Bicycle Touring Club of North Jersey
banner photo banner photo banner photo banner photo

Monthly Safety Tip

Monthly Safety Tip

Group Riding Tips

Harold Leibovitz, Safety & Advocacy Chair

This article, the first in a series on group riding techniques, emphasizes a Group Riding Mindset and how to ride single file. Future articles will address specific riding situations, such as how to ride safely at intersections, riding two abreast and riding cooperatively by drafting.

Single File vs. Doubling Up

  • Most BTCNJ rides are Single File. New Jersey Law allows bicyclists to ride two abreast (but not more than two) when traffic is not impeded. Given the relatively high average traffic volumes on New Jersey roadways, there is limited opportunity to ride side-by-side with another bicyclist. (An exception would be where there are wide shoulders.) In NJ traffic law, one car is considered “traffic.”
  • Single File is safer.
  • If you are riding two abreast, as soon as you begin to impede the flow of traffic, you must resume riding single file. Be careful! Merging will affect everyone in the paceline. Use an “alternate merge” where the person in front on the left moves in front of the first person on the right.
  • In some towns, it is illegal to ride two abreast. Towns like Piermont aggressively enforce Single File riding.
  • Motorists appreciate the predictability of a steady, straight line of cyclists, especially when passing.

What A Driver Sees

  • Motorists are more respectful and deferential to a cohesive group of cyclists. A group of Single File riders is perceived as one unit.
  • Be courteous to drivers! When on the road, you represent not only yourself, and not only BTCNJ, but all others in the cycling community. Don’t give non-cyclists a reason to view us negatively.

Group Riding Mindset

Riding alone is different than riding in a group. To get your mind into group riding mode:

  • Understand reaction time versus distance covered. The generally understood time it takes to react to a hazard is 2.5 seconds. When considering crash avoidance, we translate that time into distance traveled. If a full stop is required, the distance needed varies dramatically with the speed you are traveling, type of brakes you have and their condition, surface conditions, incline or decline of the road and rider skill. The diagram below assumes a level, paved surface and appropriate, properly-maintained brakes.
  • Communicate! See the April Masterlink or Ride Smart 2 on the BTCNJ website for information on the signals BTCNJ uses.
  • Exercise caution and care; obey the rules of the road. Group riding does not allow you to ignore the law and safe cycling practices.
  • If you observe unsafe or discourteous behavior, gently and constructively remind the offender of the situation. Speak to the ride leader if you prefer.
  • We are all responsible for our own safety. Don’t rely on someone else’s judgment for your safety. If you feel unsafe, drop back or leave the group.

Always Protect Your Front Wheel

  • Visualize a halo around your front wheel— keep that space clear.
  • Never overlap your front wheel with the rear wheel of the rider in front. The rear rider will invariably go down if there is contact.

When You Are Riding in A Single File

  • Focus on what is going on around you! The rider in front can slow, swerve or stop in a heartbeat. Don’t let your mind wander!
  • Stay a safe distance behind the rider you follow. This may vary based on your experience and comfort.
  • Never overlap the wheel in front.
  • Do not coast! It takes practice, but try to spin all the time. Otherwise, riders behind may think that you are stopping, and brake. Control your speed by sitting up, feathering the brakes (lightly!) and/or slowing (but not stopping) pedaling.
  • Do not stare at the wheel in front of you.
  • Look over the shoulder of the rider ahead so you can anticipate changes in speed, obstacles, etc.
  • As the line picks up speed, open up more space.
  • You must communicate fore and aft.
  • Avoid making sudden changes in speed or direction.

The best way to practice group riding is on the road. We are all seeking to improve our skills. I look forward to riding with you.