Group Riding

Harry Clark, ABATE of New York Safety Officer

As Safety Officer, one of the most often asked questions is, "Can you do something about group riding?" I've been asked that by Chapter Presidents, and even by the ABATE of New York President. And the reason I'm asked to help with group riding is that plenty of people realize that what goes on during group rides is not quite what it should be. We've had problems with group rides, and there have been serious accidents. Chapter members have asked me to work on group riding because they have experienced incidents they did not approve of during group rides.

People go on group rides to enjoy the ride and socialize with their fellow riders. It just isn't as much fun if it isn't done safely. People resent being exposed to extra risk by others' actions. It takes knowledge to do a group ride safely, and have it be an enjoyable experience for all.

As a starter, I would suggest that everyone look into the subject. You can easily Google information on group riding on the Internet. I did a very quick search and came up with some good sites. For example, here's one from the AMA: http://www.ama-cycle.org/roadride/groupRide.asp That page has seventeen tips on group riding, with a link to a page with hand signals: http://www.ama-cycle.org/roadride/groupRideSignals.asp There is yet another link to the MSF, where your Chapter can purchase material on group riding: https://store.msf-usa.org/Store/StoreItems.aspx?cid=1 It took me less than 5 minutes to find those links. There is plenty of information out there. If you enjoy group riding, then take some time and study up on the subject. Your Chapter should do this and provide training, especially to Road Captains.

I won't go into all the points covered by the above articles. What I'll try to do is cover the very basics, and try to explain why it is so important that these basic rules of group riding be followed.

One of the most important rules of group riding is the staggered formation. At anything above 5 mph, riders must stagger their positions in the group. Generally, the first rider takes the left wheel path and the next rider the right wheel path. These two must stay in their separate wheel paths, and never ride side by side, but instead provide one second following distance from each other. Following riders alternate wheel paths, and keep two seconds behind the rider in front. So whichever wheel path you are in, you must provide a full two seconds of distance between yourself and the rider in front of you in your wheel path. You will be one second behind the rider in front of you who is in the other wheel path.

Why must this be done? This is to prevent accidents by allowing each rider a full range of motion to avoid a collision. In a staggered formation, every rider is free to move left or right in an emergency, and has room to stop.

What would happen if there was no staggered formation? Well, if an oncoming car crosses the double-yellow, then what? The rider closest to the double yellow can't move to his right because there is a bike in his way. He's screwed.

There are more things wrong with riding side by side. Even without an oncoming car crossing the double yellow, the guy on the right is not in the right wheel path, he's more likely right near the edge of pavement. On a road without paved shoulders, he's flirting with disaster. He is greatly increasing his chances of running off the road, and having to deal with a drop-off and loose gravel. If he goes past the edge of pavement, he's going down. The guy on the left isn't in the left wheel path, he's crowding the double-yellow and increasing his risk of getting sideswiped by oncoming traffic. I'll have more to say on that subject later.

Staggered formation isn't something nice to do. It's required, not just for your safety, but for the safety of all the riders on the ride.

And as the AMA article points out, there are situations, like a curvy road, where the group should go to single file formation because even the staggered formation isn't enough.

Here are some problems I see over and over on group rides. I saw them on the last ride I was on. The two-second following rule is ignored by some riders and people tailgate each other. While this may not result in an immediate accident, it doesn't make other riders happy. Observe the two second rule. To check it, count off one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand as the rider ahead of you passes a pole or delineator post. You need to be able to count off two seconds before you reach that same object. The two-second rule is part of the staggered formation. It's required.

I see people riding side by side, sometimes for miles. Ride staggered, or ride with someone else.

We've all seen the macho guy, straddling the double-yellow line on his bike. The obvious hazard is colliding with an oncoming car. But there is another hazard, one that I'm even more concerned about. You won't find me hanging half my bike and my left leg over the double-yellow. But when a rider in front of me does that, he puts me at greater risk. How? Because by doing so, he is "pushing" oncoming cars over, away from the double-yellow. Some of our roads don't have paved shoulders. Push an oncoming car off the road and what happens? That car's right wheels may encounter a drop-off and the driver may over-correct in trying desperately to get his car back on the road. He may wind up losing control and swerving right into the line of bikers!

Ride in the left wheel path, or the right wheel path. Even if you don't push an oncoming car off the pavement, you often push that car over to the edge, where it kicks up clouds of dust the rest of the group has to ride through!

Maybe your bikes faster than mine, maybe not. You don't have to blast past me in my lane to prove it. In a well run group ride, overtaking other riders is kept to a minimum, and done as safely as possible. What may be considered fun for one rider may tick off several others. Group riding is a social event, so keep it safe and keep it fun.

Another thing to consider is that, legally speaking, each rider is entitled to his own lane: all of it, even on a group ride! Blasting past another rider in the same lane is technically illegal. Let's face it, if you are riding on a road by yourself, in the right wheel path, you wouldn't appreciate a car sliding by you in the left wheel path! If a car passes you, it had better be in the other lane. At a minimum, keep your fellow riders' well-being in mind while on group rides.

Let's keep the drinking under control. The best group rides don't make beer stops, or keep them to a minimum. It isn't all that much fun to be in a group ride where horsing around starts, after the second or third beer stop, and you don't know who's riding DUI and who isn't. Again, group riding is about fun, so keep it that way by riding responsibly. Ride straight.

Our Chapter, Finger Lakes, is re-evaluating our group riding policy. As the AMA article above points out, stopping traffic at intersections is illegal, and risky. And just because traffic may be blocked at an intersection for a parade style run, doesn't mean traffic will be stopped when you get to that intersection. Hell, flagmen on paving jobs can't always control traffic. Never assume traffic will be stopped as you get to an intersection on a group ride. You are responsible for your own safety, and must ride defensively at all times. Even when police are blocking an intersection, you must consider all possibilities and ride with extreme caution. Our Chapter will likely do our group rides without blocking intersections. We'll just have to spread our Ride Captains out so that they can lead riders to the next stop. We may not all get to the next stop at the same time, but as long as someone knows the way, it won't matter.

There are a lot of riders who look forward eagerly to group rides on the weekends, and sometimes during the week. Please sharpen your group riding for your safety, the safety of your fellow riders, and the added enjoyment of all.

Ride safe. - Harry Clark, ABATE of New York Safety Officer