Best Practices for Group Riding

Thread City Cyclers'
Best Practices for Group Bike Riding

The Thread City Cyclers Safety Committee has developed this Best Practices guide for our club to improve safety and to reduce the likelihood of accidents and injuries. While this guide was developed primarily with TCC’s group rides in mind, many of these practices also make sense on solo rides. A key ingredient to safe group riding is predictable and consistent behavior. This means predictable to both riders in our group and to vehicles and pedestrians that might be in our vicinity.

TCC best practices are consistent with state laws regarding cycling and in general agreement with protocols established by the League of American Bicyclists for bikes on public roads.  Additional information is available from the following sources:

TCC Presentation and Discussion (using League of American Bicyclists protocols) by TCC Members and LCI Instructors Jim Adams and Sylvia Ounpuu on 4/14/2021

Smart Cycling Videos from the League of American Bicyclists


Each of the following items is either required or strongly recommended:

  • An ANSI-approved helmet that is properly adjusted (REQUIRED)
  • Identification and emergency contact info on your person (REQUIRED)
  • A well-maintained bike
  • Tires inflated to the proper pressure
  • The means with which to change a tire (tire irons, extra tube, pump or CO2 cartridges)
  • Roadside tool kit to make simple adjustments (hex keys at a minimum)
  • Two water bottles
  • Cell phone; consider loading the TCC emergency contact list onto your phone and/or having contact info for those you ride with most often on your phone)
  • Five or ten bucks to purchase sustenance along the way

Hand Signals

Left Turn: Point left with your left hand. Any turn should be signaled by the leader of the group at least 15 seconds before the turn and then again immediately before the turn. It should also be done by enough members of the group so that everyone clearly understands that a left turn is about to occur.

Right Turn: Point Right with your right hand. The club discourages the use of the motorcyclist’s right turn signal, which is the left arm cocked upward at 90 degrees at the elbow. In our experience, this signal is confusing to many cyclists and motorists and it doesn’t make sense for our club to have an inconsistent policy on how a right turn is signaled.

Going Straight: Hand pointed forward. It’s not always necessary at an intersection to indicate that you are planning on going straight, but if the lead rider believes there is any doubt about this they should point straight ahead before they are in the intersection.

Slowing: Flat hand with fingers pointing downward held at waist level and palm facing backward. This signal is used when a rider wants to signal to trailing riders that they are about to slow down or stop.

Road Hazard: Point or call an alert for hazards 3 to 5 seconds before the hazard is reached. This should always be done by the lead rider, but may also be done by following riders if they have a view of the hazard. It can be accompanied by a verbal signal from the lead rider at their discretion, and should definitely be accompanied by a verbal warning if the hazard is big enough to cause a crash. Hazards include anything that could jeopardize the safety of the group by either taking someone down or causing someone to swerve to avoid the hazard. Hazards we point out include potholes, large cracks, and debris such as sticks, rocks, and dead critters. The lead rider should avoid overdoing the number of hand signals. It is not necessary to point out every small crack in the road, and if a road has a prolonged rough patch it may just make sense for the lead rider to call out “rough road” and forego the hand signals until the pavement smooths out.

Standing Up: When you move from sitting to standing there is typically a momentary slowing and you may interfere with riders behind you. If you know there is a cyclist immediately behind you, it’s common practice to indicate you are about to stand by pointing upward with your thumb and motioning your hand upward.

Move Left: Right hand with a single finger extended sweeping across your back from right to left. We use this signal when there is something on the right side of the road that we need to have the entire group shift left for. A parked car is a good example.

Moving In: If you are riding double file and you want to move into the group to make it single file, it’s good practice to show the trailing rider that you intend to move to the right by pointing toward the spot that you are about to pull into the line. The trailing rider should acknowledge this with an “OK”.

Pulling Off: When the leader of a pace line wants to move off the front and to the rear of the group they should signal their intent to the second rider by tapping their right hip with their right hand. Visitors to our group may indicate the same thing by either pointing to the left in the direction they will be pulling off or flicking their right elbow out.

Friendly Wave: It’s nice to acknowledge motorists that have given us the right of way or waited behind the group until it is safe for them to pass.

The Finger: Yes, it is tempting to flip someone off if they honk at us or chuck something out the window.  However, it serves no useful purpose and exacerbates the bad blood between cyclists and motorists. Don’t do it.

Verbal Signals

General: We use verbal signals for instances where hand signals don’t work or where there may be some doubt that the entire group saw or understood the hand signal.  It’s always okay to accompany a hand signal with the same signal stated verbally. Good examples are “left turn”, “right turn”, and “roadkill”.

“Car Up”: Used to signal that there is an oncoming car. It is only necessary to say this if riders are in the middle of the lane or if you think there is a chance that someone does not realize that a car is coming.

“Car Back”: Used to signal that there is a car behind the group trying to pass.  It is generally first yelled by the person in the back of the group and then repeated up the line until everyone in the group understands that a car is coming. When there is a trailing car, individual riders should ride single file as close to the right side as they safely can. If there is a rider that is not moving over, others should call them out by name to make sure they understand the situation, for example, “Fred, there’s a car back, please move over”. Compliance with this particular verbal request is perhaps the biggest single frustration of our ride leaders and they could use everyone’s help.

“Slowing”: Used if you sense that you or the group is about to slow enough to potentially endanger trailing riders, you should yell “slowing”.

“Stopping”: Used if you are going to stop your bike for any reason you should yell “stopping”. This may be at a traffic signal, a stop sign, or because you need to pull over to fix something.

“Flat”: Used if you know or suspect you have a flat tire you should signal this to the other riders by yelling “flat”. This accomplishes two things – first, it lets people know you may be coming to an abrupt and sketchy stop, and second, it signals to the group that they will need to come to a stop and help.

“Walker Up”: Used when there is a pedestrian on the same side of the street as us the lead rider should yell “walker up” or “runner up”. Remember that the pedestrians may be walking in the same direction as we are riding and may have earbuds in, so they don’t necessarily know or hear that we are coming.

“Bike Up”: Used when the group is about to pass a slower cyclist that is not in our group. Commonly combined with the move to the left hand gesture.

“Dog”: Used when an unleashed dog is spotted.  Unleashed dogs present a particular hazard to cyclists and when the lead rider sees an unleashed dog they should definitely alert the other riders. The group should react by slowing down a bit and increasing the spacing between bikes so that individuals have room to react if the dog does something unpredictable or doggedly predictable (like chasing us).

“On Your Left”: Used if you are passing someone and are not sure whether they know you are coming.  Let them know you're there so they can give you room. We typically do not pass people on the right, but if this needs to occur for some reason it is extra important to say “Passing on your right” because they won’t expect you to be there.

“Car Right”:  Used by the first person that approaches an intersection.  The lead cyclist should look left and right for cars and shout “car right” or “car left” if there is a car coming at a distance that would not allow the entire group to get through the intersection.

Note that the club strongly discourages calling "clear" at intersections to indicate it is safe to cross an intersection. Such an exclamation encourages "group think" in an instance where every rider needs to be making their own decision about safely crossing the intersection.

Ride Size

As the number of riders on a ride becomes larger a number of issues begin to arise.  It is more difficult (or impossible) for cars to pass us on narrow twisty roads, it becomes very difficult for the group to communicate effectively, and it becomes increasingly easy to “lose track” of an individual rider and leave them behind. Although not set in stone, the club encourages the use of the following guidelines.

Up to 7 riders: This seems to be the optimal ride size. One ride leader can relatively easily keep track of the group and communication is relatively straightforward.

8-10 riders: When ride size exceeds 7 it becomes difficult for the ride leader to keep track of everyone and communicate effectively. For rides of 8-10 people we recommend that a ride have both a ride leader that operates near the front of the group and a “lieutenant” that rides near the back of the group to assure that no one gets left behind.

10 is the TCC maximum allowed number of riders, as of May 2021.

Position on Road

The following guidelines should be followed when proceeding down the road:

Narrow Roads: Ride on the right side in the right half of the travel lane. Move further right when cars approach from either the front or back, but generally stay no closer than about two feet from the edge of the road.

Narrow State Hwys: On smaller state highways (like Rte 198 and 89), stay within approximately 3 feet of the white line.

Wide State Highways: On State Highways with wide shoulders (like Route 6) ride to the right of the white line.

Two Abreast: On back roads with no significant traffic riders may ride two abreast, but only if both riders stay right of the center line and only if the riders quickly drop into single file if there is a car back. Avoid riding three abreast.

Downhills: On fast downhills, it may be necessary to move a little further into the travel lane to avoid the hazards associated with the edge of the road. If you do this, try to leave enough room on your left so that a bike could pass you without crossing the center line (don’t tempt people to pass you on the right).

Intersection Waiting: If you need to wait at an intersection for the rest of the group, be cognizant of the traffic congestion we cause when we clump together in the road at a stop. Either roll through the intersection to the other side before waiting or make sure everyone is pulled far to the right.

Left Turns: For any turns, it is important to yield to traffic that is already in the lane you are trying to enter.  Each rider should look back to ensure there is a suitable gap in traffic and signal their intention to move left.  If clear, move smoothly into the appropriate lane.  If there is a left turn lane, you should take that lane, centered in the lane.  If there is no left turn lane, you should take the travel lane and position yourself slightly to the left of the center of the lane.  Do not ride on or near the road center line.  When clear to do so, signal again and proceed with your left turn.  Each rider in a group is responsible for executing the turn themselves and riders should never yell "clear back" to other riders, as it encourages people not to think for themselves.

The Center Line: Don’t cross the center line. Ever. The risk of getting hit by a car coming at you or coming up from the rear is just too high.

Pace and Riding Style

The pace of the group is dictated either by the ride leader or (if there is no ride leader) by the general consensus of the group. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Consistency: A consistent predictable pace is safer than the alternative.

Downhills: Everyone has a different tolerance for speed on downhills. If you’re one of the faster descenders in the group it may make sense to place yourself at or near the front of the group when going down hills. If you’re one of the slower descenders, do just the opposite. It’s better not to pass other riders going downhill because they are likely positioned near the center of the lane and it may be difficult to pass without going over the center line and without startling them. If you must pass on a downhill always make sure the rider you are passing knows you are coming with an “on your left”. Avoid passing on the right going downhill. If you decide to do it anyway, be doubly sure to say “passing on your right” because you won’t be expected.

Uphills: It’s typically best to let people climb longer hills at their own pace rather than have everyone climb at the pace of the slowest rider and get bunched up. The group may string out a bit on uphills.  If this is happening, agree to reconvene at the top.

Braking: Avoid sudden hard braking whenever possible by anticipating what is coming. There is likely someone in back of you and although you may be comfortable braking hard you could easily create a panic swerve, skid, or crash in the trailing rider.

Swerving: Swerving is hazardous in a group ride. It is best to hold as straight a line as you can down the road. If you are new to biking or uncomfortable with road conditions, keep a good distance between you and the other bikes to avoid the types of panic situations that can arise if a bike in front of you does something you were not expecting.

Overlapping: Avoid overlapping wheels with another rider if you are within a couple of feet of their bike. If they move sideways they could take out your front wheel, causing a fall.

Intersections: At four-way intersections with cars coming at a distance, wait to cross until you are sure that the entire group can get through at once. Don’t make the cars guess what you are going to do.

Looking out for Each Other

Our club typically does a great job of looking out for each other and making sure no one gets left behind. As ride sizes increase, this can become more of a challenge. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Pace: Ride at a pace that the riders on the group can maintain. If you wish to ride faster than the current group pace, consider breaking off and doing your own ride or consulting the ride leader to let them know you will sprint to the next intersection and wait there. You may also help the group by serving as a lieutenant, which may involve helping riders at the back of the group while also sprinting to the front to report to the ride leader as needed.

Ride Selection: Our club rides at a variety of paces. When choosing a ride, pick one that you’re confident you can keep up with. If you are new to the club that may mean doing a ride or two with a group that is slower than your ability before you move to faster groups. Hold off on moving up to the next group until you are sure you’re ready for the next challenge.

Last Rider: The group is responsible for making sure everyone gets back safely. In small groups, it is easy to keep track of everyone. In larger groups, the riders near the back of the group, including especially the second to the last rider, need to make sure that the rest of the riders know if and when there is a rider that is behind the group trying to catch back up. The group is responsible for waiting for this rider unless the rider indicates that they are willing and comfortable to find their way home alone.

Leaving Rides: If you are planning on leaving the ride or cutting it short, make sure someone in the group knows this so that people don’t wait or go looking for you.

Mechanicals: Bikes break. Tires go flat. It happens. If a rider needs to stop to make an adjustment or change a flat it is the responsibility of the group to make sure that the rider has the means and ability to address the situation and get back on the ride. On smaller rides, everyone should wait and help out. On larger rides, there may be a decision to have a part of the group stay to help and another part of the group ride on.