If you are riding behind or in front of another rider, whether you know them or not, you can both help share the load, finds Stephen Huntley.
Understanding and using the skills of group riding will help you when you’re heading out and about with a buddy, riding with a number of friends, or even simply having a rider sit in behind you on your commute.
Try and get into the habit of regularly using hand signals. They will instill confidence in those riding with you, help them avoid potential hazards and give other road users a clear indication of what you’re about to do. If there are more than two of you, the signals should be repeated and passed down the line of riders.
Hand signals invariably mean taking one hand off the brake. The front brake, operated by your right hand, is the strongest and most efficient, but the rear brake brings you to a more gradual stop; choose whichever makes you feel the most in control. Sometimes, however, you will need both hands on your handlebars or brakes to maintain control of the bike, and timely signalling is not possible. If you don’t feel very stable or safe with one hand off the handlebars, or the bike seems to drift when you lift a hand, try to regularly get on a quiet trail and practise; it’s a skill you’ll quickly pick up.
As well as the signals shown here, you may come across others while out riding. Some bunch riders throw their right elbow outwards when they want you to pass and hold up their right hand when they are stopping due to a puncture. You might also see a rider wave their hand flat over the road; that normally indicates a hazard that is spread over the road, like broken glass or loose gravel.
Using a constant hand signal when in a roundabout is also a good idea. Try to continually point directly towards the exit you will be heading out on.
And finally, one of the most effective signals is a friendly wave to a motorist or rider who has shown courtesy.
When a rider is sitting fairly close behind you in an attempt to reduce their wind resistance (drafting), they won’t have a very clear view of what’s happening up ahead, and they might not have time to see a hazard such as a pothole or a pile of broken glass. Give them as much advance warning as you can by pointing to the hazard as you approach it, and continue pointing as you go by it (but always keep your head up and your eyes on the road/trail ahead; don’t stare at the hazard).
The only legally required hand signal for a bike rider is to indicate when they are turning or changing lanes to the right, but for the benefit of following riders and other road users, you should also indicate a left turn. Put your arm out in a straight line and point your hand towards the direction you are going. Be confident and unambiguous with the action and the signal. If you are moving right, do a very deliberate head check first, then signal. The head check and the arm movement combined are a clear indication to those behind, including drivers, that you are about to move right.
If you’re approaching a parked car, or some other obstacle which you and the following riders will need to get round, swing your left hand behind the small of your back and point to the right. If you’re going to have to pull out to get around, have a look backwards over your right shoulder (a head check) to see if there’s anything coming up behind you before making the manoeuver.
Riders may be following at a very close range, and bikes can pull up very quickly, so this is a signal you should use regularly as you slow down or prepare to stop. Throw your right arm back towards the following rider with your fingers spread and your open palm sweeping towards them. Make this signal very definite and pronounced, and hold your hand back for a few seconds to emphasise it even more.
5. Please overtake
There are times when you’ll want the following rider or riders to move ahead of you; maybe because you need to ride at a slower pace, or perhaps you are sick of being the one doing all the hard work into the wind. Use a pronounced sweeping motion with your right forearm and hand, palm facing forward, and repeat a couple of times. If it’s appropriate, move slightly to the left as you do this signal to make passing easier.
Verbal calls are another valuable tool to use when riding.
Call out “Passing” when overtaking a rider (always overtake on their right, and pass with consideration and care). If a car is coming up behind, call out “Car back.” Also call out “Door” in a very loud voice if one is about to open on you; it alerts following riders, and may freeze the car occupant into holding the door unopened.
You can also call out the name of any hazard as you’re approaching and pointing to it, and when signaling an obstacle ahead you can shout out the name of the obstacle; for example “Car up.” In a group of riders it can also help to call out “Stopping” or “Slowing” as well as doing the appropriate hand signal.
A huge advantage of riding behind someone is that they take the force of the headwind, while you cruise along in their slipstream. You’ll only get the full benefit if you’re close enough; about 1-1.5m when you’re learning the skill, and as you get confident, about a bike wheel distant. Allow greater distances in poor conditions, and when going downhill.
You have to be constantly vigilant and alert when riding this close to someone. Don’t get caught staring down at their back wheel; keep your head up. There are three things you should be constantly scanning: the bum/middle-back of the rider ahead to judge how close they are; over their right shoulder to see what’s happening up the road; and through their front wheel so you’re seeing the condition of the road you’re about to ride over.
When drafting, don’t overlap any part of your front wheel with the back wheel of the rider ahead; always stay behind unless overtaking. You can line up directly behind the back wheel of the rider in front, but many riders like to line up very slightly to one side; this gives a clearer view ahead and a bit more room to manoeuver.
Be wary of sitting in too close behind someone seated and riding up a hill. If they get out of the saddle they may dramatically decelerate, or even pull the bike slightly backwards, and you’ll be on top of them before you know it.
- Try to ride predictably, with no sudden movements.
- If you have a mechanical fault, or any other reason to stop in
an odd place, pull over and get completely off the road/trail.
- If you happen to come across a group of riders who clearly
know each other and are riding together, don’t automatically
assume you can join their group; be polite, and ask.
- Try not to brake too hard, or too often. Look ahead and
anticipate, and if you need to slow down, try sitting up and
increasing your wind resistance; your drag can often achieve
the desired effect.
- Don’t always be the draftee; if you’re able, take your turn
riding into the headwind.
- You are legally allowed to ride two-abreast, as long as you’re
not more than 1.5m apart. But common sense should indicate
that sometimes it just isn’t appropriate. It might be unsafe
(for example, over the crest of a hill following a blind corner)
or you might be inconsiderately holding up traffic. Use your
judgement, and err on the side of caution and good manners.
- And a final courtesy note; if you wear well-worn lycra knicks,
when you bend over on the saddle they can become very
taut and transparently thin – like sheer tights – and will give
those following a very clear, and perhaps unwelcome, view of
your rear end. If you’re not sure how threadbare your knicks
have become, get a (close) friend to check you out from
behind while riding.
1. The lower back
Judge your following distance by looking at the lower back of the rider in front. Do not focus on the rider’s rear wheel.
2. Over the shoulder
Glance over the shoulder of the rider in front to see what is coming up ahead of you.
3. The front wheel
Glance down at the front wheel of the rider ahead to check on the state of the road you are about to ride over.
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