Thursday, May 14, 2009

How To - Link to "Think" by Josh Horowitz

I like this article. A lot.

It's easy to understand the author's frustration with his peers, if you can call them that. Fellow cyclists, maybe? Unfortunately I can relate to his frustrations.

A short time ago I went on a local group ride. At some point we slowed, the front half of the group uncertain where to go, the rear half just far enough behind that "Go right!" sounded like "Stay right!" (or something like that).

The result?

The front half slowed, fanning out just a bit, the rear half blended in, and then we had a mess of riders and bikes blocking a small intersection. One car, a Jeep, slowed, pulled wide, wide enough to clear any errant cyclist toppling over, and proceeded around the group. I thought it a sensible, cautious move, one that felt neutral. No anger, no slammed gas pedal, just a slow, cautious bit of navigation.

One joker in the group, though, thought differently. He actually yelled out loud, "Why are you driving in the middle of the effing road?!"


Maybe I'm taking this wrong, but the reason why the guy was driving "in the middle of the effing road" is you. And me. And the other riders in the road.

(I lump myself with all the riders, but in fact I stopped about 50 feet away, away from the intersection, away from the turn, and right on the shoulder of the road. Still, though, in the driver's eye, I was just another "biker" clogging up the quiet road.)

Until then I'd been trying to be subtle about respecting the drivers on the road. I stayed to the right of the rider in front of me - folks were leaving so much room to their right that I could easily and comfortably ride to their right. And that isn't even using "Cat 3" distances - non-racers felt totally comfortable with me riding to their right (albeit a bit puzzled).

I'm not the ride leader, nor am I even a secondary leader. Sure, I'll yell, "Car back!" and stuff, but everyone should. The guys from the shop, the guys who are helping run the shop's group, they're the leaders. But, although they seem to respect the drivers around them, they don't seem comfortable in the leadership role, at least not the more difficult "admonishment" role.

Usually riders bunch up when they're talking or they're engrossed in something other than riding. I remember last year one guy trying to talk up a woman on the ride, ignoring the car on his rear quarter for at least a minute. I finally yelled at him to move over, and his response?

"He didn't want to pass."

Well, no sh*t, Sherlock. You were in the way, and unlike your attitude towards him, the driver actually had some respect for you.

The active solution, if I were a ride leader, would be to tell the riders to single up and such. Set expectations before the ride leaves. And to foster a constructive, professional atmosphere where something like "Car back!" means move over, pronto, and to do it in a safe way.

Heck, such moves teaches you valuable racing skills - when the course suddenly narrows, it's hard to merge unless you've done it before, under duress. And moving over to clear the road while holding up another person, to me that's merging under some self-imposed duress (is that proper English?).

I can't take over the ride though. It's not mine. I can (and will) make some suggestions to the leader, but that's an active move. I can't do that, not at this time.

I can, however, act passively. I know, I know, nothing like a passive-aggressive to really screw things up.

When riders stop focusing on riding and start focusing on talking, chatting, or checking out so-and-so's butt, they get careless. They do things like run off the road (seen it), run into ditches (seen it), even take out teammates (been taken out).

With an even more cautious car stuck behind us, I had to do something.

On that day, with a group of mainly non-racers, I used a simple passive solution - ride faster. I went past the group, eased to tempt them to get my wheel, and picked up the pace once riders latched on. Incredibly I didn't explode like I normally do, which would then lead me to my other passive method, dropping off the ride altogether.

But, since I wanted to ride a bit, I rode. The group started splintering, the pace uncomfortable. Riders started focusing on wheels, on the shoulder. Riding side by side became uncomfortable for some, impossible for others, and they either singled up or dropped off the pace. The ride became business-like.

Suddenly the group rode in a respectable manner. They were single file, out of the way of traffic. The cautious car, now faced with the less daunting prospect of passing three groups of five or so riders instead of one huge field of "racers", leapfrogged his way from group to group. As the car approached me in the front group, I started waving it on (I could see over the crest of the hill, he couldn't). He cautiously waited until he, too, could see over the crest of the hill, then passed me.

A good, safe, risk-averse driver. A good, safe, respectable, risk-averse group of cyclists. Good things.

A business-like group works efficiently. Its expectations are clear. Riders take responsibility for the group.

In these days, it can be difficult to pin responsibility on the one that should shoulder it. I love this article on the whole credit card thing. Ultimately the cardholder decided to ask for a loan. No bank forced them to do it. Yes, it's wrong to have banks change fees or hide them or make them unclear, but I can read the credit card offers I get in the mail and it's clear - application fee, annual fee, interest, late fee, over-limit fee, it's all there.

Likewise, when you ride your bike in a group, take responsibility for your actions. Don't let the group dilute your sense of right and wrong.

"Car back!" means move into single file, if you haven't already. If you're in the front two riders, it means estimating how far out riders need to be to clear any near future obstacles (grates, branches, gravel, etc), and to hold a position to clear said obstacles.

Call out road hazards. Although many experienced riders deride verbal warnings ("What is this, a Cat 4 ride?"), they work extremely well. The riders can keep both hands on the bars, ready for something unexpected - you can brake, steer, even bunny-hop if necessary. A long time ago, on a team ride, a little hand gesture pointing down became "Holy crap!" as it became clear that the stick was, in fact, a 2x4 in the road (we all managed to bunny hop it safely). For this area I verbally call out grates, holes, glass, and sticks. The first three can cause a flat, and sticks can rip off a rear derailleur in an eyeblink.

Incidentally, you do have a spare dropout in your saddle bag, right? And a tube, multitool that includes a chain tool, a pump, and something to temporarily patch a cut sidewall?

Because that's another group ride responsibility - Be prepared to make minor fixes on the road. Nothing sucks more than a guy who flats but doesn't have a tube and some inflation device. It forces others to give up their spares, their CO2, when the original flatter could have easily had his own tube and inflation device.

Signal. If you're going to turn or slow or stop, signal. Not for the other riders - for the cars. I know that it must be illegal to use your turn signals where I live because no one uses them. I can't think of any other reason. However, until I get ticketed for signaling, I'll signal. It makes your intent clear, and that goes a long way towards peaceful car-bike interactions.

You'll know when you're in a "professional group". You can ride fast or slow, but you'll find the "good" group rides have some similar features.

1. You'll find it less necessary to point out obstacles. This is because the first rider makes gradual adjustments to his/her trajectory to clear said obstacles, and since everyone is following in close to single file, the first rider acts as a pathfinder.
2. If you ever need to point out an obstacle, you'll vocalize it so that no one else has to take a hand off the bar. If you're third or fourth in line, extending your fingers on the obstacle side works too.
3. Strong riders will work where their work benefits the group most - on downhills (most beneficial) and on the flats (second most beneficial).
4. The pace adjusts on the hill so that the group climbs at about the weakest rider's pace. Since drafting counts less on hills, the weakest climber can lead or sit second, and the others ride with that rider's pace in mind.
5. A flat tire becomes a two minute delay, not a ten minute one.

And finally,

6. You'll rarely get honked at for any valid reason.

See you out there.


Colin R said...

6. You'll rarely get honked at for any valid reason.Cyclists seem to have trouble understanding that pissing off drivers is a bad idea, and that some times you might get honked at because the driver has no other way to suggest you move over. They just assume that all drivers are road-raging idiots anyway, I mean, that must be why they're honking, right?

I would say that any time you get honked at and you immediately know why, you/your group should stop doing that. It's a shame so many riders take it as an affront to their manhood instead of a plea for them to move over.

Giles said...

Aki I like that "businesslike" approach--that's a good word for it. Another word might be "professionalism". I believe being PRO entails professionalism. If you want to be PRO, the first step is to be professional. Not like the self-serving pretentious 'roadie' attitude that seems to sometimes prevail among the lower-category amateur racers.


I don't think I can remember the last time I was honked at. The worst, though, is a "just letting you know I'm here" honk. That is to say, the "just making sure I don't startle you as I pass" honk. Duh.

Aki said...

I get those "I'm here" honks too, which are typically timid taps on the horn. I once got a long honk from an oncoming car when I moved around a big puddle - it stretched across most of my lane, it was probably 40 or 50 feet long, and I had no idea how deep it was (a remnant of recent flooding). I guess the oncoming driver thought I was trying to become a hood ornament. I waved a "thanks" as I navigated around said obstacle.

crispy said...

I strongly disagree with the idea that riders should single up when traffic approaches from the rear.

If the group is riding in the lane, 12 to 18 inches to the left of the fog line (which is almost always the case - very few roads have wide and clear shoulders), a passing car needs to be almost entirely in the oncoming traffic lane to safely pass a single file line of riders.

By doubling up, you effectively halve the distance the car needs to be in the other lane - since they are going to be over there anyway for a proper pass (2 or 3 feet of clearance, depending on your state), there is no negative to doubling up.

In addition, it discourages cars from trying to illegally "squeeze" by.

The only time, in my opinion, that singling up is a good idea is if a single file line would fit easily and safely in the shoulder, but a double paceline wouldn't. For this to be safe, you need a shoulder about 6 feet wide - 2 feet to the right of the riders, 2 feet wide at the shoulders, and 2 feet between the riders and the traffic lane.

I agree with you that running red lights in a large group is asking for trouble. I've ridden with some riders that don't even slow down or check for traffic when they have a red light, and bomb into the intersection at full bore.

Colin I disagree with your last paragraph. Based on what you said I should immediately yield the road I am legally entitled to the second some idiot lays on his horn because he has to tap his brakes. F*ck that. The burden to execute the pass safely is on the traffic doing the passing - I am just as entitled to the road as any car, and that's where I am going to ride.

Aki said...

Let me play mediator for a second. I take Colin's comment on "we know what you're doing wrong" as "if you get honked at legitimately then you know what you're doing wrong". However, if you get honked at for no reason, you still know what you're doing wrong - "nothing".

With doubling up, I believe it's illegal in CT if there is traffic behind you. Last year a local club was told that if they didn't ride single file in certain areas, they'd be ticketed. Apparently there were/are a few yahoos that blocked traffic on these rides (during rush hour), and they refused to alter their behavior (and apparently yelled or worse back at the drivers). It must have been frustrating for the other riders to witness these things, forget about the drivers who were being held up needlessly.

If a situation presents itself where it would be dangerous to try and squeeze by (downhill sharp turn, or a right turn lane opens up and I want to go straight), I'll take the lane.

I do agree that doubling up reduces driver "exposure" time. It's ironic to get a tight, bunched up group of 20 riders to spread out over 50 yards in the name of "safety". Now the car can't pass at all. I don't know how to approach this idea. It depends on both the driver and the riders making good judgment decisions, and that usually means it's a disaster waiting to happen.

Rishabh Phukan said...

I've been honked at a bunch of times and also done a bit of yelling myself.

After getting yelled/honked at, I gave someone the finger, only to realize that it had been an older lady probably just letting me know she was there.

I don't do that anymore.

I just smile and wave. I feel that I'm being cheeky doing that sometimes, but it can come off as nice even if I'm being an ass by doing it sarcastically. Makes me feel better in my head anyway.

The group ride I do here is pretty fast and we're rarely doubled up unless the roads are super clear, where we fall back into single file if a car comes up.

I love that the guys running the ride make sure to tell everyone to follow all the guidelines when the ride gets started. Single file, be nice to cars, you don't want to be a hood ornament.