by Vanessa McCracken
Spring is my favorite time of year to ride my bike in the Central Valley. The weather is ideal and the views are amazing. Riding in the recent Blossom Bike Ride out of Reedley, I was mesmerized by all the blossoms, wildflowers, green hills, snowcapped mountains, and flowing rivers, creeks and streams. Being outside and able to soak in all that gorgeousness from my bike is as good as it gets for me!
An added bonus to spring riding in the Central Valley is the abundance of organized bike rides to choose from this time of year. The unofficial “cycling season” kicks off with the Blossom Bike Ride every year, and it’s full speed ahead from there! In addition to the many rides I lead for Sunnyside Bicycles, spring brings us the Spring Fling Duathlon, the Big Sandy Mountain Bike Race, the California Classic Weekend, the iCan Bike Camp, the Kirch Flat Century, the National Bike Challenge, the Mall to Mall Ride, the Bike to Work Day, and more.
Riding in a group is different than riding by yourself, though. If you’re thinking of joining us on one of our rides, or one of the bigger events I mentioned above, there are a few things to know beforehand to help you have the best, safest experience possible:
Be predictable. You must be even more predictable riding in a group than you are when riding alone. Maintain a steady speed; don’t accelerate and then coast, as this makes it dangerous for the rider behind you. Hold your lane position. Avoid swerving or weaving. Communicate with the riders around you.
Use signals. Use hand signals to communicate with other riders and drivers. Since our bikes aren’t equipped with turn signals, it’s important to signal our intentions to the riders and drivers behind us. Different groups may use different signals, so be sure to discuss and agree upon same set of signals beforehand if possible.
Give warnings. Warn riders behind you of changes in speed or direction. You’ll notice some riders use only hand signals to indicate changes in speed, while others may simply call out “slowing” or “stopping.” Bikes don’t have brake lights, so it’s critical to let the riders behind you know if you are slowing or stopping in order to prevent collisions. If you find yourself at the front of a group of riders, you should call out “left” or “right” well in advance of turns to give ample time for proper positioning.
Change positions correctly. Pass others on the left. Always say “on your left” to warn them. This is about more than courtesy, it is about safety. A rider may not realize you are overtaking them on the left and move into your path to avoid an obstacle, causing a collision. Always announce your intentions. (I like to say a friendly hello as I pass, too, to be extra courteous.) If passing on your right in your only option, say “on your right” clearly and take extra caution since this is highly unusual and unexpected.
Announce hazards. Most riders in a group won’t have a clear view of the road surface ahead, so it is critical to announce hazards to warn riders behind you. Point to the left or right and call out whatever the hazard is (e.g., hole, glass, bump, debris). Doing so allows the riders behind you position and/or brace themselves safely.
Watch for traffic approaching from the rear. It’s always good to know when a car is approaching. It is the responsibility of the riders in the back to call out “car back” to alert the riders in the front of the group. (I ride with a rear sensor that alerts me to approaching cars, making it easy for me to alert the rest of the group. You can request a demo the next time you stop by Sunnyside Bicycles.) Additionally, “car up” should be called out when riding double (side-by-side), around curves, or on narrow rides.
Be careful at intersections. Always say “slowing” or “stopping” to alert riders behind you. Do not say “clear” when riding through an intersection, as traffic changes rapidly. Riders behind you should never enter an intersection based on someone else’s assessment of safety. Every cyclist is responsible for his or her own safety. Always check to see if it is clear for yourself.
Leave a gap for cars. When riding up hills or on narrow roads, leave a gap between every three to four cyclists so motorists can pass smaller groups. Similarly, a large group should proceed through a four-way stop in groups of four, taking turns with cars. Bicycles are considered vehicles and must follow the same rules of the road. You wouldn’t roll through a four-way stop in a car just because the car in front of you went through, would you?
Move off the road to stop. When the group stops, move well off the road to avoid interfering with traffic or riders behind you. Make sure your whole body and bike are off the road. (This seems like an obvious tip, but you’d be surprised at how often I see it ignored.) Always look for, and yield to, traffic when re-entering the road.
Ride single file or two abreast as appropriate to the roadway. Even where riding double is legal, courtesy dictates riding single file when cars are trying to pass you (if the lane is wide enough for them to safely do so). Never ride more than two abreast, which is illegal.
Don’t feel intimidated by this list! It all becomes second nature very quickly. Just remember to be mindful of the riders around you, ride predictably, and communicate clearly and often so everyone is on the same page. Riding your bike is a ton of fun, and riding with a group of people only adds to the experience. So pull your bike out of the garage, air up the tires, grab your helmet, and join us for a ride. Our monthly Breakfast Ride is the perfect place to start. This month’s is March 19 at 9 a.m. See you there!
If you’re interested in receiving a weekly text alert with ride updates and special offers, text BIKE to 313131 to join our list!
6105 E. Kings Canyon Road #104
Fresno, CA 93727
(559) 255-7433 (RIDE)
Watch for Sunnyside Bicycles column every month here at KRL! And learn more on their website.