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Group Riding Skills / Etiquette

The following are some tips on road-riding in a group generally, and riding with Tripleshot specifically.  They are worth reviewing whether you are new to group riding or an old hand.


Basic Principles

The most important person on any ride is everyone else.  Always consider the safety and comfort of the riders around you.  This is the bedrock principle underlying every Tripleshot ride.  If it doesn’t work for you, please ride somewhere else… alone might be best!

Be predictable to the riders around you.  Avoid sudden changes in speed or trajectory.  Brake and accelerate smoothly.  Hold your line through turns.  Relax and ride smoothly.

Be aware and think ahead.  Look down the road—not at the wheel in front of you.  Look where you want to go, not at what you want to avoid (or you’ll ride straight into it)!  Anticipate the need to slow, speed up, or change course by watching the road, upcoming intersections, potential hazards, and riders ahead of you.

Communicate effectively.  Call out potential hazards or use hand signals as appropriate.  Always pass messages (verbal or visual) up or down the line.

Never drop a rider on a no-drop ride (all B and C rides are no-drop, as is Sunday Social).  Gather up after hills and sprints.  Never leave a rider on their own when they have a mechanical, especially when the weather is cold or the rider has fallen.  Riders will sometimes insist on you leaving them… sometimes it’s best to insist that you’ll stay and help.

Always error on the side of safety.  Live (and let others live) to ride another day.  Winning a sprint is never worth taking major risks.

Keep groups to a safe size.  Groups should be no larger than 12 riders.  To allow for picking up a few riders on the road, groups should not leave the parking lot with more than 12 riders.  If your group grows to more than 16, split it in the middle, have the back half soft pedal so that a several-car-lengths gap opens between the groups, and ride the rest of the ride as two separate groups.

Speak up firmly but respectfully if you see something unsafe such as a group that has gotten too big, or someone that is riding dangerously.  Listen respectfully to the advice of others.  If there are disagreements, sort them out over coffee.

Never attack on a hazard.  This is primarily an issue for A rides, which are drop rides and place a premium on speed.  Riders in the front should always wait—soft pedal, or even put a foot down—for riders in back if the group is split by a light turning red, a turning car, or some other hazard like a deer jumping onto the road.  This is etiquette practiced in the pro peloton, and for good reason.  Attacking on a hazard encourages other riders to take unnecessary risks and is unsporting conduct.

Be polite to drivers.  Don’t tailgate slow drivers or drivers who cut the group off.  Don’t crowd up alongside cars at stops.  Instead wait behind them.  Under no circumstance should cyclists pull around a car on the left-hand-side, unless if the car is turning right or pulling off the road.  Keep in mind that a group of cyclists crowding in close can be intimidating to a driver, even if that’s not the group’s intent.

Be an ambassador for cycling and for Tripleshot.  Each of us is responsible for improving relations between club cyclists and the rest of the general public.  Passing close by pedestrians on the Galloping Goose Regional Trail or blowing stoplights gives us all a bad name.

Common Ride Formations

Single file paceline.  This is self-explanatory.  While it’s not social, a single-file line can sometimes be very efficient.  If you’re in a small group trying to move fast with riders of mixed abilities, a single file line can often be the fastest approach.  Let strong riders take long pulls at the front, and have weaker riders take short pulls or skip their pulls altogether.  Having weaker riders stay at the back will give them the greatest protection from the wind.

Two-up paceline.  A two-up paceline is one where two lines of riders travel side by side.  This is social, and it also tends to make the group more visible to drivers.  Riding two-up also halves the length of the group that a driver needs to pass, thus making passing easier and safer for drivers in many situations.  One major problem with a two-up paceline is that when riders finish their pull at the front, they drop to the back, thus making the group temporarily 4-wide.  For this reason, riders at the front should finish their pull, keep pedalling strongly as they pull to the side, and then stop pedalling (and even tap the brakes) to get quickly to the back of the line.  A brief reacceleration as they approach the back will help them reconnect to the group.

Note that large two-up pacelines can be a nuisance to drivers and pose a risk to riders by encouraging unsafe passing by impatient drivers.  For this reason, we typically limit group size to no more than 12 riders.

Rotating paceline.  This is a two-up group that constantly rotates.  While the rotation tends to go clockwise it does sometimes go counterclockwise and expert riders would argue that the group should rotate into the wind.  A rotating paceline can be a good formation when riders are equally matched.  Because the best rotation is a smooth rotation, riders share the pulls equally.  The group is more compact than a two-up paceline, because it never goes 4-wide.  But it’s not very social, as the person next to you is constantly changing.  B1 and faster rides tend to employ a rotating paceline on at least some of the ride.

Speed dating.  This is a hybrid between a two-up paceline and a rotating paceline.  The group rides two-up, but after a minute or so on the front, the outside (left) lead rider pulls in front of the inside (right) lead rider, and the outside line moves up by two riders.  The group proceeds like this for another minute or so, and the procedure is repeated.  This means each rider spends about 2 minutes on the front.  Advantages of this method are that 1) the group never goes 4-wide; and 2) everyone gets to spend about a minute chatting to the person next to them before moving onto the next person.  We often employ speed-dating on our Sunday Social ride.

Interacting with Drivers

There are many opportunities to convince drivers that cyclists are well-meaning neighbours on the road.  Each time a driver yields to a cyclist (even when it’s the law to do so) or waits patiently before passing safely presents an opportunity for a friendly nod or wave.  And when a group comes to a stop sign, there’s often a chance for the riders in front to wave a car or two through, if it clears the way for the group to proceed as one.

Often drivers will need to wait a bit before safely passing a group.  With a large group, trying to quickly single up can be dangerous, so it’s usually best to hold formation.  Make sure to ride as far right as is safe.  Beginning riders tend to leave too much space between them and rider to their side.  Avoid this.

On some sections of road, the group will ride single file because this has been deemed the safest approach given the group’s past experience.  In other cases, it’s safest to ride two-up.  While many drivers think two-up groups are harder to pass than single-file groups, this is often not the case.  For a given group size, a two-up group is half the length and therefore quicker to pass.  Two-up groups are definitely easier to pass in cases where the car would have to cross the yellow line to safely pass a single-file line.

Drivers will sometimes do things that are inconsiderate or even dangerous.  In almost all cases, the best thing to do is turn the other cheek.  Yelling or hitting the side of a car might feel good in the moment, but it may make things more dangerous in the moment and it’s almost certain to make things worse for all cyclists in the future.  

Calling Out Hazards

Anyone who sees a potential hazard should alert the group by either calling it out verbally (i.e. 'Hole!', 'Deer!', 'Slowing!'), giving a hand signal (i.e. signals for slowing, move right, move left), or pointing it out, as is the usual approach to potholes and branches.

Depending on where you are in the paceline, you will have different responsibilities to point out hazards and keep the group safe.  Riders in the front have the best view of potential hazards down the road, including branches, potholes, cars pulling out, etc...  Riders in the back have the best view of cars approaching from behind, and should call 'Car Back!' as it approaches and then 'Passing!' as it starts to pass the group.  It is especially important to call 'Car Back!' in a two-up situation where riders on the front are getting ready to drop back.  You never want the group to go 4-wide with a car approaching from behind.

Because riders in the front and back of a group typically can’t hear each other, riders in the middle of the group are responsible for passing messages up and down the line.  If you’re in the middle and hear 'Car Back!' called out from behind, you should call it forward.  If you fail to do so, the outside rider on the front may inadvertently pull out in front of that approaching car.  Similarly, if 'Deer!' is called from the front, riders in the middle should repeat 'Deer!' to make sure riders down the line can hear it.  On a windy day, messages may have to be relayed more than once to get from one end of the group to the other.

Note that one can get too extreme about pointing out hazards.  Tiny sticks, puddles, and divots in the road don’t need to be pointed out.  There’s a risk that if you 'cry wolf' too often, people will stop paying attention to you.  With practice you’ll get to know what’s worth pointing out and what isn’t.  What’s worth pointing out may also be different for a C group than for an A group.

How to Move Up a Group (whether from C to B3 or A2 to A1)

So, you’ve been riding C for a few weeks, and you’re tempted to try B3 but worry that you’re not fast enough.  Riders are expected to self-seed into rides in a way that matches their speed to the speed of the group.  It’s arguably poor form to show up and ride with a group that you’re not strong enough to ride with.  But how can you get faster if you’re always riding in the same group?

Before moving up, you can challenge yourself in the group you’ve been riding regularly with.  Take longer pulls; give someone a strong leadout in a sprint; drop to the back and tow stragglers back to the group as needed.  These are all things you can do to make your ride harder than it is for the average person in your group.  By doing a harder C ride than the rest of the C group, you’re preparing to ride B3.

When you move up, take it easy.  Do things to conserve energy when you jump into the faster group.  Skip pulls, hide at the back of the group, get yourself behind a broad-shouldered rider who cuts a good draft.  Anticipate accelerations so you don’t find yourself chasing to get back on.  Get to the front of the group before big hills so that if you struggle you at least have a head start on the middle of the pack. 

Road races are often won by the person who conserves the most energy early in the race.  Learn from this and use various tricks to 'save matches' so that you can hang in with the group for the whole ride.  While it might seem rude to do this, you’re actually doing the group a favour.  The worst thing you can do to the group is blow yourself up by acting tougher than you are early in the ride and then have them need to slow way down to get you back to coffee.  It’s probably a good idea to tell the group you’ll be doing this, so people don’t wonder why you keep skipping pulls.  And realize that while it’s ok to skip pulls in order to hang with a group faster than you, it’s terrible etiquette to do that and then contest the sprint.  Sit up when the sprint starts, or offer someone a lead-out if you find you have strong legs at the end of the ride.  Each ride you can try to do a couple more pulls.  Eventually you’ll earn the right to sprint.

Smooth Rotating Pacelines

The key to a smooth rotating paceline is *not accelerating* as you approach the front of the fast line of riders.

Rotating pacelines seem more complicated than they really are.  If you think about the forward velocity of points around the edge of a spinning puck speeding toward the goal, you realize each point is moving forward at a different speed, due to the rotation of the puck.  If you think of a rotating paceline as riders rotating in a circle, this makes the paceline seem very tricky to coordinate.

But in practice a rotating paceline is much simpler than that.  It’s just two lines of riders where one line is moving forward faster than the other.  Suppose one line is moving forward at 30km/h and the other line is moving forward at 29km/h.  If each line continues at that speed indefinitely, then the fast line will gradually pull away from the slow line and the two lines will part ways.  To prevent this from happening, the front rider on the fast line 'rotates' to the front of the slow line, decelerating slightly to lower their speed from 30km/h to 29km/h.  At roughly the same time the back rider on the slow line 'rotates' to the back of the fast line, accelerating slightly to raise their speed from 29km/h to 30km/h.

Notice that—in principle—the only point in the rotation where acceleration occurs is when a rider rotates from the slow line to the fast line.  Once that rider reaches 30km/h, there’s no need for any further acceleration… period.

Contrast this to experience you’ve had in rotating pacelines.  How many times have you found yourself getting near the front of the rotation when the rider in front of you accelerates and pulls over to the slow line?  If you just read the description above, you realize this makes no sense.  Once up to speed, the velocity of riders in the fast line should remain constant until they pull over to the slow line, at which point they should decelerate.

So why do people accelerate at the front?  There are two reasons.  1) The rider in front of them did it, so they’re just accelerating to keep up; and 2) they want to hurry up and get out of the wind.  Neither of these is a good reason to accelerate.

If the rider in front of you accelerates and you respond by accelerating, you just perpetuate the pacelining error of the person in front of you and impose it on the person behind you.  Resist the urge, maintain your speed, and the riders behind you will thank you for it.  You’ve corrected the mistake for the whole group.  If, next time around, the rider in front of you does the same thing, call out 'Don’t Surge!'

What happens to the group if the person on the front of the fast line accelerates?  At first, the group speeds up.  If riders on front start rotating to the slow line at higher speeds than before, then the slow line either has to speed up to keep pace, or the rider on the front of the slow line gets gapped and left out in the wind.  Eventually the group will tire from moving at a faster-than-optimal pace, or a weak rider will choke, gaps will form, and the group will have to slow to regroup.  Either way, the group likely ends up needlessly losing time and/or energy.

Rotating pacelines work best when riders are closely matched in strength.  The paceline can really only go as fast as its weakest member.  Consider one- or two-up (non-rotating) pacelines in mixed groups of stronger and weaker riders.  This allows weaker riders to take shorter pulls at the front, or to skip their pulls altogether.  Another option is to maintain the rotating paceline, while having weak riders sit out the rotation.  The rider immediately behind the rotating riders should act as 'gatekeeper', telling riders on the back when to rotate over (call 'Up Up Jen!' for example when it’s Jen’s turn to rotate over to the fast line).  If a weak rider is inexperienced, it can be useful to put an experienced rider in the gatekeeper position (sitting out the rotation), with the weak rider sitting in the draft of the experienced rider.  This tends to shelter the weak rider from the wind better than making them the gatekeeper.

Passing Other Riders

 On our rides, we often encounter cyclists commuting or doing solo rides.  Since a group tends to move faster than a solo rider, we often find ourselves passing these cyclists.  Or a faster group may pass a slower group when doing laps of a particular course.  Passing cyclists requires care and is often done poorly, even by experienced riders.

Announce your presence.  Call 'Passing!' well before you reach the cyclist or group you’re going to pass.  Make sure they hear you, and call again if it’s unclear.  Give them time to hear you and adjust their position.  Commuters often wobble a bit when they hear a warning shouted, so don’t shout right as you reach them.

Single up if necessary.  If you’re passing in a narrow lane, you may need to single up your group before executing the pass.  Do this well before you reach whoever you’re passing, not as you’re passing.

Give the person/group room to breathe.  Commuters are unused to riding elbow-to-elbow and may panic and react erratically if you pass very close to them.  Keep them comfortable and your group safe, by giving them plenty of space.

Stay wide of whoever you are passing, until the entire group has passed the rider.  It’s tempting for the lead riders to pull around a commuter and then move back toward the curb fairly quickly.  But this will cause the riders behind the leaders to move toward the curb even as they’re still passing the commuter.  If you notice your group moving toward the right too soon after passing a commuter or another group, call 'Stay Wide!' and don’t follow them to the right.  The riders behind you will likely follow your lead.

Gravel Rides

While this page is written with road riding in mind, much of it applies to gravel and trail riding.  Club gravel rides typically don’t include pelotons and instead take a single-file, follow-the-leader format on trails.  However, connecting trails often involves riding on the road, or wide paved trails, when road etiquette applies.

In addition, gravel riders should always ride in a way that respects other trail users.  Always keep careful physical distance from runners and walkers.  Use a bell to warn when approaching both blind corners and other trail users from the rear.  When passing other users, reduce speed, give a wide berth, offer a friendly greeting, and let them know how many more riders to expect as there are often gaps between riders.

When planning routes, ride leaders should always consider restrictions on off-road cycling and ensure routes do not cause environmental damage or endanger other trail users.  To assist, the Club has created a Google map of Restricted Cycling Trails that is based on reviews of municipal bylaws, organizational / institutional landowner policies, legal boundaries, and observed signage.

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