Some of this has been mentioned elsewhere on the website but it is worth reiterating the salient points.
More than anything, safety has to be key when out cycling together on club runs. Group cycling can be a safer experience than cycling alone but part of that safety has to come from the interaction between the cyclists involved.
Here are some tips (in point form) on how to keep our club runs safe:
stay in a neat group
In general we form a group made up of two lines. These lines need to be neat and harmonious. It’s not difficult to keep things well organised and it makes it safer (and easier) for everyone.
- When sitting behind another cyclist, your front wheel should be within about 10cm left or right (we recommend more than 10cm behind) of the back wheel ahead of you. Please do not swing out to one side or the other – there simply isn’t room. You greatly increase the chances of catching the rough edge of the road and/or being hit by a car or another cyclist. In addition to the danger, sitting ‘out’ (rather than ‘behind’) loses some of your precious drafting ability and we all want to get as much protection from the wind as we possibly can.
- The left column of cyclists should be 1 to 1.5m from the side of the road. There is nothing to be gained from ‘hugging the gutter’ and so much to lose with loose stone, glass, badly laid gratings etc. all likely to make an appearance close to the road’s edge. The gap between the left column and the side of the road is normally determined by the position of the right column – 1m is the minimum safe distance this gap should be.
- The right column should stay out near the middle of the road. Doing so deters motorists from attempting to push past when there is traffic coming from the opposite direction. Although our immediate reaction is to keep away from the middle of the road, motorists will give us the same amount of passing space regardless of where we are positioned. Remaining around 1m from the centre of the road should remove the opportunity for dangerous overtaking manoeuvres. On tight bends the group may need to slide over a little further from the middle in case an oncoming motorist’s lane discipline is less than it should be. Even then, the movement should only be another 0.5m or so at most.
- To enable greater drafting efficiency, please try to keep around 0.5m (bar end to bar end) from the cyclist to your side. Initially people can be quite apprehensive about doing this so feel free to build up confidence by starting off a little further apart and gradually learning to get closer. It requires all cyclists to keep a straight line – there are elements of trust and bike handling involved. If you feel the cyclist to your side doesn’t keep his/her line well enough to enable you to stay 0.5m from him/her please mention it to him/her (in a constructive manner) so you can both remedy the situation. Communication is extremely important in keeping the group safe.
- Unless it’s the very specific situation where you are at the very back of the group, there are odd numbers and you’re on your own – please please please don’t let your bicycle slide over to a position where you’re behind but ‘between’ two other cyclists. Stick to the ’10cm to either side’ behind position. There may be emergencies when you have to move ‘between’ for a second or two but that’s something to save purely for emergencies. If you’re already ‘between’ you have nowhere to go. It’s one of the worst offenders when it comes to cyclists getting knocked off their bikes and is extremely easy to avoid.
- Half-wheeling = bad practice. Keep level with the rider to your side. Do not push up the pace. Half-wheeling is very annoying. Doing it consistently will make you justifiably unpopular and unlikely to get bought a cup of coffee.
- Move with the rest of the group. When rotating riders at the front, generally clubs in this country move around in an anti-clockwise direction: The rider at the front-left drops his/her effort level slightly, front-right moves over to front-left and the rider-behind-front-right moves straight up to front-right. That’s a simple natural motion which anyone and everyone can do together. It works. Under no circumstances (no matter how clear it may seem or how small the group is) should you suddenly decide to change this order for yourself. There should be no rash decisions to move from, for example, ‘one back on the left’ to ‘front-right’. It’s not your position to move to and you will be very lucky (as will the other riders with you) if you don’t cause a big crash.
- When moving over from front-right to front-left, it is the responsibility of the left column (which sounds slightly political) to create space for the front-right rider. Normally changes occur on the sound of a whistle. When the whistle is blown nobody speeds up. The right column maintains pace and the left column ‘soft pedals’ so their speed is a tiny amount lower than the right column’s. This will smoothly create a gap for the front-right rider to move into. Under no circumstances should the left column apply their brakes on the sound of the whistle.
- When turning a corner, leave space for the person beside you. If you, for example, are on the left and the group wants to turn right, give it a wider sweep than you might do on your own – you need to give the cyclist beside you space to move too. Don’t cut across the front of people please. This leads to collisions and collisions lead to hospital appointments.
- Stay in formation. A stop at a busy junction, an uphill or a turn off the road is no reason for it to become ‘every man (or woman) for himself (or herself)’. When you have to stop, stop in the same position you were cycling in. If you were ‘fourth back on the right’ when you had to stop, you should be ‘fourth back on the right’ when you start. There is no reason for everyone to barge up to the line at at a ‘Give Way’ or ‘Stop’ sign. Likewise, if someone is a bit slower than you on a hill, please have a bit of patience, slow down and stay in position. Coming out round the side without warning is a recipe for disaster. What if the rider behind you does the same? It’s not worth it. If you’re finding things too easy, request to take longer turns at the front; You will swiftly become the most popular cyclist in Old Bleach if you do that and may never have to pay for a scone again in your life.
- Be communicative. If you ever have to do anything out of the ordinary, let people know. If you’re going to peel off and do your own thing, let others know you’re turning. It’s not pleasant for the person ‘tight on your wheel’ if you make a sudden turn without signalling. Please be considerate to others.
- Don’t cycle in the gutter. There’s absolutely no good reason to cycle within inches of the edge of the road and many many reasons not to. Hold a position out from the side, into the road. You have as much right to be on the road as anyone else and those driving motorised vehicles will not (much as it deflates our egos to admit it) have any bother passing us. Please don’t put yourself and your clubmates in harm’s way by hugging the edge of the road. You’re far more likely to pick up thorns etc. or fall into a rough patch than if you keep a position further out.
- Continue to be communicative. Inform your fellow riders about holes, obstructions, deep puddles or anything you feel would be in their best interests to know. The people behind you are visually obstructed by you and can’t see what you can. They quite possibly can’t hear anything the person in front of you has said either – be the ‘echo’ if you hear someone else mention an obstruction.
- Try to avoid braking suddenly. There are very few situations where you will be required to brake suddenly. If someone tells you a rider behind is slipping off the group, slowly decrease pace. In the horrid event where a rider in front of you ‘goes down’, go round the side (in the space you’ve kept for such emergencies by paying attention to point 2) and keep going until everyone is well clear of the fall. If you brake suddenly, the rider behind you is likely to slam into the back of you and crash, the rider behind them shall do the same etc. etc. A lot of so called ‘accidents’ can be avoided merely by not overreacting. Please don’t brake heavily unless it is required.
- Keep your hands close to the brakes at all times while you’re in the group. Although we don’t want to use the brakes it’s good to have them readily available in case it’s a necessity. It can be comfortable to place one’s hands on the flat section of the bars but please keep them near the hoods when you’re in a tight group. If you’re at the front you can use the flat section of the bars.
- Don’t make any sudden movements. Please try to keep your movements smooth and regular. When possible, let people know what you’re going to do. An example of this would be if you’re going up a hill and people are behind you; please don’t suddenly drop a few gears or stand up on the pedals unless you’re able to keep the same speed going. The sudden reduction in pace can cause a crash. Likewise, when avoiding a hole/obstacle, it doesn’t need to be avoided by means of a sharp jerky movement. Just signal and move out slowly and carefully please. ‘Sudden movements’ also includes sharp accelerations, which can break up the group.
- Signal clearly. If you’re turning right (and are on the right side of the group) put your right arm out to let people know. This goes as much (if not more) for motorists as it does for other group members. If you’re in the left line and turning left, then do the same with your left arm. It probably isn’t a good idea for those in the left line to signal right or those in the right line to signal left – it only leads to slapping your clubmate in the face.
- If you’re at the front on a downhill, don’t forget to pedal. Freewheeling downhill is fun and helps give us a bit of a rest. However, if you’re one of the two people at the front of a group, you have to continue pedalling. People behind you will freewheel more quickly than you can (unless you’ve got super fancy wheels and theirs are terrible old clunkers). If you don’t keep your speed, they’ll either go into the back of you or have to brake, leading to the person behind them braking and so on. The easiest, safest and best way to do it is keep pedalling. If you’re tired, ask to move round and get someone else at the front.
- Don’t suffer in silence. If the pace is too high for you, let people know and don’t try and do a “hero’s turn” at the front. Tiring yourself attempting to pull the group along will only leave you hanging off the end later on. We’re all human and we all have bad days.
- If you are finding it difficult, try to keep in the group. Please don’t slip off the back of the group if you’re tiring. Keep in tight with everybody. It’s easier for you to cycle with a group round you. You’ll tire out more if you fall off the back and it’s very difficult to make it into the group from that position. When it comes to your turn at the front, tell people you’re tired and get them to move round. Your partner at the front will not mind doing a shorter turn whatsoever. He or she may even buy a coffee to say ‘Thank you’.
you are ‘traffic’
Firstly, we have as much right as anyone to be on (non-motorway) roads.
For safety purposes, it is wise to avoid certain roads at certain times (see busy dual carriageways for examples) but we have many roads at our disposal and no reason to feel ‘apologetic’ about using them.
If a motorist attempts to bully you (revving the engine of his/her vehicle, parping the horn etc.) the best thing you can do is continue to hold your line, act in an obvious logical manner and signal clearly. You have a right to use the road – they have a right to use the road – they don’t have the right to stop you using the road.
If people ever give you that ‘I pay road tax‘ line, they’re wrong. Nobody pays road tax. You can read all about it here. Besides, if you want to give it a historical slant, roads were first Tarmac-ed for bicycles. That’s not relevant either but it’s at least as valid a point as the ‘road tax’ one we keep hearing.
The public road is not just for cars and motorised traffic. It’s also not just for bikes. Please share it, be thoughtful with other traffic (vehicular and non-vehicular) and do your best to get along.
Secondly, as traffic, you have many responsibilities on the road and still have to act within the law.
Please don’t run red lights or perform any of the other ‘****ing cyclists!‘ cliches. The law applies to us too and ignoring it gives people a bad impression of cyclists in general. It’s better for people in large fast metal boxes to like us than dislike us.
hints, tips and general pointers
Some of this you’ll know already, some you might not. If you can think of anything we’ve left out, please contact us and suggest an addition.
- In wet weather, road paint becomes a hazard which needs pointed out. It’s generally okay when you’re travelling in a straight line but wet (usually white) road paint can be a slippery obstacle if you ride across it at a bend. Please avoid it yourself and point it out to others.
- Be as self-sufficient as possible. Bring at least one spare tube and the means to fit it. You’ll probably find some kind soul in the club if you’re stuck without a spare but nobody is obliged to give you their tube – they may need it themselves. Please make sure you bring one (or more) on every ride. Carrying a suitable Allen key or two (possibly as part of a multitool) would also be useful, in case you need to make any adjustments to your bicycle.
- Keep your bicycle in a good state of repair. A damaged or broken bicycle may well be a dangerous bicycle. Please make sure your bike is in a roadworthy condition. Above all, your brakes should be in good working order. We don’t want you to brake often but, when you have to, it’s important to be able to do it effectively. Keep an eye on your bike in general, making sure bolts are tightened as they should be, spokes aren’t loose etc. Remember, it’s not just you who may suffer if your bicycle malfunctions.
Cleaning your bicycle after each ride is a good way to keep an eye on any prospective problems with. Loose spokes, cracks in the frame etc. tend to get ‘found out’ when cleaning a bike. Additionally, cleaning the braking surfaces is a wise move. It’s good to be able to brake when required.
- Keep your tyres inflated at their recommended pressure. There are probably recommended ‘min’ and ‘max’ pressure levels embossed on the side of your tyre. If they’re not on on tyre, they’ll be on the label which your tyres came with. If you no longer have that label, they’ll most likely be on the manufacturer’s website. If all that fails, there’s always Google; someone somewhere will have the recommended pressure for your tyres listed on a website. Keeping your tyres at the correct level of inflation (not in an economic sense) will make them roll more easily and less likely to p******e. Not having them ‘up to pressure’ is a bad idea.
Old Bleach rules
As is the case with many clubs, all riders on our club runs must wear a helmet. This is not negotiable. The law currently suggests we wear a helmet while cycling but Old Bleach requires it. Cycling Ireland requires helmets to be worn during any competition.
We require people to be able to communicate with one another constantly. This means the wearing of headphones is not permitted on Old Bleach club runs. Why deprive yourself of the ability to hear clearly? Would you wear a blindfold while cycling? Wearing headphones creates needless danger for both you and the people you cycle with.
During winter months, when the roads seem permanently wet, conditions make it necessary for all those involved in our club runs to have a rear mudguard fitted. The person directly behind you will thank you for it and you will be equally grateful when the rider immediately ahead of you is sporting a rear mudguard. Not many cyclists want a mouthful of ‘road filth’, salt and other such illness inducing materials. Use your active imagination; you’ll probably find what you’re thinking of on a local road. Yuck!
It’s human nature that we’re not going to get along brilliantly with everybody we meet. This being the case, there will be people in your cycle club you don’t see eye to eye with. Whatever you problem(s) may be, please leave it behind when you’re on the road. We’re not asking you to chat away like best friends with someone you dislike but any bias when it comes to the likes of pointing out road hazards will not be accepted. Sit at a different table during the coffee stop if you like but don’t lead someone into a pothole.
As we’re not in the pro peloton, there’s very little reason for us to take both hands off the bars. We’re able to stop if we have to do something like putting on a jacket. If you absolutely can’t resist performing ‘hands free actions’, wait until your turn at the back, let the people round you know what you’re going to do and then drop back behind the group to do what you must. There’s no reason to take other people off because you deliberately put yourself in a situation where you have less control than normal.
Most ‘accidents’ do not happen accidentally – they’re a result of negligence or downright foolishness and can be avoided by riding in a disciplined manner with good communication. We’re not perfect, we will make mistakes but keep your wits about you and even those ‘mistakes’ shouldn’t manifest themselves as crashes.
When you are out in a group, other people put a share of their safety in your hands. Please look after one another.
None of this is done to spoil anyone’s enjoyment; Quite the opposite. It exists to create a safe environment we can have fun in. Broken collarbones etc. are not fun. Nor are they a ‘badge of honour’, ‘rite of passage’ or inevitable result of cycling. Most injuries can be easily avoided by not acting in a foolhardy manner.