Bicycling is the nearest approximation I know to the flight of birds. The airplane simply carries a man on its back like an obedient Pegasus; it gives him no wings of his own. -- Louis J. Helle, Jr., Spring in Washington
The San Diego Recyclers Bicycle Club would like everyone to think about riding safety. New riders join the club throughout the year. The rider's level of experience varies greatly. It takes some time before a group of riders to ride smoothly together. We hope the guidelines below will help you have a better and safer riding experience. They cover many, but not all aspects of safe riding. They mainly concern riding in a group and riding in traffic. One element of a smooth group ride is that everyone knows what the "rules" are. We hope that putting these in writing will help.
BE PREPARED - Be considerate of your fellow riders by showing up at the meeting place ready to ride. That means with your bike operating correctly and with your tires pumped up. If you aren't familiar with how to tune-up your bike, take it to one of the many fine shops in the area and let them make sure it is ready to roll.
BE PREDICTABLE - Predictability is the foundation of safe riding. Be sure that others know what you intend to do. In order for people to stay out of your way, they need to know where you are going. Learn the conventions so that you know what to expect of other riders.
HEADS UP - Watch out for the road, traffic and other riders. Anticipate what is going to happen. Be prepared for the unexpected.
HELMETS - This is easy. Wear a helmet. This will minimize injuries when things don't work out as planned. No matter how many miles you've ridden or how careful you are, the unexpected can happen. People often say "It was all over before I could react." It CAN happen to you. Helmets reduce head injuries by 80% or more. With the wide variety of lightweight helmets available, there is no excuse to ride without one. Expensive, you say? Pay whatever you think your brains are worth.
RIDE SMOOTHLY - Remember that the safety of a group depends on the actions of each rider. Riders must ride smoothly and predictably to avoid collisions. Keep in mind that someone is probably very close behind you. Don't brake hard unless you absolutely must and then call out to warn other riders. Glance over your shoulder before you move out of your line. When you are on your own, you can do anything you like. The dynamics of the group are more complicated. A group of experienced riders that ride together often moves like a unit. It only takes one rider to disrupt the flow. There is another advantage to riding smoothly: you save energy and feel fresher at the end of the ride.
SIGNALS - A few signals help the people in the back of the group avoid potholes and road trash. They generally can't see it until it's too late. A point with your hand is generally enough to warn the other riders. Call out if it is something particularly nasty. Something short and understandable (like "HOLE") is best. A few other calls that are standard among bicyclists:
Some riders will call out "CLEAR" to indicate that an intersection is free of cross traffic. Be wary of this signal as it is not always reliable. Do not depend on it. Check to make sure that the traffic is clear before you cross. If you feel compelled to use this signal, do so only when the traffic is clear for a distance. If the visibility is limited (because of a curve or hill) it is best to not give any signal. Let the other riders check for themselves.
INTERSECTIONS - Sometimes the whole group can't make it through the intersection without getting split up by cars. The bikers that make it through in the first wave should try to slow up a bit to let the second wave catch up before picking up the pace. Occasionally, bikers take unnecessary chances with cars just to avoid getting dropped by the people who got through the intersection first. Give them a break.STAY TO THE RIGHT - When riding, stay to the right of the road unless you are riding double or are passing. This will allow others to pass on your left without going into the lane of oncoming traffic. This is particularly important on the hills where the group breaks up. Too often, riders will climb near the center line forcing faster riders to ride in the lane of oncoming traffic in order to pass. If you are getting passed on the hills, move over to give them some room. Stay out of the lane of oncoming traffic. Cars travel fast and can appear suddenly. Try not to pass on the right. If you must, give an "ON YOUR RIGHT" signal.
SHARE THE ROAD - Nearly all the roads we ride carry auto traffic as well as bicycles. We believe it is our right to ride these roads but we have an obligation to ride in a manner than keeps conflicts to a minimum. The vast majority of the drivers are considerate of bikers. We tend to focus on the few that we exchange words with before they speed into the distance. Try to remember the ones that stop so that you can make a left turn. Most of us also drive.
COMMUNICATION - Avoid shouting at motorists or using nonstandard hand signals. Sometimes it is just too much to ask. But it doesn't help, and it can make enemies of the motorists.
RIDING DOUBLE - Riding two abreast is fine when the traffic is light and traffic can be seen well in advance. Sooner or later, a car will overtake the group and the riders should be prepared to single up to allow the traffic by. The rider on the left should drop behind the rider on the right. The line of riders on the right will have to spread out to allow room for the riders moving in. This means the riders in the front must speed up and the riders in the rear slow up.
STAY IN YOUR LANE - Stay out of the lane of the oncoming traffic at all times. Cars approach too fast for safety and drivers do not expect a rider in their lane. Avoid riding three abreast for this reason. It places the rider on the left too close to the oncoming traffic. Stay out of the right hand turn lane when you are at an intersection waiting for the traffic to clear. This allows traffic to turn right while the group is waiting for an opening.
SIGNAL TURNS - Riders should always signal turns. Let the traffic know what to expect. Signal like you mean it. Some rider's signals are so anemic that they could go unnoticed. All riders in a group should signal. One or two people in a group of twenty or so is not very convincing to drivers. It can lead to confusion.
LEFT TURNS - Left turns are one of the more dangerous maneuvers for a bike in traffic and should be done with care, following the rules of the road. Remember, the car behind is anxious to get around and may be tempted to pass. Begin the turn well in advance. Signal the turn and when the traffic behind is clear, move to the left hand side of the lane. Do not pull in front of a car expecting it to slow down for you. Stay on the left of the lane as you approach intersection and turn left when the oncoming traffic is clear. Before turning, glance over your left shoulder-a car may decide to pass you on the left as you turn.
PASSING CARS - Think twice any time you are tempted to pass a moving car, whether on the left or right. If a car is going slow enough to pass, is probably going to do something other than go straight. It may turn into you as you pass. Be sure that you know what it will do before you pass. Riding to the front of a line of cars at a stop light and or stop sign should be avoided. Ever notice how many people don't bother to signal? Cars can turn into you just as you start to pass. Another thing about passing cars at an intersection; those cars probably just passed you. Now they will have to re-pass you once you are through the intersection. A cyclist at the front can also slow up cars going through the intersection when the light turns green. Their patience may wear a bit thin in heavy traffic.
STOPPING - Every once in a while, the group needs to pull over while someone adjusts a brake or visits nature. Move to the side of the road and out of the lane of traffic. There is no excuse for causing congestion when we are not even riding. This seems obvious, but a surprising number of people camp out in the lane of traffic when the group comes to a stop.
Don't surprise pedestrians. When overtaking them (or other cyclists) call out "ON YOUR LEFT" (or RIGHT) well in advance. Be a polite as possible so that you don't sound like you are forcing them off the road. Let them know where you intend to go and then be ready for them to jump in front of you; sometimes they will. If the lead rider spots a pedestrian approaching the group on the same side of the road, they should call out "WALKER UP" so that the entire group is aware of the hazard. The group should move out from the right side of the road to allow the pedestrian room to get by.
As you become a more experienced rider, you will find that riding in a paceline is an exciting way to enhance your riding experience. In a paceline, the front rider breaks the wind, allowing the riders behind to draft him. By drafting the bicycle in front of you, you can reduce your energy output considerably. This has the effect of allowing the overall group to move faster that its riders could alone. While pacelines can be exciting and beneficial to everyone in the group, they can also be extremely dangerous. Since you are riding at a relatively high rate of speed only inches from the bicycle in front, you have very little time to react to any situations that may develop.Tips for the Lead Rider in a Paceline