Cycling communities, like all others, are constantly evolving and reforming, all the while retaining their same basic character for the most part. People come and go and the result is that most groups enjoy the presence of some new riders at most times. Here in the heart of summer, we see a fresh crop of relatively new riders jumping confidently into group rides, fresh off of spring and summer events and training rides. Last Saturday, my frequent ride partner, Sam, and I joined a small group of friends for a ride. Our group subsequently decided to join a larger group, which itself was comprised of a self-described "mellow" bunch combined with some more aggressive riders with whom we ride fairly often. The product of the mix was a congenial but disparate group that lacked a clear leader and a clear plan. The result was some confusion and misdirection that should and could have been avoided.
Here are a couple of areas where we went astray and what we could have done to avoid them:
We lacked a clear ride plan regarding pace line protocol
Early on, the group was often three or more wide. The large group was also pretty stretched out, making it difficult for drivers to safely pass and the group didn't respond to calls of "car back" by moving to the right and consolidating. Nobody was being purposely irresponsible, but as a group we just weren't functioning very well. This can really piss off even the most patient drivers. Put yourself in their place and try to make it as easy as possible for cars to safely pass the group. Sometimes, they'll just have to wait, but on flat, open roads at the very least stay no more than two abreast and move to the right. Let drivers know that you're aware of them and that you're working with them.
We lacked a clear leader and route plan
Early in the ride, the leader of the biggest faction of the group went straight through a major intersection with several of us following. The bulk of the group followed other riders, made a right turn and started yelling at the misdirected bunch. As a result, the rider in front of me, in a moment of indecision, grabbed an handful of brake which caused me to do the same thing to avoid a collision. When approaching a turn or any intersection in which there is any question of direction, make the plan clear to the group before the junction. If you miss a turn or are unsure, DO NOT slam on the brakes. Look around, assess to situation, then do whatever is appropriate.
Even after our group split into smaller factions, there were a couple of times when a turn was called out, only to have a change of plans made in the middle of an intersection. Dangerous stuff.
Groups should go over the ride plan at the start of the ride and call out directions for upcoming intersections well ahead of the approach.
Some things should go without saying, but we had the usual couple of guys riding in the paceline on aerobars. Unless you are in the front, that's a big no-no in my book, just ahead of riding in a group with your I-pod. I mentioned the danger of riding tri-bars to one of the guys and was assured that he rode with one hand out on his brake. Needless to say, that position is uncomfortable, unstable and wasn't maintained.
I also took issue with a rider who on several occasions turned his head and spit. After getting sprayed on the leg, I finally had to say something to him. I realize that I was already covered with sweat, road grime, salt and dead bugs, but adding someone else's spit to that soup did nothing to enhance the mix . If you've got to spit in the line, spit under your elbow, preferably between you knees. I'd much rather spit on my own leg than that of a fellow rider. That's just good manners.
We'll discuss snot rockets come fall.
Groups who ride together regularly seem to naturally roll smoothly, but that success is the result of the experience of many miles on the road. Joining new group rides is almost always fun, but there can also be an element of danger as the group gets itself lined out. Though many people are uncomfortable handing out advice (not a problem on this end!), it is important to communicate and help less experienced or inattentive riders understand the dynamics of the pack out on the road. Be safe.