice. You can also offer to go on a few two- or three-person training rides with them so you can teach them some basic skills in a less stressful environment.