The past few group rides I’ve been on have been eventful, and not necessarily in a positive way. I want to use them as reminders to everyone that rides in a group that the safety of each and every rider in the peloton is based on each and every rider in that peloton thinking about and riding safely, all the time. Group rides are not the place to be focusing on just your ride, what you need to accomplish. If that’s your focus for the day’s ride, then please go off on your own and leave the group riding to those that want to be part of it.

Several weeks ago we had a crash on the ride, and without blaming anyone, I’ll say the cause was the leader(s) calling or pointing out two large rocks in the road a little late or not loud enough so riders in the back did not get the information in time to avoid them. It was a pack of only seven riders, riding two abreast coming back into Summerland, when it happened. Luckily the fallen rider wasn’t hurt so bad to need medical attention, but they did call for a ride home, just to be safe.

Last week I observed a new rider in the group, on a morning where visibility heading out towards Carpinteria was very compromised by the rising sun in our eyes, riding in and out of the shade, riding in the aerobars in the middle of the pack. I told him that this wasn’t a good idea and that he should be covering his brakes in this situation, just as the rider in front of him kind of checked up, my suggestion ignored. This rider continued to ride in an unsafe manner, riding out alone by himself three abreast.

At the regroup stop at Highway 150 I tried to start a conversation with him, but he quickly turned the blame on the other rider in front of him and other riders riding in their aerobars too. I tried to tell him again the reason for not doing this, under these conditions, and he wasn’t having any of it. The conversation turned into more of a lecture, everyone quiet while I tried to calmly explain (maybe not so calmly at this point?), how each of us is responsible for riding safely, regardless of other people’s behavior.

So let me point out the basic rules to riding safely in a peloton, and that each rider is responsible for riding safely behind the rider in front of them:

  1. A rider SHOULD NOT follow directly on the wheel of the rider in front of them
  2. A rider SHOULD ride off to one side or the other in the event the other rider slows suddenly, so you don’t hit them
  3. A rider SHOULD NOT overlap wheels (the front of your tire ahead of the rear of their tire), with the rider in front of them in the event the other rider moves over to one side or the other, so they don’t take out your front wheel
  4. A rider SHOULD have their hands covering or near their brakes to be able to avoid any incidents in front of them
  5. Lead riders SHOULD call out and/or point out all objects in the road that the following riders need to look out for. E.g., rocks, sand and dirt, potholes, etc.

That’s pretty much it, so if you follow these five basic rules, then the chances of avoiding anything that happens in front of you is much higher. You’ll note that I didn’t say anything about riding in the aerobars during a group ride, and if this was posted on a roadie website it would not even be mentioned, as absolutely never allowed, so let me try and cover this “grey” area that triathletes ride in.

Done correctly, riding in the aerobars, when you have a clear view of the road in front of you and you can easily avoid any obstacles without having to brake or do any tricky maneuvers, is not inherently unsafe. Even riding in a small group of triathletes, say 2-4 riders, each staying safely behind and off the wheel of the riding in front of them, can be accomplished, if the riders know each other, and therefore trust each other, and ride aware that they’re braking and maneuverability is compromised.

On most triathlete “friendly” group rides, it has also become acceptable to be leading the group, or off the back of the group, while riding in the aerobars, with anyone following you giving you just a little bit more room. If you don’t find yourself in one of these positions, I would hope that you would keep both hands near your brakes and ride safely.

The proper time and place for riding in your aerobars, to prepare for your longer distance races, is on your long solo rides. After all, triathlons are time trials, riding alone without drafting the rider in front of you, while you put out the maximum effort you can. Group rides are not the time to practice this, as you’re compromising the safety of anyone following behind you.

The bottom line to everyone returning home after a group ride, safe and sound, is for everyone in the group to ride safely and responsibly. Please observe these rules, point them out to others were necessary to ensure the safety of everyone in the group, to educate or help them, especially riders who are unfamiliar with group riding etiquette.

Fred Maggiore, USAT Coach