group rides

Safe and Legal Group Rides - The Dos and Don’ts

It’s that time of the year again when we start seeing more cyclists on the road. Spring has sprung, and cyclists are ready to dust off their bikes and put some miles on them.

As cyclists are out enjoying the change of seasons, motorists will need to pay close attention when driving near cyclists, especially when navigating around group rides.

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These rides are often a great source of frustration to motorists, especially in areas such as canyon roads, where there is little room to pass or no bike lane or shoulder for cyclists. Often, groups even take over the whole lane, riding four to five riders abreast, which makes it nearly impossible to pass safely.

We have nothing against group rides—even hard, fast group rides. Honestly, that is how most of us get faster and better. However, group rides often lack the etiquette and behavior of an organized race.

Recently, we were asked about correct and safe protocol for group rides. Two abreast? Single pace line? How many riders in a group? When can a cyclist take the lane?

Let’s begin by assessing these questions from the standpoint of a motorist.  If you were driving behind your group ride, how would you feel? If you feel like you could safely pass the group, then that is a win. If you feel really conflicted, confused, or nervous because the cyclists are riding erratically or in a disorganized fashion where you cannot predict what they are about to do, then that group ride is a fail.

Next, from a legal standpoint, cyclists have all the same rights and obligations as the operator of a motor vehicle. Cyclists can ride on all roads other than certain portions of interstates.

In Colorado, cyclists can ride two abreast but not more than two abreast unless riding in a bike lane. Two abreast is really intended to be handlebar-to-handlebar, not eternity between two bikes. If you do not have the skill to ride side by side (as is sometimes the case with new riders), then you should ride single file.

You can only ride two abreast if you are not impeding the normal and reasonable flow of traffic. What does impede mean? Law enforcement we have worked with define impede as five or more cars backed up behind your group.

If you are riding two abreast, or if the group is a two-by-two line of ten riders deep, and a car is behind you that has to slow down and wait before passing you, that is not considered impeding traffic. However, if you have five or more cars starting to back up behind you causing trouble or traffic chaos, that is considered an impede. Law enforcement will pull the whole group over and write tickets if they observe this. They can cite everyone in the group, not just the people to the left. Law enforcement phones blow up with calls from motorists calling to complain about group rides e.g. too many cyclists riding abreast in a single lane, or swarming the shoulder, or taking two lanes of the road.

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Should you be riding single file or two abreast in canyons? This is a judgement call. If you are not impeding anyone, then you are fine riding up a canyon two abreast. If you start to notice cars backing up behind you, then go single file, because that is what the law requires. Yes, cycling is a social sport. It is more fun to climb next to a friend. However,  if it is a high traffic day, or if you are riding in hot tension areas, especially when you are climbing and going slower than a car, we recommend riding single file.

When can a cyclist take the lane? We have a pro-cyclist statute in Colorado— a cyclist must ride as far to the right as deemed safe by the cyclist and is justified in taking the lane anytime to avoid obstacles on the road, parked cars, or if the lane is too narrow for both a vehicle and a bike. In most states, motorists must give cyclists a three-foot buffer. If it is a narrow lane and there is not enough room in the lane for a car, the three-foot buffer, and the cyclist, the cyclist should take the lane to avoid being sideswiped. “Impede” is not associated with a single cyclist taking the lane.

Try to read the driver you are dealing with. If you feel that your group is going to be in danger, because taking the lane is going to set off the driver, pull over to the side of the road. It makes more sense to pull over and let that one car go by.

What is the gold standard for a group ride in terms of size? Groups should be small enough to be in control, ideally 10-20 riders. A well-oiled Tour de France team could be 20-25 riders as they take up a very minimal footprint on the road. Newer riders will take up more of a footprint, as they will have more space between the riders, between the handlebars, and will be more spread out.

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If you organize a group ride, govern your group rides strictly. Remember that you are on display. The bigger the group, the more attention people will pay. The worse the behavior, the more magnified it becomes. It is guilt by association. If someone is doing something dangerous or risky on your ride, your whole group is getting lumped into that.

Guidelines we follow when organizing a group ride:

  • Keep the size of the group small enough to be in control (8-10 riders).

  • Know your riders and their levels. Put the strong riders in the front and back and the weaker riders in rows two, three, and four, etc.

  • Take ownership of the group ride. Go over the rules and expectations before the ride begins.

  • Make sure riders follow the rules. Call people out when they do something inappropriate. If they repeat the behavior, do not invite them back to the next ride.

Tom Danielson, founder of CINCH Coaching, agrees that one person must take ownership of the group ride. When he leads a ride, he calls himself the “ref,” and has even worn a ref jersey.

You become the ref, the pilot. You’re the person in charge of the ride, and you take full ownership. A lot of these group rides, there’s no one doing that.
— Tom Danielson

Tom says that it is important for the person to call it out from the beginning of the ride: introduce yourself, say that you are the person in charge of the ride, and list the rules of the ride.

“If you are in the front, you are the bus driver,” he says. “You are fully responsible for all the passengers behind you.”  It is your responsibility to point things out e.g. obstacles, slow down in advance of stop signs, or hit the brakes early before the stop sign. In the back, you are the eyes of the group. When you are in the back, you are solely responsible for all the cars behind you. For example, if the group is bunching, it is your responsibility as the “caboose” to ride up to the bus driver to communicate the problem e.g. “a little more to the right” or “car back”.

Photo courtesy of CINCH Cycling - Police escort in front of a group ride

Photo courtesy of CINCH Cycling - Police escort in front of a group ride

For larger group rides, Tom recommends hiring a police escort to drive out in front of the group ride. This allows for a bigger group and for the group to use the entire road, because the police are up front. The group ride becomes safer and legal, and the community joins in. “When we had the police in front of our group, all those drivers give you a thumbs up and they cheer you on. They want to watch,” he says.

Tom admits that cycling has changed a lot since the 80s when group rides first started. He attributes this to fewer cars on the road back then. Cars were not going as fast. Group rides consisted of ten riders. Etiquette was far more enforced among riders. “We all want group rides to continue. It’s part of the cycling culture, but things have to change.”

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When it comes time for your group ride this season, remember to practice safe riding and follow the rules of the road. Avoid dangerous situations with motorists when possible. Put yourself in the driver’s shoes when you are on a group ride. Ask yourself how you would feel as a motorist behind your own group ride.


Check out this video on group riding that we worked on with the Golden Police Department.

#10000milesin2018: Month Three Update

Total Miles to Date: 2353 (Yes, doggone it, I'm still behind -but close to catching up!)

Total Number of Strava Group Members: 277 members – It’s not too late to join the group. We have had more people join in on the fun since our last update.

At the beginning of March, some of our members shared their mileage to date. Several had already reached 1,666 miles or were close to being on target:

*John O’Neill from Allenstown, Pennsylvania – 2,219 miles

*Bart De Lepeleer from Guía de Isora, Canarias, Spain – 1,932

Challenges: I tackled too many work/personal life projects all at once in March and found myself putting rides on the back burner (sounds like February?) as these projects would ramp up ...  There were a few days my back was really bothering me and I had to skip rides then as well.  

Highlights: I rode my bike to amazing performances, including: Yamato Drummers, Poncho Sanchez & His Latin Jazz Band, and a spring training game (Giants vs Cubs).  In addition I perfected my bike commute to get more dog food, to load up on groceries at Sprouts, and even to pick up a freshly-steamed suit jacket!  

March also featured several really big mileage group rides, where we enjoyed amazing views, roads, and experiences-  zero flats, zero issues with motorists, only 100% fun and great conversation too! 

THIS MONTH’S QUESTION:  How do you motivate yourself each month to meet your end goal of 10,000 miles?

When I set a goal I set it with the intention of seeing it through.  As frustrated as I have been at times to fall behind- so rapidly after just a few days off the bike - It fires me up even more to go out and tackle some big rides to catch back up!  This is not the kind of goal where you can leave it to the end of the year to try and play catch up -the months of November and December won't be the time to make up miles! So I am fired up now, this spring, to get on top of the miles and stay on track as summer approaches! 

Need an extra push for the month of April?  It's #30daysofbiking month -where the movement encourages participants to ride their bike every day -regardless of distance!  Give it a shot!  

10 Things I wish I Knew: a Guest Post

10 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Cycling

Guest Blog by Tim McAndrew

1.     A good bike fit is worth every penny. Having the wrong set up, even if it’s only off by a few millimeters, can make riding a misery, particularly on longer rides, and can lead to chronic injury and pain. So do yourself a favor: spend the $150-200 to get a proper bike fitting from a reputable bike shop -- your body will thank you later.

2.     Unclip early. Until you master unclipping from your pedals thoughtlessly, a tip that will serve you well is to unclip a foot before you even apply the brakes. This simple exercise will train your brain appropriately and will hopefully keep you from falling straight over at a crowded intersection (and bruising both your body and your dignity).

3.     Bonking sucks. If you’re heading out for a 1-2 hour ride, typically you won’t need to bring any food -- a 16-20oz bottle of water will do you right. However, go out for any longer and you’re going to need to bring along some fuel. This is a lesson you don’t want to learn the hard way because bonking sucks! A good rule for new riders is 100 calories for each 20 mins on the bike. And get into the habit of always bringing a little more than you think you’ll need -- sometimes your body just demands a little more fuel than normal. Worst case is you’ll be the Eagle Scout of your group ride and be able to feed the one dude who forgot to pack enough fuel that day. 

4.     Speaking of Eagle Scouts. Unless you live in a climate where any type/amount of rain will bring utter joy and relief, pack yourself a rain jacket or vest. This is especially true if you’re riding in the mountains or in a damp environment like the UK or the Northwest US. Being able to cover your chest when the rain/temperature falls will protect you from losing critically valuable heat and energy. It will also make the ride significantly less stressful and more enjoyable.

5.     Spend $40 on a chain every 1500 miles. The last thing you want to hear your local wrench say is: “dude, you're gonna need a new chain ring and cassette.” Typically this happens because you’ve ridden with the same chain for so long that it’s stretched and carved shark teeth into those components. By swapping out your chain every 1500 miles or so, you’ll extend the life of your drivetrain by years, save yourself a lot of money, and save a lot of unnecessary time your bike needs to spend in the shop.

6.     Rinse. Lube. Repeat. Like looking after your drivetrain, get in the habit of always wiping down your bike, and especially your chain, after a ride -- it will extend the life of your bike and its parts. For your chain, wipe it down with a lint-free cloth, apply fresh lube, and then wipe off the excess. This will keep your chain shifting smoothly and keep you from being the annoying squeaky wheel on your next group ride.

7.     Group ride etiquette part I: Steady as she goes. When you’re out for a ride with more than yourself, there are some generally accepted group riding rules to follow. The first of these (you can read more here) is that everyone is expected to take a turn at the front, even if it's for a short "pull." When it is your turn, fight back the urge to show everyone how strong you are. Instead, do your best to ride at the same tempo / speed you were riding when you were in the pack. This is especially true if your turn at the front starts at the base of a climb – dropping your friends like this will put you in the doghouse. So, pay attention to your speedometer while you're in the pack and then try to hold that speed steady when it's your turn at the front. Master this skill and you’ll be looked at as a seasoned rider and avoid the bitter scorn and curses of your riding buddies.

8.     Group ride etiquette part II: Point out the shit. Another responsibility when you’re on the front is to point out the hazards in the road to those behind you. This includes rocks, potholes, sticks, debris, gravel, etc.  The way to be a pro at this is by concentrating on what’s ahead of you so you see it early, can gracefully maneuver your bike away from it, and simultaneously use the hand that’s closest to the obstacle to point it out. If you ride alone a lot and only do group rides occasionally you’re going to have to concentrate to remember your role here. And remember, if someone ahead points something out, you too should repeat the gesture so those behind you can avoid the obstacle.

9.     Know Thine Categories. Even if you don't race, understanding the very basics of racing categories helps understanding when others are talking about racing. Someone who races Men's Cat5 or Women's Cat4 is a beginner. This is where ALL racers start. Typically you cannot race at any higher category, regardless of how talented or gifted you are as a racer, without having earned your stripes in the beginner's ranks. Here’s where you learn how to ride in very close proximity to others, get a feel for how a group ebbs and flows, learn the importance of holding a line, and hopefully how to avoid the inevitable crashes that occur. Once you’ve done your time and/or start crushing the field, you’ll be upgrade to Cat4 (Cat3 for women). And from there you begin the march up the ranks until you reach your maximum potential. Who knows, maybe you’re a Cat1 Pro and you don't even know it.

10.  Turn off the Computer. Bike computers are great. They're very useful tools for gauging speed, distance, output, etc. But it's easy to get sucked into becoming a slave to the output from your bike computer, especially with apps like Strava and Training Peaks egging you on. Do yourself a favor, and occasionally turn off the computer and just get on your bike and go for a ride. This can be harder than it sounds when you’ve become a “slave to the device” but when you make the effort to do it, you’ll be rewarded with the joys of why you probably started riding a bike in the first place. So soak it up. Enjoy the scenery. Stop and take a picture. Do whatever it is that makes you one with the bike and revel in it!

... Speaking of pictures, here are some shots of our Century + Triple Bypass (replacement) Ride last Saturday - seriously, you CANNOT argue with the scenery, fun, friendship and memories that long rides with friends provide! (Photo Credit: Megan Hottman, Austin Sholly, Tim McAndrew).