Rules of the Road
Follow the ‘The Highway Code’ (Northern Ireland) or the ‘Rules of the Road’ (Republic of Ireland) at all times – they apply equally to ALL road-users.
Keep to the left – but only as far left as is required (do not hug the side of the road). Be where other road users would expect to see a moving vehicle.
Never pull out at junctions without looking, even having heard the “Clear” call from a fellow cyclist. Check whether there is a vehicle coming yourself.
Familiarise yourself with ‘The Highway Code’ or the ‘Rules of the Road’ for cycle riding and for motoring.
Always aim to cycle two-abreast in two close parallel lines. Focus on keeping it neat and tidy. Only on very small (when there is not enough room for other vehicles to pass a double line) or busy roads should the group be required to ride in single file – a well organised group in two lines is much easier and safer for other road users to pass than a long single line.
Sitting on a wheel
This is a valuable lesson; it’s here where you get the most protection from the wind.
If there is a rider on your wheel then you have an obligation not to let any gap open to the rider in front of you – a mortal sin of group cycling if you do.
Ride within 10 cm either side of the rear wheel of the rider in front (to allow an escape route to either side of the wheel in front in case of emergencies). Do not push the cyclist beside you off their line.
Unless you are riding single at the back of the group, don’t nudge in between the wheels of the riders in front.
Don’t “zone out” on the wheel in front. Keep aware of everything that is going on around you, look ahead and that way you can avoid most hazards.
Never ride on tri/aero bars when in a group as you will not be able to react quickly enough to hazards.
Riding on the front
Ride at a steady pace, keeping the group as a compact unit. When you hit a hill, maintain your effort level, not your speed. If weaker riders are part of the group adjust the pace to allow for them.
When on the front keep pedalling. This is particularly important going downhill. If you stop pedalling everyone behind will be forced to brake.
Don’t ‘half-wheel’ or ride off the front. This is a group ride, not a race. If you want to go faster then let the others know what you are going to do and if no one wants to join you then go off and enjoy your ride alone.
Look before you move. Always check over your shoulder for other riders or traffic before moving left or right.
When you come through for your turn and move over to the recovering line, do so smoothly and close to the rider you are taking over from. Don’t leave them with a massive gap.
When turning left out of a side road remember to look right, but also left, as sometimes a motor may be overtaking from your left and using part of road the group intends to use.
Don’t be a lazybones
Once you are fit enough you are obliged to get off the back of the group and make your way to the front and do your bit. Not going through messes up the rhythm of the group. Missing turns and cruising at the back all day is a quick way to lose other riders’ respect.
Don’t nail yourself trying to do super-hard turns if the pace is above what you are capable of, or you know you are tiring. If you start to get dropped, the group will have to slow down to look after you, or in some cases you may be abandoned.
Be honest with yourself about your capabilities on any given day, cycle with the group which best matches your ability/fitness on that day as it is not fair that a group should be held back by one rider’s consistent inability to keep up, but remember that accidents happen when people are tired and lose concentration. If you anticipate being caught in this situation, let someone in the group know that you may be easing off and making your own way at your own pace.
The biggest hazard in group riding is people stopping quickly and unexpectedly. More accidents and mass pile-ups are caused by people panicking and grabbing a handful of brake than anything else. If you stop suddenly, the person behind is just going to run into you, and a collision is likely to bring down other riders as well.
If something happens in front, look for ways to avoid it while maintaining speed and shouting back a warning, rather than simply slamming on the anchors.
It’s important that you let everyone behind know what’s coming up. Those at the back can’t see ahead, so are relying on you to give them adequate warning and keep them safe. Try not to shout too frequently or unnecessarily, as sometimes shouts can cause more panic than the obstacle. Important things to tell the group are “Stopping” (otherwise you risk a pile-up), “Car down” if a car is coming head-on with little space or “Car up” if there is a car trying to overtake from the rear.
Some other common calls are:
“Hole”: Upcoming pothole to avoid. This can also be followed by a direction i.e. “Hole Left”.
“Gravel”: There is gravel ahead (usually only when on a bend).
“Left turn” or “Right turn”: The group is going to turn left or right.
“Slowing”: Usually accompanied by a hand signal. The cyclist in front needs to slow down for some reason.
“Wait”: Usually at junctions to indicate there is a car coming.
“Clear”: To indicate that a junction is traffic free. You must always check for yourself and not rely on others.
“On the left”: Hazard ahead to the left of the group, pay attention. “On the right”: Hazard ahead to the right.
“Single out”: Get into single file safely and promptly.
Hand signals may also be used:
Single hand in the air: Rider is signalling that he/she needs to stop or slow down. Usually followed by the call “Slowing” or “Stopping”.
Pointing down at the road: This is to point out hazards such as pot holes, manhole covers etc. PLEASE copy this signal – it helps stop accidents and punctures.
Arm out left or right: Everyone in the group needs to indicate when turning left or right.
Left arm signalling behind back: Signal the cyclist is about to move out into the road, e.g. to pass a parked car, to go round debris in the road.
If someone is repeatedly making mistakes, tell them discreetly towards the end of the ride. Don’t shout at them in the heat of the moment. If it’s you being given constructive criticism, then try to learn from it.
Cycle confidently. If you’re nervous you will tense up and then are less likely to be able to respond to things quickly.
Bring everything you might need with you. Prepare for every eventuality. For example: puncture kit, tyre levers, inner tubes, pump, multi tool (including chain tool), waterproof jacket, food, water, money, credit card, mobile, contact details in emergency.
Never make any sudden movements/changes in direction off your line. You are responsible for the cyclist behind you – they are following YOUR wheel so they need to be able to trust you.
Never whip round the outside of the group to get to the front unless in an emergency. Call any communication up the group. If you do need to get to the front then make sure you check in front and behind for cars – remember three abreast will push you out into traffic.
Be aware that everything you do has a knock-on effect on everyone behind and beside you. You are responsible for the safety of everyone around you as you are for your own wellbeing.
If a rider at the back of the group calls “Car up”, DO NOT look back and check for yourself, as you could move off your line and cause an accident.
If the pace of the group is too high then it should be communicated to the front riders to ease off as they may not be aware that the group is splitting.
Dress appropriately for the conditions; a number of thin layers is usually better than a single thick layer. Don’t wear dark rainware or clothing over clubware, and consider using flashing lights in daytime if visibility is bad.
When cycling at night wear appropriate reflective outer clothing and ensure that you have working lights on the front and rear of your bike.
Don’t stop pedalling if you are in front, even on descents. The cyclist behind you will read this as you are slowing and the group could be forced to brake and bunch-up.
Many thanks to Gerry Beggs & David Peelo for writing this article for Banbridge Cycling Club – and a big thanks to Banbridge Cycling Club for allowing us to use and share it with the cycling community.