Over the last 4 or 5 years I’ve been a member of the Harrisburg Bicycle Club. Most of the group rides I’m able to get to are the slower, social rides that range anywhere from 10 to 13mph average, and from 10 to 30 miles. During my time on these rides, I’ve picked up a few tips that seem to work well and formulated my own opinions that sometimes run contrary to the club’s culture. Here are my tips for social group rides, all of which are rooted in situations I’ve either had to deal with or witnessed. These may not apply to hammerfest, just-like-Lance, sprint-for-the-county-line rides.
- Your bike. Make sure it works right. Newer riders often show up with semi-functional hardware and might be looking for advice about how to maintain or fix their bike. This is fine, and clubs are a good place to learn a little about wrenching. But if you’re a regular, your bike shouldn’t be the one causing us to stop every mile or so. Keep it maintained or get it to a shop once or twice a year.
- Pedals. You really don’t need clipless pedals on a social ride. You don’t. I promise. In my time with the club I have personally witnessed no fewer than 4 falls that were due to riders not being able to get their feet off the pedals. Social rides tend to spend time in neighborhoods where there are stop signs. Expect to start and stop a lot. Flat pedals and comfy shoes are ideal. If you still insist on riding clipless pedals, see rule #1. Make sure they’re properly adjusted and get some practice before you fall on the poor guy next to you.
- Tools. You need a few basics. A multi-tool or a set of loose wrenches that fit the fasteners on your machine. A patch kit. Tire levers. Pump. Usually, the group will have all of these things collectively, but being that guy who always needs something every time he has a problem is not cool. Carry a spare tube. If you regularly ride sweep, bring a few spares in two or three different sizes.
- Lights. Most social rides occur during the day, but it never hurts to have some lights on your bike. If you’re not the sweep, and your tail light is on, don’t make it flash. Some people find it irritating if they have to stare at a blinking blinkie. Epileptics who are sensitive to flashing lights might not like it either. If you are the sweep, flash it up if that floats your boat.
- Don’t litter. This ain’t the BORAF (Tour de France). No one is coming along behind to clean up your mess. Don’t leave Clif wrappers, tubes, water bottles, or CO2 canisters on the side of the road. Littering gives us all a bad name.
- Stop signs. We often roll stop signs at empty intersections. You could possibly get a ticket for this, but you won’t get yourself squashed and you won’t hurt anyone else. If there are cars or cyclists approaching from other roads, play by the rules. Stop and take turns. If the person in front of you stops, don’t blow past them. Drivers will often wave the whole group through, but don’t expect it. If there’s lots of traffic go through in twos or threes and regroup on the other side.
- Red lights. Don’t run them. Don’t. Not ever. Stop and wait. Sometimes the light won’t change for a cyclist. If this is the case, after you’ve stopped and made sure there’s no cross traffic, proceed carefully. The law in most places allows for this. Red lights are not the place to socialize. You don’t need to talk to the guy 3 bikes back. You don’t need to fish your kid’s picture out of your wallet to show the ride leader. You need to be ready to go when the light turns green. Sprinting is not necessary, but ride like you have a purpose. It should not take 30 seconds to get 6 riders across the line. Resume the social aspects of the ride once you’re on the other side.
- Falling down. More often than not, if there is a crash on a slow ride it’s because someone bumped into someone else, or lost their balance starting or stopping. Mostly, these crashes result in a scraped elbow or a bruised ego. If the fallen rider is not injured, get them and their bike off the road. This takes one helper and/or the sweep. Everyone else should continue on and find a safe place to stop and wait. Someone should tell the ride leader what happened. You do not need to gather around in the middle of the lane. If there is a serious injury that precludes moving the rider the sweep should direct traffic, if necessary, and someone else should call an ambulance. Check if anyone on the ride or passing by can administer first aid.
- CAR BAAAAACK!. If you’re calling out something like “car back”, you don’t have to yell. You just need to say it loud enough for the person in front of you to hear. We don’t need to turn a quiet neighborhood into a shouting match. It’s OK to let other riders know about cars approaching from side streets or at intersections, but don’t rely on it. Check for yourself.
- Traffic. When cars are passing a small group on a narrow road, it’s often easiest to form a single file line on the right. If you have a big group, splitting into a few smaller groups on busy roads is a good idea. Staying two-abreast keeps the line shorter and makes it easier to pass. Move with traffic and don’t needlessly impede other road users. Be a group, not a gaggle.
- Road hazards. Debris, storm drains, potholes, etc. Different clubs have different ideas about how to handle these. There are two predominant methods – point at the hazard or point where to go. I don’t like being told what to do, so the HBC’s method of pointing at the debris works for me. Just point at it as you pass. There’s no need to be dramatic or shout. The rider behind you can make their own decision about how to navigate it.
- Have fun. That’s what social rides are for.
There are, of course, exceptions, but I think that putting these tips into regular use can make social rides easier, safer, and less stressful. If you have any other tips, I’d love to hear them.