Group riding 101

Learn the common hand signals to stay safe

Understanding and using the skills of group riding will help you when you’re heading out and about with a group of friends, or even simply having a rider sit behind you on a regular ride.

Hand signals

Try and get into the habit of regularly using hand signals. They become a clear indicator of your intentions that will instil confidence in those riding with you and help avoid potential hazards.

If there are more than two of you, the signals should be repeated and passed down the line of riders.

Hand signals do require taking one hand off the brake. The front brake, operated by your right hand, is the strongest and most efficient, but the rear brake brings you to a more gradual stop; choose whichever makes you feel the most in control.

Sometimes, however, you will need both hands on your handlebars or brakes to maintain control of the bike, and timely signalling is not possible. If you don’t feel stable or confident with one hand off the handlebars, or the bike seems to drift when you lift a hand, try to regularly practice on a quiet trail; it’s a skill you’ll quickly pick up.

In addition to the signals listed below, some bunch riders throw their right elbow outwards when they want you to pass and hold up their right hand when they are stopping due to a puncture. You might also see a rider wave their hand flat over the road; that normally indicates a hazard that is spread over the road, like broken glass or loose gravel.

And finally, one of the most effective signals, that can be easily forgotten, is a friendly wave to a motorist or rider who has shown courtesy.

1. Debris/potholes

When a rider is sitting fairly close behind you in an attempt to reduce their wind resistance (drafting), they won’t have a very clear view of what’s happening up ahead, and they might not have time to see a hazard such as a pothole or a pile of broken glass. Give them as much advance warning as you can by pointing to the hazard as you approach it, and continue pointing as you pass it (but always keep your head up and your eyes on the road ahead; don’t stare at the hazard).

2. Turning

The only legally required hand signal for a bike rider is to indicate when they are turning or changing lanes to the right, but for the benefit of following riders and other road users, you should also indicate a left turn. Put your arm out in a straight line and point your hand towards the direction you are going. Be confident and unambiguous with the action and the signal. If you are moving right, do a very deliberate head check first, then signal. The head check and the arm movement combined are a clear indication to those behind, including drivers, that you are about to move right.

3. Obstacle ahead

If you’re approaching a parked car, or some other obstacle which you will need to get round, swing your left hand behind the small of your back and point to the right. If you’re going to have to pull out to get around, have a look backwards over your right shoulder (a head check) to see if there’s anything coming up behind you before making the manoeuvre.

4. Slowing/stopping

Riders may be following at a very close range, and bikes can pull up quickly, so this is a signal you should use regularly as you slow down or prepare to stop. Throw your right arm back towards the following rider with your fingers spread and your open palm sweeping towards them. Make this signal very definite and pronounced, and hold your hand back for a few seconds to emphasise it even more.

5. Please overtake

There are times when you’ll want riders to move ahead of you; maybe because you need to ride at a slower pace, or perhaps you are sick of being the one doing all the hard work against the wind. Use a pronounced sweeping motion with your right forearm and hand, palm facing forward, and repeat a couple of times. If it’s appropriate, move slightly to the left as you do this signal to make passing easier.

Calls

Verbal calls are another valuable tool to use when riding.

Call out “passing” when overtaking a rider (always overtake on their right, and pass with consideration and care). If a car is coming up behind, call out “car back.” Also, call out “door” in a very loud voice if one is about to open on you; it alerts following riders, and may freeze the car occupant into holding the door unopened.

You can also call out the name of any hazard as you’re approaching and pointing to it, and when signaling an obstacle ahead you can shout out the name of the obstacle; for example “Car up.” In a group of riders it can also help to call out “Stopping” or “Slowing” as well as doing the appropriate hand signal.

Drafting

A huge advantage of riding behind someone is that they take the force of the head wind, while you cruise along in their slipstream. You’ll only get the full benefit if you’re close enough; about 1-1.5 metres when you’re learning the skill, and as you get confident, about a bike wheel distant. Allow greater distances in poor conditions, and when going downhill.

You have to be constantly vigilant and alert when riding this close to someone. Don’t get caught staring down at their back wheel; keep your head up. There are three things you should be constantly scanning for: the middle-back of the rider ahead to judge how close they are; over their right shoulder to see what’s happening up the road; and through their front wheel so you’re seeing the condition of the road ahead.

When drafting, don’t overlap any part of your front wheel with the back wheel of the rider ahead; always stay behind unless overtaking. You can line up directly behind the back wheel of the rider in front, but many riders like to line up very slightly to one side; this gives a clearer view ahead and a bit more room to manoeuvre.

Be wary of sitting in too close behind someone seated and riding up a hill. If they get out of the saddle they may dramatically decelerate, or even pull the bike slightly backwards, and you’ll be on top of them before you know it.

Bunch riding etiquette

•Try to ride predictably avoiding sudden movements.

If you have a mechanical fault, or any other reason you need to stop in an odd place, pull over and get completely off the road.

•If you happen to come across a group of riders who clearly know each other and are riding together, don’t automatically assume you can join their group; be polite, and ask.

•Try not to brake too hard, or too often. Look ahead and anticipate, and if you need to slow down, try sitting up and increasing your wind resistance; your drag can often achieve the desired effect.
•Don’t always be the draftee; if you’re able, take your turn riding up front.
•Cyclists are legally allowed to ride two-abreast, as long as you’re no more than 1.5 metres apart. But common sense should indicate that sometimes it just isn’t appropriate. It might be unsafe (for example, over the crest of a hill following a blind corner) or you might be holding up traffic. Use your
 judgement, and err on the side of good manners and caution.
•And a final courtesy note; well-worn lycra knicks can become transparently thin – like sheer tights – when they are taut and will give those behind a very clear, and perhaps unwelcome, view of your butt. If you’re not sure how threadbare your knicks are in the saddle, get your bestie to check out your rear for decency.

Where to look when following another rider

1. The lower back

Judge your following distance by the lower back of the rider in front. Do not focus on the rider’s rear wheel.

2. Over the shoulder

Glance over the shoulder of the rider in front to see what is coming up ahead of you.

3. The front wheel

Glance down at the front wheel of the rider in front to check on the state of the road ahead.