Cycling Street Smarts, left-hand drive version



Whether you are riding for daily transportation or in an organised event, touring, training or just exploring country roads, you will be riding with other cyclists . With a local cycling club, you can meet people and share information about routes, equipment and cycling events. In addition, athletically inclined cyclists often push themselves harder and improve more when training together.

But you can spoil the fun if you run into one of your companions. Bike-bike crashes can be serious, so it's a good idea to give some attention to safe group riding.


Imagine a "cocoon" of space around each cyclist in your group of riders. It's easy to think that you can safely pass closer to a bicycle than a car, because the bicycle is smaller. But the bicycle can turn to the side as fast as a car. Keep 3 feet (one meter) of clearance when you're passing another cyclist - more at high downhill speeds.

At any time, one of your riding companions might be about to pass you, so be especially careful to ride in a straight line. You don't have eyes in the back of your head, and you can't constantly trace the position of cyclists behind you as you ride.

When you're about to pass another cyclist, it's your responsibility to do it safely. The other members of your group can't read your mind to know that you are about to change position in the group. Check behind you before you change your lane position. Call out, "On your right" to the cyclist you're passing, and pass on the right.

Never sneak past another cyclist on the left - if you do, you force the other cyclist farther toward the middle of the road without warning.

Be especially careful when riding in a large group of people whose level of skill is uncertain. Expect that children and other cyclists with little experience will change direction or slow down unpredictably. Overtake them only when you have plenty of room.


Cyclists often like to ride side by side so they can talk with each other. Riding two abreast is legal in the U.K. unless a road is narrow and busy. On a straight, flat road, drivers can see you from behind, and you can usually see or hear them approach.

Side-by-side cyclists occupy a whole lane. On a multilane road with light traffic, cars can pass in the next lane. On a narrow road or with heavier traffic, be courteous! Don't make drivers wait for you. Pull into a single line well before cars reach you. It takes only one thoughtless rider out to the right of the group to endanger the whole group. Call out, "Car up " to let the group know there's a car behind, and "car down" for one ahead. (This is British practice: in the USA, it's "car back." and "car up." )

A rear-view mirror helps you to check on the cars behind you. With a mirror, you can ride side by side more often and still pull back into a single line to let the cars pass you.
Never ride side by side on a hilly or winding road. Don't make yourself into a last-moment surprise to a motorist coming around a curve or over a hilltop.


Some cyclists fall for a "herd instinct" when riding in groups - as if the group protected them, or there's nobody else on the road besides the group. It's tempting to play "follow the leader" in a group of cyclists - tempting but dangerous.

When preparing a lane change or turn, you must look out for yourself. It can be safe for the cyclist ahead of you to change lane position, but not safe for you, since cars or other cyclists could be approaching from the rear. You must look back for them just the same as when you ride alone. Look left, right, and left again for traffic at stop signs - don't follow the rider ahead of you into a junction.

The only exception is in a tightly organised, small group that moves completely as a unit. The first and last riders are understood to be on the lookout for the entire group. Don't count on this service unless it's understood in advance.

When crossing lanes, cyclists should "snake" across, one at a time, each rider in turn. This way, you leave a safe passage for cars. A close, coordinated group, on the other hand, should start the lane change from the back so that a motorist does not divide the group in two. A ragged line of cyclists blocks the entire lane.

Snaking across a lane to allow room for a car to overtake (4 kB gif)

"Snaking" across a lane, the cyclists can allow the passing car to make its right turn, while they turn left. Each cyclist looks back before crossing the lane.

Make a neat, straight line when waiting at junctions. Groups of cyclists who pile up at junctions block the road. This practice is unnecessary, discourteous and dangerous.

When you stop to rest, to read your map or to wait for companions, pull completely off the road. It's surprising how many cyclists fail to observe this simple caution.


When you ride close behind another cyclist, you don't have to work as hard. The cyclist in front of you serves as a windbreak, reducing your air resistance. Experienced cyclists take advantage of this effect, drafting each other in a pace line.

In a pace line, each cyclist works hard for a little while at the front, and then drops back to the rear along the right side of the line of riders. Large groups may ride in two lines side by side - a double pace line, with the leaders dropping back along the outside, right and left.

A well-coordinated pace line is poetry in motion, but drafting is always a little risky. To take advantage of the windbreak effect, you must follow the rider ahead of you closely; but you must never let your front wheel overlap that rider's rear wheel. If the wheels touch, you suddenly can't balance and you'll probably take a quick, hard fall. (You might be able to prevent it by pressing your front wheel against the wheel it contacts…) Other riders behind you may land on top of you. Ride in a pace line only if you've developed good control over your bicycle, and you know that the other cyclists can also manage the situation safely.

Everyone in a pace line must ride smoothly, with no quick braking or swerving. Look past the rider in front of you: Don't stare at his or her rear wheel. Try to anticipate the moves the lead rider will make. The lead rider should announce road hazards: "Glass," "Dog right," "Car down," and manoeuvres: "Slowing," "Right turn." The last rider should announce "Car up" when a car is about to pass the group. Hand signals aren't a good idea in a tight pace line group - it's more important to keep both hands on the handlebar.

Four types of pacelines (14 kB gif)

Four types of pace lines. The two at the left are relatively easy, but the two at the right require a well-coordinated group of expert riders.

When you pull in behind another rider to draft, call out "On your wheel" so he or she will know you're there.


There's a major exception to these rules of cooperation: In a mass-start road race, riders often swerve deliberately to make it hard for others to overtake.

Meanwhile, other riders lurk behind, drafting each other until the final minutes when they sprint all-out for the finish line. The tactics of a race - drafting and solo sprints, cooperation and competition - make it exciting for the racers and spectators.

But leave this kind of excitement for the racers. When riding in a group, focus on cooperation, not competition. Relax and enjoy your ride!


Group riding can add a new dimension to your cycling. Except in the special situations of the pace line or mass-start race, the rules of the road apply to you with other cyclists just as they do with motorists. Remember to keep the safety cocoon around you, be predictable, and don't follow another cyclist into a dangerous situation. The increased enjoyment of cycling with others is well worth the extra attention.