Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Playing with others - Group riding etiquette

After a rather crazy week, I've finally had the chance to sit down and write a decent blog entry. It's always a little irritating when that thing called LIFE gets in the way of CYCLING. I'd focus on CYCLING exclusively if it weren't for the fact that Con Edison gets upset when I don't pay my bills on time.

Yes, I do need electricity and hot water.

It finally appears that winter is beginning to loosen its grip on NYC. Today was a beautiful day... crystal clear skies, temperatures in the mid-50's, not a drop of rain. (Of course, when I went for my ride this evening, the temperatures plummeted to 34 degrees. Awesome.) And with the advent of spring, the cycling masses begin to come to life. I will no longer be sharing 9 West with the other solitary (and crazy) cyclists in 26 degree weather but with large group rides (including the NYCC SIG groups).

Group riding is awesome. I ride alone when I'm doing my workouts but I get the most enjoyment out of riding with a group of other cyclists. As a cyclist, there are few things that are more enjoyable than going on a ride with others who share your passion while enjoying the scenery and the fresh air. But if you're going to go for a group ride, there are a few bits of cycling etiquette that are worth keeping in mind. (These are more for social rides. Definitely do not apply to races and only partly apply to hammer-fest rides where you keep up or shut up.)

Be on time. There are few things that are more annoying at the beginning of a ride than having to wait for a delinquent rider. Get to your rendezvous point early... this gives you time to give your gear and supplies a once-over before you set off on your ride.

Know the ride. And know yourself. Yes, this sounds like a Mr Miyagi-like comment but it's important. It is not enjoyable if you join a ride which is harder than you are comfortable with. You won't enjoy it. Your companions won't enjoy it (though they will probably be nice enough to not say anything). If you know that your cruising speed is 17mph, then it may not be the best idea to join a ride that is planning to go a 20mph. This goes in the other direction too. If you're stronger than the ride, then match the pace of the group and enjoy the "easier" ride. Or don't ride with them. Nobody likes riding with someone who runs off by themselves because they're stronger than everybody else.

Be predictable. This is an important one. An erratic rider is a dangerous rider in a group.

  • Try to avoid rapid accelerations or braking. Accelerations break up the group and the gaps that are formed usually get magnified down the paceline so that the last rider has to work really hard to avoid coming off the back. Rapid braking can lead to accidents. Again, the last rider in the group usually has the shortest amount of time to hit their brakes.
  • Smooth pacelining. It is tempting to speed up when the person in front of you comes off and you're at the head of the paceline. Don't do it. Keep a constant speed. When you're done pulling, come off and slow down... but don't stop pedaling.
  • Do not commit harakiri. When you are climbing and you decide to go from a seated to standing position, you inevitably slow down suddenly. This often catches the rider behind you off-guard and they can drive into your rear wheel. If you need to stand up, shift to a smaller cog and then stand up. This will keep your speed relatively constant.

Don't stare. Yes, the spandex-covered bottom in front of you might be strangely hypnotic but if you fixate on it, you can lose track of your surroundings. So glance around and be aware of what's around your group. Besides, you may be missing some beautiful scenery.

Communicate. Keeping your fellow riders informed about the road and cyclists is essential.

  • Hand signals. Let people know if you're slowing down or making a turn. Also useful to point out things like giant potholes or glass on the side of the road.
  • Call out hazards. Cars with doors about to open, glass, potholes, roadkill, etc. If you're going to fire off a snot rocket, please let the riders behind you know.
  • Issues with riders. If you've got a cramp or a flat, let people know. If a rider has come off the back or didn't make it through an intersection before the light turned red, let the front of the group know. If someone decides to pass gas in front of you, feel free to complain loudly to the rest of the group.

Don't cross wheels. This is dangerous. If you cross wheels, you will get into an accident someday. Doing this in a race is in inevitable. Doing it on a group ride begs for trouble. Just don't do it.

No man left behind. Take care of each other on a ride. All of us can have a bad day. Whether it's a cramp or a mechanical, try to help each other out. Even if the group starts to stretch out or split, try to regroup at certain points (intersections, top of a climb). If you leave people behind all the time, your group with either get smaller and smaller every week or you won't get invited to ride. Either way, it's a quick way to end up riding by yourself.

So what happens when cycling etiquette fails and you start irritating each other? Something like this:

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