Group Riding Techniques

by League of American Bicyclists

To ride safely in a group, you should first be familiar with the techniques for riding predictably, on public roadways, as an individual-such skills as proper lane positioning and emergency bike handling. However, cycling in a group places added responsibilities on each cyclist, so all must understand and practice the principles of group riding.

Pre-ride Check

Always check your bicycle before starting out, to avoid unpleasant surprises during your ride. The term “ABC Quick Check” will help you remember what to do. “A” is for Air. Check tire pressure. “B” is for Brakes. Check brakes for pad wear in adjustment, cables and housing (smooth travel, no fraying) and quick releases closed. “C” is for Cranks, Chain and Cassette. Check cranks for side to side play (a bad thing), bolts secure, and chain travels smoothly through all gears. “Q” is for quick releases. Check all quick release levers to assure they are in the ‘closed’ position. This will assure that your wheels will stay attached to your bicycle, the seat will stay in place, and your brakes will work.

Remember: Always Follow the Rules of the Road

Be Predictable

The golden rule for group cycling is: BE PREDICTABLE. Other riders expect you to continue straight ahead at constant speed unless you indicate differently. This principle underlies all vehicular traffic maneuvers, but cycling in a group requires even more predictability than solo riding, since by choice we ride close together. Remember to ride with traffic rather than against it and in the rightmost lane that goes to your destination. Leave at least four feet between your handlebars and parked cars or other hazards.

Look Before You Make a Move

A good cyclist always looks or scans behind before moving laterally to a different position on the roadway or in the group. Use the cues provided by others in the group, but make your own decision. Remember that safety start with you making good decisions.

Use Signals

Cyclists use hand and verbal signals to communicate with members of the group and with other traffic. Here are the hand signals for turning and stopping:

  • Put your left arm straight out to signal a left turn.
  • Put your right arm straight out to signal a right turn.
  • Put your left arm out and down with your palm to the rear to signal slowing or stopping.

Within a close group, it makes more sense to use verbal signals such as “Right turn!” “Slowing!” or “Stopping!” rather than hand signals, but riders at the front and rear of the group should use hand signals for the benefit of other road users.

Give Warnings

Group riding requires an awareness of others. When riding in close formation, each rider must feel a responsibility toward the riders behind. You must warn of road hazards and of changes in your direction or speed. To notify the group of a change in path, the lead rider will often call “Left turn!” in addition to giving a hand signal. It is not necessary or desirable for each member of the group to repeat this voice instruction; a hand signal will do once the front of the group has established the new direction. The lead rider should announce the turn well in advance of the intersection, so that members of the group have time to position themselves properly for the turn.

Ride One or Two Across

Ride single or double file as appropriate to the roadway and traffic conditions. Riding double file is fun, and on group rides most are eager to get out of town and onto quiet roads where we can double up. Most state vehicle codes permit narrow vehicles to travel double file within a lane. Nevertheless, as a courtesy, be quick to single up when this will permit faster traffic to move by more efficiently. “Car Back!” is the signal to get into single file. Riding more than two abreast is illegal. Ride single file on busy paths.

When the call comes for cyclists to merge from double to single file, the leftmost cyclist takes charge. The leftmost cyclist is the one most at risk from a passing vehicle, and will usually be quickest to act. Sometimes the leftmost cyclist will elect to drop in behind the cyclist on the right, but usually he or she will pull ahead. Pulling ahead eliminates the problem of negotiating with a cyclist who is traveling in the inside cyclist’s blind spot at the rear, and increases the time available for the maneuver.

On very large group rides, roads may be controlled or even closed to other traffic, giving the cyclists more room. If this is the case, it is legal to ride more than two abreast, but riding under these conditions requires extra skill and care.

Change Positions Correctly

Often we change our position with the group to ride and talk with different companions. Generally, slower traffic stays right, and that is what people expect, so we usually pass others in our group on their left. Say “passing on your left!” or just “On your left!” to warn the cyclist ahead that you are coming by. Don’t shout too loudly or you may misguide other riders. On rare occasions you will need to move past someone on his or her right. To do this, say “Passing on your right!” quite clearly, since this is an unusual maneuver that must be performed with care. Only do this with the agreement of the other cyclist and when you are not forcing the other cyclist into the path of overtaking traffic.

Watch for Traffic Coming from the Rear

Riders in front often cannot see traffic approaching from the rear, so it is the responsibility of riders in the back of the group to inform the others by saying “Car back!”. Sometimes when the road is narrow, when we are riding double file, or just when we suspect trouble, riders in front will warn of traffic approaching from the front with “Car up!”. At intersections, if it would benefit those behind, you may announce side traffic with “Car left!” or “Car right!” but it is not necessary to do this if there is no danger.

These voice signals, using the word “car,” are standard, and they are automatically and immediately recognized by the experienced cyclist. Use these signals even if the vehicle is a truck, bus or motorcycle. When it really matters-when danger threatens-you want to evoke the quickest possible reaction from your companions.

Watch Out at Intersections

When approaching intersections requiring vehicles to yield or stop, the lead riders will announce “Slowing!” or “Braking!” or “Stopping!” to alert those behind to the change in speed. When passing though an intersection, some cyclist announce:”Clear!” if there is no cross traffic. This is a dangerous practice that should be abandoned. It encourages riders to follow the leader through an intersection without determining for themselves that it is safe to do so. Don’t let others do your thinking for you. Each cyclist is responsible for verifying that the way is indeed clear. Remember, it is OK, even recommended, that you call out potentially hazardous situations to other riders, but not OK to guarantee that the way is clear.

Stop for Stop Signs and Signals

It is important to obey traffic control devices such as stop signs and traffic signals. Cyclists sometimes get into trouble by developing bad habits and stopping only at stop sign and/or signals where they perceive cross traffic. Stop signs and signals are often inconvenient to cyclists, but they are there for a reason. They have been placed at intersections where coming to a complete stop is regarded as necessary for safety; in other words, places where merely yielding is not sufficient. Therefore, in order to safely and legally operate a bicycle, one must come to a complete stop at all stop sign and red or yellow signals.

On group rides, those at the back must not develop a tendency to follow the leader through intersections, assuming that the intersection is clear for the whole group.

In some cases, traffic signals are actuated by detectors embedded in the pavement. These detectors may not respond to bicyclists. You may wait for a car to trip the signal, press the pedestrian pushbutton to change the light, or if there is no other option, cross carefully once you are sure the detector is not function correctly and the intersection is clear.

Please report these non-functioning signals. A bicycle is a legal road user and has a right to expect that the traffic control devices will work. See end of article for phone numbers.

Don’t Pass at an Intersection

Do not pass other cyclists at an intersection. Inexperienced cyclists sometimes come from behind and ride through while other cyclists are taking their proper turn at the intersection. This is highly dangerous and discourteous, and any observers will mark your group as another bunch of crazy bicyclists who should not be allowed on the roads.

Announce Hazards

When riding in a group, most of the cyclists do not have a good view of the road surface ahead, so it is important to announce potholes, glass, gravel and other hazards. Indicate road hazards by hand signals, and by voice where required for safety. Pointing down to left or right informs those behind to watch for trouble. Shouting “Hole!” “Gravel!” “Glass!” and so forth can help.

Warn Foot Traffic

Pedestrians traveling in the roadway are required to be on the left side of the road, facing traffic, so we often encounter them head on. Lead riders in the group should announce the presence of pedestrians to the rest of the group with “Pedestrian up!” or “Ped up!” or “Runner up!” or “Ped and pup up!”. Pedestrians on the wrong side of the roadway, moving with their backs to the overtaking riders, must also be made aware of the group with “On your left!”. The riders should then check to the rear and move left to pass the pedestrians with plenty of clearance.

Watch out for railroad tracks

Railroad tracks require special care. It is important that you cross perpendicular to the rails to avoid having the gaps between the rails and the pavement divert your wheels from under you. Cyclists need ample warning in order to prepare to cross the tracks properly, so yell “Tracks!” in plenty of time. In preparing to cross diagonal tracks, you will have to deviate from your usual lane position in order to cross the tracks squarely. To do this, you must watch carefully for traffic approaching from ahead and behind. Remember that most motorists will not understand your problem. Plan ahead, position yourself properly, and give clear indications of what you are doing. Do not crowd or pass other cyclists during the crossing maneuver. Also be aware that condensation forms on steel rails under various temperature and humidity conditions, making them especially slippery.

Watch Out for Dogs

Dogs present a hazard to cyclist because of their unpredictable behavior. Cyclists are bitten by dogs infrequently, but a dog can inadvertently strike the front wheel of a bicycle causing a fall. Usually, a dog will be minding its business up ahead, but it might decide to give chase or just cross the road at the wrong time. Dogs call for extra communication within the group, as not all riders react to dogs in the same way. Some cyclists try to outrun them, some slow down, and while everyone is distracted by the dog, they may not be watching where they are going. Warn of dogs immediately upon sighting them in order to give your companions time to plan their actions without emergency maneuvers. Shout “Dog up!” “Dog left!” or “Dog right!” as appropriate.

Group Riding Etiquette

Don’t wear headphones-Auditory cues are important on public roadways. Being plugged in is unsociable and seriously erodes the communication necessary for safe cycling. In some states, cycling with headphones is illegal.

Leave a gap for motor vehicles-When riding on two-lane roads with lanes so narrow that even single-file riders impede the normal flow of motorized traffic, leave gaps between groups of cyclists so that motorists (and faster cyclists) can take advantage of shorter passing intervals and can eventually move step by step past the entire group.

Move off the road when regrouping-When stopping to regroup, fix a flat or wait for a friend, move completely off the road if at all possible. Obstructing the roadway in front of overtaking cyclists and motorists can create a dangerous situation and a time-consuming traffic jam.

Reprinted from League of American Bicyclists "Student Manual". For more information on good cycling tips, see How You Can Ride Better.
For more information about the League of American Bicyclists, visit their web site,, or e-mail them at

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