Group Riding Tips - Communication

Written by Patrcik Stelte
I have often heard that getting cyclists to ride in groups is like herding cats.  We like to go our own way.  However, that is counter-productive and dangerous in a group.  Communication is essential for a safe, enjoyable and efficient ride.
Because a cyclist view is block by another directly in front or aside, a rider cannot see far ahead.  Objects appear in the road, stop signs are regular, railroad tracks are frequent in our “Crossroads of America” community and motorists’ whiz by on approach and from behind.  Also, we need to move inside the peloton from time to time with rotation from the wind, with the wind, fatigue and pulling from the front.  Talking these events through is paramount to safety and camaraderie.   There are standard vocalizations and hand movements to each obstacle.  The following terminology is not new to your ears, but the emphasis is to standardize for understanding.
When approaching stop signs, red traffic lights, crossing traffic at intersections or hazards in the road, the custom is to call out, “Slowing” or “Stopping” for the appropriate cycling movement.  This seems like so much common sense, yet a non-verbal, missed assumption can put a rider on the deck.  Many times, I have seen two cyclists collide at an intersection because intend was not announced.  Another infrequent but dangerous outcome from bunching up at reduced speed is rubbing your front tire against the rear tire of the rider in front of you.  Often, the result is a crash from an over-correction on the part of the rider in back.  “Slowing” or “Stopping” narrows the outcomes of possibilities to a safe level.  An alternative to a vocal cue is a arm down, hand out motion at the side to indicate stopping or slowing.
Objects in the road come frequent and fast.  A clear view is often available to those in front.  How to announce such hazards is key for safety for those behind.  A pothole or crumbled road can be announcement with a hand gesture or vocal cue.  Pointing to the area of concern must be done on approach.  Pointing at the hazard as you ride by may not afford time for the next ride to adjust.  Also, calling out “Hole” is acceptable if a hand gesture cannot be done in time. 
Moving through intersections with oncoming traffic is another potential danger.  The judgment of motorists in the area and how to announce a safe crossing path can be tricky.  When no cars are visible, “Clear” is announced.  Typically, this is accompanied with “Clear left and Clear Right” as a progression in scanning the road.  When motorists are in eye-sight, safe passage is judged by the speed and proximity of the motorist(s).  “Clear, but car in the distance left (or right)” is announced when the judgment is made that passage is safe, but danger is made clear to those who linger to long to pass through the intersection.   When motorists are a danger, ‘Car left (or right)” is announced and accompanied with “Stopping” to bring the group to a stop at an intersection.  There should be more than a couple of eagle-eyes at crossing intersections.  Riders in front can be distracted and cyclists in the back may not see on-coming traffic because of infrastructure at the intersection. 
An often heard vocal cue in a group ride announces motorists in the area.  When a peloton is large enough for socialization to be ongoing, cyclists can lose focus on their position in the group.  This can lead to straying near the center line.  “Car up” or “Car back” to announce a motorist near the group can be monotonous on the ears, but is essential.  The call out perks up the eyes and ears.  Not all cars are the same.  Fast moving or large in size, a cyclist who hears “Car up” can gauge the danger of the on-coming vehicle.  Too many times, a close calls come from distracted or risk-taking motorists.  Announcing they are in the area is just good common sense.
When moving around in the group, cyclists can lose contact with others immediately aside or behind.  Announcing “On your right (or left)” is good practice when passing a rider in a tight spot in the gutter or having speed that pushes you between two others.  Also, filling a hole or making room in a pace-line is done by first pointing to the place a cyclist wants to go and then waiting for the accompanying acknowledgement from the rider immediately near the opening.
How to signal the rider from behind to pass you can change from one cycling community to the next.  I have read that tapping your thigh is used by some when motioning to be passed.  Waving a hand “through” is another non-verbal cue.  In our community, a tradition of motioning with an elbow “flick” is used.  As an example, when a cyclist has finished with a pull, a flick of the elbow, a bird-wing movement, is used to indicate “I am finished, please pass me on the side that I have flicked my elbow”.  The rider will pull off on the opposite side of the flick.
Finally, railroad crossing have their own unique hand and arm gesture.  This can also be used when signaling a depression in the road.  Before crossing railroad tracks, a rider in front will swing arm and hand across his or her back motioning that an obstruction runs across the entire road.  Although railroad track signalization can be seen at distance, not all tracks are alike and some can be dangerously rough.  Many times, I have seen water bottles fly across tracks from the jarring hazard.
We are always communicating.  Most of the time however, communication is non-verbal.  To ensure a safe, enjoyable ride we must vocalize our intent and understand our hand gestures.  3RVS is committed to club members and guests that join our rides.  If you don’t feel safe, you won’t come back.  Please use these techniques during our group rides.

Cycling Words and Slang

Here are a few words you may hear during a group ride.
Gutter - The edge of the right side of the road is called the gutter.  Why a cyclist is riding the gutter can be many reasons.  It can be tactical in a race or bunched by the group.
Burning Match Sticks - When a cyclist is giving all out effort.  The rider is burning all that is in the fuel tank.  This is usually followed with bonking, baked or fried, running out of energy and feeling lousy.  In this state, you are done.
Bombing - All out speed on a downhill, as in, “I bombed that hill”.  
False Flat - The road looks flat, but the effort feels like, “I am going uphill or downhill”.  Occasionally, there are roads that have optical elusions; there is a change to the gradient in the road and is sufficient enough to change the effort of your cycling.