Mass Ride Safety Tips

Learn the Ropes Before Hitting the Road

by ‘Bikin’ Fred Meredith, guest writer

That’s the headline and the byline that appeared in The Ride, published by the Wichita Falls Times Record News on Aug. 23, 1998.

Joe Schaelling at the Hotter ’n Hell Hundred had asked me to write up some basic safety tips for the back of that year’s ride map and he must have liked them enough to have them published in the special edition of the local newspaper as well.

The same instructive tips were reprinted in New Mexico for the Albuquerque Century Ride just a couple of years ago. Below is a re-edited version. The advice here should apply for any mass ride.

Mass ride safety tips

Riding with a few thousand of your best friends is obviously different from riding alone. While your presence on the road will not go unnoticed — safety in numbers may apply — some special rules unique to mass rides apply.

Starting

In large, mass-start rides, even those set up to stagger the start into several groups by distance, your starting technique will depend on your position in one of those groups. When the starting gun sounds, the riders at the front will begin to move while the rest will just bunch up even tighter. Take your time and when you start moving, try to keep at least a bicycle length between you and the rider in front of you. Keep your hands near your brakes at all times.

Initially, if you are back in the pack, you will find yourself just pushing along on one foot or trying to “track stand” while dodging those crowding in around you. Proceed carefully as the crowd starts to move. The skill levels of those around you vary widely and the first few congested miles will offer the greatest opportunity for falls and crashes.

Arriving at rest stops

As you approach a rest stop (there should be signage letting you know you are getting close), make up your mind early about stopping or not. [You really should stop because the nutritional and entertainment value of the stops is part of what your registration paid for. Get your money’s worth.]

Determine which side of the road has the rest stop and plan your exit from the roadway. With riders behind you, announce your intentions clearly with hand signals and/or verbally with, “Slowing!” or “Stopping!” and get all the way off of the roadway as soon as you can safely do so. NEVER STOP IN THE ROAD. Get off of the road and off of your bike, THEN look around to see what is going on.

Passing rest stops

Hammerheads who aren’t going to stop at the rest stop still need to SLOW DOWN, determine which side of the road has the rest stop, whether riders are dismounting on both sides of the road and if there is an intersection that must be dealt with. Also keep an eye out for motor vehicles — both SAG vehicles looking for a place to park temporarily pulling out and motorists just trying to pass through. Again, keep your hands near the brakes. People will invariably do unpredictable things around a rest stop. They are looking for friends, talking with other riders or just focusing on the food and drink table, often oblivious to arriving or departing riders. Other riders will be making last-minute decisions to stop as they survey the rest stop instead of the roadway and other riders.

If the ride is well planned, all rest stops will be designed so that riders exit on the right. In any case, DO NOT PASS A GROUP OF RIDERS ON THE RIGHT — BETWEEN THE RIDERS AND THE REST STOP. Someone will invariably make that sudden decision to stop and will swerve right without looking back.

You will both finish your rides early, in a SAG vehicle or an ambulance. As a general rule, do ALL of your passing on the left.

If you see riders dismounting on both sides of the road, SLOW TO A VERY CAUTIOUS SPEED until well past the last tent, port-a-can or pile of bicycles. It’s not going to kill you to lose a few seconds, but it can sure ruin your day to lose some skin to the roadway in an avoidable crash.

Rules of the road

Yes, the rules of the road STILL APPLY — except where traffic is being directed by a designated law enforcement officer or other qualified personnel. Very large rides — well-organized ones — identify dangerous or problematic intersections and hire people to control traffic at those points.

If you are waved through a stop sign or red light by one of these people, you may proceed, but should still exercise caution in case some motorist is still watching the light and oblivious to the officer standing in the middle of the roadway.

At smaller intersections with less traffic and late in the ride, when the massive crowds have already passed by, there might not be any traffic directors and it will be up to each rider to obey the law, regardless of what any other rider does. [Just because you blow through a stop sign or traffic light with nine other riders does not mean you have only a tenth of the responsibility for the infraction. You are 100 percent responsible for your own actions. Govern yourself accordingly.]

Unless accommodations — cones and barriers, possibly — have been set up to close an entire roadway to motorized traffic, STAY ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE YELLOW LINE. It is not a race. You do not have to get ahead of everyone else. There is no reason to ride for hundreds of yards in the oncoming traffic lane just so you won’t have to worry about a rider in front of you or so you can talk to your friend. Don’t be that self-serving jerk who makes us all look bad. Cooperate and accommodate others and the law.

Pacelining and pack riding

DON’T DO IT WITH STRANGERS because you don’t know if they know the rules. If they don’t (or you don’t), it can get you hurt. Pacelining and pack riding involve skills, practice and knowledge of the “rules.” Pacelining and pack riding are energy-efficient and on a century ride they are very tempting ways to conserve energy and/or shorten your ride time. In case we can’t talk you out of trying it with strangers, we can at least refresh you on the basics so YOU won’t cause a crash (though we can’t guarantee that someone else won’t involve you in one).

  1. Don’t let your front wheel overlap the rear wheel of the rider in front of you. YOU (and those immediately behind you) will be the one(s) to go down if the wheels touch.
  2. Do not apply your brakes suddenly or with force if there are riders pacelining behind you. Instead, reduce your speed by soft pedaling, sitting up more in the wind or feathering your rear brake lightly to scrub off some speed and announcing, “slowing!” when the speed change will be significant.

    Sudden application of your brakes will cause that wheel overlap behind you and someone will be going down if they are not absolutely fast with their bike handling skills.

  3. Do not use aerobars inside the paceline or when close behind other riders. If you are “taking your pull” at the front, use your aerobars with caution and get back on the hoods, where steering and braking control are at your command before overtaking any other riders.
  4. Point out all hazards for riders behind you. Use an appropriate hand signal and a verbal warning when riding with strangers just to be sure.

    Shouting “pothole” or “glass” and pointing down on the appropriate side of the bicycle may save riders behind you the obligatory flat tire repair or even a road rash incident. This is a responsibility of all riders regardless of position in the paceline, but especially for the rider at the front. DO NOT LEAD or “take a pull” unless you: a) know (and practice) all of the rules; b) announce all of the hazards; and c) keep your paceline safe from harm.

    It is also the front rider’s responsibility to ensure that the paceline or pack stops at stop signs, positions properly in the lane, overtakes others safely, etc. If you aren’t sure you can do that, then don’t lead. Better to be called a “wheel sucker” mooching a ride at the back than to lead other riders into trouble.

  5. To avoid being labeled a newbie (or worse) make note of the paceline or pack’s speed on level ground, descending and climbing. When it is your turn at the front, keep within those ranges. A jerk is what they call someone who gets to the front and then rides off from the group at a faster speed than the group has become comfortable with. Also, don’t go for the “super pull.” That’s another mistake that impresses nobody and may even drop you off the back after a pull or two. Take your fair turn (or less) and rotate to the back.

Take care of your body

Know your own capabilities, prepare for the event ahead and listen to your body on the ride.

  1. Carry at least two large water bottles and use them. Better yet, use a Camelbak™ or other hydration pack system. The easier it is to drink while you are riding, the more likely it is that you will do so. Riding in dry heat, especially with a hot wind such as often comes with the Hotter ’n Hell Hundred, may lead you to believe you are not sweating (losing fluids). That’s an illusion. The wind is just evaporating the perspiration as fast as it appears. DRINK a lot, regardless. The old adage is true. Drink before you are thirsty … you are already dehydrated when thirst hits and it will be difficult to recover.
  2. Don’t push yourself early in the ride. Warm up properly and pace yourself. The biggest self-imposed stress for riders (at least male riders) can be the “other guy” syndrome. You may find yourself always trying to catch the guy in front of you or drop the guy behind you. It is a competitive mind game that we inadvertently play and it can put us beyond our capabilities or, at least outside our comfort zone. Stop for at least some of the rest stops. Stretch and replenish your bottles or hydration pack.
  3. Eat at the rest stops (old adage continued, “… and eat before you are hungry”) and complement your water intake with some “sports drink” to replace electrolytes. Be careful about eating or drinking anything unfamiliar on a long ride. You may have a negative reaction when your exercise metabolism and your digestion meet in the middle. A century ride may not be the place to experiment with new foods or drinks.
  4. If you feel faint, dizzy, or otherwise abnormal, stop and rest: Check your pulse, drink more fluids and sit down to wait for one of the roving SAG vehicles. If you have not hydrated properly, it can kill you.
  5. Remember, as Maynard Hershon says in one of his cycling stories, “they just call them ‘century’ rides.” If you do not belong on a 100-mile ride in the heat of summer, do the metric century (62.5 or so miles) or something less than that. You will have as much fun and you will be back for the party or the pool even sooner. Have a great and a safe ride!

© Copyright Fred Meredith – Published with permission for the Albuquerque Century

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