Riding in groups of other riders can be and is a great experience, and those that do it well…do it very well, and those that don’t…are placing themselves and others at great risk.
There are many forms of group riding; either 2-3 or more friends just getting together and riding to a destination, or there can be organised group or club rides or there can be processional type group rides…something that would be witnessed on a Toy Run or Memorial Run for example.
One of the key problems that causes accidents from group rides, can be traced back before the ride has even started. This relates to planning and preparation and making sure each group and individuals within that group know what they are supposed to be doing and what is expected of them.
I have discussed in other articles some of the factors in group riding, but here I am focussing on the mental preparation and what the rider might be thinking during the group ride.
Planning the Ride – This doesn’t have to be a long convoluted formal pre ride briefing, but letting each one in the group know the route and the destination is always a good place to start. Discuss what your travelling speeds are likely to be and discuss how close you will be riding next to each other. Depending on the type of group ride you are doing and the experience levels of each rider will largely determine the bike spacing, but remember to make allowances for all experience levels, not only as individual riders but the experience of riding in a group.
Discuss factors along the route that may present potential hazards and consider issues of riding in high density traffic or on narrow lanes or roads with lots of bends or junctions. One of the greatest hazards in group riding is when riders who are falling behind feel the need to catch up with the rest of the group. Pay particular attention when performing overtaking manoeuvres whilst in the group and whilst trying to catch up or when leading the group.
One of the best strategies for group riding is to ride as individuals and never feel overly compelled to keep the group together. If it is a long distance ride, then consider having regular pre planned stops for resting and to regroup.
Many groups and clubs regularly do group rides and for the most part are very proficient and by the very nature of being in a club or regular group, the riders are better at planning rides and communicating how that ride should be conducted and what each rider’s role is. In fact, being in a club or regular group will usually enable better communication regarding rider safety issues and the flow of information from rider to rider will also be improved.
Many groups and clubs may offer some form of basic tuition into group riding practices and there are numerous strategies that can be employed, e.g., the marker system or drop off system etc, however all riders should always be responsible for their own riding practices and standards. Many groups and clubs that have group rides may appoint a particular person or persons who are responsible for organising rides and preparing riders, so a conversation with someone like that is really useful.
Many accidents in group rides occur on the return leg from a long day’s ride or returning from a few days break away with friends. Although many of the dynamics that affect individual riders is the same for group riders, however, when the group is unstructured or not planned, that is what will present the greatest risk.
On return legs, tiredness, dehydration and low blood sugar levels start to take their toll and coupled with trying to maintain a group and high traffic density, may lead to lapses in concentration that may lead to an accident or may lead to riders taking extra risks or narrowing their safety margin in order to either keep the group together or suffer from the ‘get-home-itis’
This can affect all road users, and by the rider being aware of the potential hazards in group riding, may enable a safer and incident free ride.
Where there is less organisation and less planning in a group, is where there is greater probability of being in an accident, and this is certainly my experience of dealing with group accidents. It has been more prevalent in smaller groups of riding friends but it has occurred in larger groups also.
Having a plan for the ride is all well and good, but each rider should also have a strategy when things do not go to plan. E.g., If there is an issue with the planned route and the ride has to take a detour, then it would be wise to have a quick get together to discuss the implications.
Each rider within the group should have their own interests in mind, but also the interests of the other riders in mind also. Looking out for each other and having the big picture considered will enable the riders to become an integral part of the riding group and will improve the communication before, during and after the ride.
If you are considering joining a group ride, then always try to get as much information about the ride before hand and if in doubt always ask another rider within the group for advice or their opinion.
If you are considering riding with a group of friends for the day, then take just five minutes before each leg of the ride to discuss the route, speeds, spacing and traffic flow and general hazards.
At all times give yourself extra time and space and never be tempted to do anything you are not comfortable with. Even if you arrive many hours after everyone else at a destination…at least you arrived! Never try to keep up with a ‘faster’ rider…it really isn’t worth it in the end!