Lately, I’ve been doing most of my riding alone. I haven’t planned it that way, it just happened because of a combination of my schedule and the weather. It’s been too chilly in the mornings to hit the club ride (tell that to the hardy souls who do show up!), and my work keeps me from getting in an evening ride. So I get out when I can.
But the days are getting longer, and I expect the group rides will resume soon. That reminds me to brush up on my communication skills. Over the weekend, riding with my wife, I made sure to point out road debris, broken glass and the like.
In a group, it’s even more important to relay those signals. Trailing riders might not be able to see around bikes in front of them, and wouldn’t be aware of any upcoming hazards.
A couple of months ago, I was out riding with a friend. We were going single file on a narrow two-lane road. I was in the lead. I must have zoned out, because suddenly a jagged-edged pothole appeared right in front of me.
“Yipes!” I yelled, and yanked the handlebar over to miss it.
It caught my riding friend completely by surprise. “Whoa!” he yelled. He missed it too, but it was a near thing. I felt that I had been negligent by not pointing at the pothole as I skirted it. It was my responsibility, and I blew it.
Signals from the lead rider can help other riders get past the problem area more smoothly, too. All you have to do when someone in front points at a hazard is move your bike in the opposite direction. If there’s broken glass in the gutter, cyclists can get a little farther left to miss it.
While you’re passing along hand signals, verbal warnings are just as important. Riders at the back of the group should certainly call, “Car back!” when a car is approaching from behind, and in enough time to allow riders ahead to pull into single file and let the car pass.
But for me, verbal warnings can be problematic. Sometimes, the wind carries sounds away from you, or noise within the group makes it hard to understand. On my very first club ride more than two years ago, we were at an uncontrolled intersection, waiting for traffic to pass. I heard what sounded like, “Clear right!” so I pulled out into the intersection. A car hit its brakes while I crossed in front of him. The rider who had shouted the warning quickly caught up to me. “I said ‘Car right!'” he told me. “In this group, there’s no such warning as ‘clear right.'”
In fact, when I reach an intersection now, “clear” is one warning I do not give. I prefer to determine for myself whether the road is clear enough for me to cross, and I hope other cyclists in the group feel the same way. I know they don’t — “clear!” is one of the more common verbal warnings on any group ride.
As a lot of us get ready to take part in large organized rides as part of our charity ride training, it’ll be interesting to see just how many novice cyclists are familiar with hand and verbal signals to communicate with the riders around them.