In this document our resident bicycle expert, Luke Elrath, provides an introduction the common safety concerns associated with bicycle group rides.
Bicycle Group Rides
Group rides and charity rides are popular throughout the United States and becoming big business. Along with the rapid growth, new events have popped-up across the country, new event organizers have entered the industry, and new lawsuits have been filed. The bicycle experts at Robson Forensic have been retained on behalf of both plaintiffs and defendants in the last year to evaluate the actions of various event organizers as they relate to injuries sustained during group rides and other organized bicycle events. Group ride investigations have involved:
- Route selection & preparation
- Evaluation of rider skills
- Ride management: lead & trailing guides
- Ride communications: verbal & hand signals
- Emergency response preparation
Gran Fondos, shop rides and charity rides are just three of the most common ways that cyclists can learn how to enjoy sharing the roads in a group. Speeds vary from relaxed touring to a spirited, racing-level paceline. In well run events, the event organizers/staff evaluate participant skill, teach and use consistent verbal and hand signals, and control the front and rear of the pack.
Before a pedal is turned the leader of the ride must verify that the planned course is appropriate to the abilities of the attendees. It can be in the form of posting information about distance, elevation gain and average pace so that riders can decide if it is within their abilities. The organizer may also ask questions or observe the riders in a controlled environment (such as a parking lot) to get an understanding of the level of rider skill and fitness. If the planned course is deemed too challenging for some riders, the organizer should suggest they try a less ambitious ride or join a beginner–level group. The organizer can also modify the planned route to suit the abilities of the least experienced riders in the group.
‘Down the Line’ Communications
A paceline is a rider formation in which all cyclists form a single-file line in the road and ride quite close to the rider in front of them (often 1 foot or less). In close proximity such as this, all riders behind the leader benefit from the aerodynamic effects of the head rider blocking the wind. A drawback of this practice is limited sight distance. Oncoming traffic, traffic signals, turns, pedestrians, potholes and debris all require prior notice. This notice is achieved through verbal and hand signals that are passed ‘down the line’ starting with the lead rider. These signals must be established before the ride begins and must be employed uniformly by all participants.
Lead and Trailing Guides
In many group rides the best practice is to have two riders familiar with the course and of sufficient skill level to control the pack from the front and the rear. The leader can set the pace, keep watch for road hazards, and lead the group through the route so that others do not have to navigate. The rear must be manned as well so that no riders are lost, mechanical breakdowns can be announced, and the group stopped if there are any safety concerns.
Riders share in the responsibility for safety for themselves and others. As participants in a group ride event, riders are responsible for following directions from their guides and the rules of the event. They are also responsible for communicating any health or equipment issues they may be experiencing to event coordinators so they can be properly addressed.
Safety: Before, During and After
Riding a bicycle is a great form of recreation, transportation and exercise. Riding in a group is a way to go faster than possible as an individual, learn new skills and even train for competition. For the sake of all participants in a group ride, the event organizer and the riders have responsibilities for safety, before, during and after the ride. A lack of proper planning, training, communication, or supervision can result in serious consequences for the riders in the group and other road users.
Luke has worked as a product manager for bicycle manufacturers, raced competitively on the road and on the trails, and has worked as a metropolitan bicycle courier. In addition to assembling bikes as a product manager, he also learned to design and build his own frames. He is a licensed League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructor. He is licensed by the International Mountain Bicycling Association as a tour guide and skills instructor. Luke’s casework includes all matters related to bicycles including bicycle failures, improper bicycle assembly, rider actions and event organization.