Some Pointers for Group Riding

by John S. Allen, Effective Cycling Instructor
Former President, Boston Area Bicycle Coalition

Riding with other bicyclists is fun, but it also carries the risk of an accident with possible injury to yourself or others. Reduce the risks: ride predictably and look out for yourself.

Obey the Law

The rules of the road apply to bicyclists, the same way as to motorists. You are on your own\(emdon't play follow-the-leader with another rider. What may is safe for rider ahead of you may not be safe for you. When driving a car, would you follow another car through a stop sign? It's the same idea. Obey traffic signs and signals, for the good reputation of bicyclists everywhere, and for your safety. If you do get into an accident, you are in a much better position to collect on a driver's insurance if you are legally in the right.

Wear a Helmet

Three of every four fatal and disabling bicycling injuries are brain injuries. A helmet reduces your chance of a fatal accident by two-thirds.

Ride To Be Predictable

Ride in a straight line. Don't weave in front of other riders or cars. Before pulling out to pass, glance behind you to make sure it's safe to change lane position.

Keep clear of of road-edge hazards\(emgutter trash, potholes, doors of parked cars\(emso you don't have to swerve when one appears. It is much safer to be steady and predictable, even though you are farther into the road.

Bicyclists may legally make a left turn as a pedestrian or as a driver. For an adult bicyclist, it is equally safe and much faster to turn left as a driver, by first changing lanes to the center of the roadway or the left turn lane.

Riding with Other Bicyclists

Ride single-file\(empass another rider or ride alongside to talk only on a wide, straight road where you won't block a car approaching from behind. If you see/hear one, call out "car back." Merge back into a single line before the car has to to slow and wait. A rear-view mirror helps you keep track of the traffic behind you. Don't follow another bicyclist too closely\(emand when other riders are following you, avoid abrupt stops if possible.

Passing Other Bicyclists

Pass other bicyclists on the left only. Do not pass on the right and force another bicyclist farther out into the traffic stream. Give the bicyclist you are passing three feet of side clearance. When you are about to pass another bicyclist, call out "on your left." If you hear someone else say "on your left," don't look back\(emjust keep riding straight.

When stopping at an intersection, it is tempting for riders at the rear of the group to ride up next to those at the front, blocking the whole right side of the road. Don't do it\(emit's illegal and discourteous.

Lasting the Distance

If you're just getting into riding longer distances, the following information could make a big difference:

Bicycle Adjustments

For easy pedaling, the bicycle must fit you comfortably. The saddle should be high enough that your heel reaches the pedal with your leg straight.

If you feel that the saddle has to be lower to be "safe," it is probably because you try to stay on the saddle when you stop. Instead, use one of the pedals as step when you get on and off. Ask another rider to show you how.

Try out minor adjustments in saddle height and other dimensions of their bicycle. They can make a big improvement in efficiency and comfort.

Don't Use High Gear!

Many people think it is good exercise to put their bike in high gear and push hard. Actually, this just makes your legs sore and wears you out in a couple of miles! You'll go faster and feel better if you shift down and pedal lightly. Save the hard pushing for quick acceleration or short, steep climbs. Toeclips and straps, or one of the new locking shoe-pedal systems, help with pedaling efficiency too.

Eat in Nibbles

While you are riding, frequently eat small amounts of high- energy (sugary and starchy) foods before you are hungry, and drink water before you are thirsty. Avoid hard-to-digest fatty foods when riding, since you need the energy right away.


Make sure your bike is ready to go. If you have any questions about your bicycle, most bicycle clubs have many members who are fine mechanics and will be glad to help you. Also, the following accessories are highly recommended:
  • Hardshell helmet in case of an accident.

  • U-lock, such as Kryptonite or Citadel, or very sturdy cable lock. Even if you don't intend to park your bike, you may have to leave it somewhere if it breaks.

  • Bicycling gloves for comfort on the handlebars and to save your hands from a sandpapering if you fall.

  • Bicyclist's water bottle mounted on the bicycle frame. This lets you drink as you ride. Fill it with water or diluted fruit juice. Too much sugar will make you thirstier the more you drink.

  • Handlebar bag or other small bag mounted on the bicycle to carry extra clothing, a camera, snack, tools. A small backpack is all right, but inconvenient -- and uncomfortable in hot weather.

  • Small tool kit with wrenches, a screwdriver and tire-patching supplies; frame-mounted tire pump. Members of most bike clubs are helpful with minor repairs, and can help you learn to fix a flat too.

  • Rear-view mirror, mounted on your helmet, glasses, or handlebars. Monitor traffic on the road behind you as well as the other bicyclists with whom you are riding.

  • Encountering Pedestrians

    by Doug Mink, BCOM Bikeways Coordinator
    Former President, Bicycle Coalition of Massachusetts

    The first principle in dealing with pedestrians from a bike is that they don't know how to deal with you, either. Pedestrians are won't always react to a bicycle even if they see it. They get upset if you call attention to yourself in the wrong way, yet they also get upset if they don't see you until you're too close.


    If meeting a pedestrian head-on on a bikepath, the bicyclist, as the faster moving participant in the encounter, must chose where to go. Pick the side with the most room, and catch their eye by moving around a bit. Slow down and point to the direction you plan to pass. If you can't get their attention, slow down even more, and swing wider around them.

    From the Rear

    When approaching a pedestrian from the rear, pass as far away as you can to avoid startling them. Say "Passing left," or "Passing right" to let them know that there's a bicycle approaching and what action they should take. If they have headphones on, you might need to shout; otherwise, just use a slightly louder than normal voice. Don't wait until you are on top of them, but don't yell from so far away that they won't know they're affected. As always, slow down to pass.


    Pedestrians in crosswalks seem to have a hard time estimating the speed with which a bicycle is approaching and tend to assume it's moving slower than it is. If you see a pedestrian approaching a crosswalk, prepare to slow down, and try to catch their attention. Remember that they're watching for cars, not bikes. If they step out in front of you, stop.

    Kids on Bikepaths

    Parents often take children for walks on bikepaths because they're isolated from the dangerous streets. Give them as wide a berth as you can. Never get between a child and its parent, and make sure they know that you know that they're in front of you by smiling or saying "Hi." A similar rule can be followed for dealing with dogs and their masters.

    Bicyclists and pedestrians fill similar places in the transportation grid. With cooperation, we can get and keep pleasant places to bicycle and walk.

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