Pico's Cycling - Tales of the Road is an online cycling magazine. It is intended for writers and riders who want to share their on the road cycling stories and pictures. Submissions that follow our guideline are gratefully appreciated. See the appropriate page in the site menu. Will publish the best of the best each month. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @PicosCycling.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Group Riding As a Family

I’m sure you’ve seen them before, a mass of ten to twenty-five cyclists riding in a big clump of riders, taking up the whole lane, chatting away between each other rolling through the countryside. We don’t ride that way. No tour I ever put together for my cycling club in the past rode that way. We have no need or desire to ride in a wannabe peloton. The method we use is an effort to ride as safely as a team as possible while at the same time extending as much courtesy as possible to the vehicles we share the road with. While we prefer to ride on pavement we try to balance that with choosing less travelled routes so that we are not constantly battling traffic. The objective is not only to get where we are going but also to get there safely and enjoy the whole ride.


We ride as groups of two to six riders single file. Large groups are difficult for other traffic to pass. It can be frustrating for cars and trucks to get where they wish to go, if they have to pass larger groups. I have been on both sides of extreme cases. I do recall riding with a tour involving more than a thousand riders. They may as well have shut the road down to other traffic. Why we chose a maximum of six is because most of the warning commands come from the rider on the tail. Even with a very strong voice it is very difficult to be heard by the lead rider, if there are more riders, when riding into the teeth of any kind of head wind.

We are a family of seven and we ride as one group because there are only six who are riding. Maybe an excuse because the trailer does take up space in the line. I am almost invariably the tail rider and I get to pull the trailer. When we will do future rides with an additional trailer for cargo we will divide into two groups. The two groups will stay in sight of each other and take breaks together but while we are riding we will put sufficient space between the groups to allow cars to get by without too much difficulty.

Individual Responsibilities

Lead rider has the responsibility of warning of any approaching hazards. On coming vehicles are always called out with the command, “Line it up!” This person is also responsible for warning about ruts and potholes in the road we are travelling. They do get switched off with other riders regularly when we are fighting a head wind. When the children were still all very young lead position was always Mom. Now that we have strong teenagers they often take turns at the front. Final lead responsibility is setting the pace. The objective is to keep the group together without running any individual rider ragged. Easier said than done. If the pace is just a little too torrid the other riders have to speak up before they are out of earshot. Lead also has to check behind to make sure things are not getting too strung out. On training runs the rider pulling the trailer is often the one that has the most difficulty keeping pace. On actual tours when everyone is loaded down with gear anyone could end up being the slow poke.

Middle riders are responsible for helping to pass information from one end of the line to the other. They are also expected to pay attention to what is being said and keep alert to their surroundings. Just because they are not leading or taking the tail position doesn’t mean they can choose to be unaware of traffic. They are expected to be on the lookout and warn of hazards. In a group everyone’s eyes and ears count. Anyone can call, “Stop!” if they need a rest or are having mechanical difficulties.

Tail position is probably the most demanding spot and is usually the best place for the most experienced rider. That position usually falls to me although on training runs when it is just me and a couple of the older children I often let them do the job so they learn the ropes. Main responsibility is to warn of any traffic approaching from behind. When there is traffic approaching from either direction it is usually the tail riders job to decide how the group is going to respond. We use three basic commands. If there is only traffic coming from behind and plenty of room for the traffic to pass we yell, “Line it up”. Basically we tighten up the formation and keep on riding. If traffic is approaching from both directions or if there are other hazards causing difficulty for the traffic to get past us we yell, “Clear”. That command means everybody off the pavement and onto the shoulder. Shoulders are not fun to ride on with a road bike but the name of the game here is safety and courtesy. As soon as the traffic is past we yell, “Safe”. Which in case you can’t guess means the way is clear and our little entourage gets back onto the pavement.


We do have what we call the dog drill. Every once in awhile we encounter a not so friendly dog. We have not at this point resorted to mace but we have considered it. When the children were young they were taught to give Mom room to drop back and Dad came up from the rear. We basically did a she-bear routine. Most dogs beat a hasty retreat. We now will confront the dog as a group. They usually back off an apparent show of force.

An additional note on courtesy to other vehicles on the road: There are places as you travel down the road where there is no passing because you cannot see the road ahead. Often our lead rider can see if it is clear beyond the obstruction. We will signal an all clear to those vehicles so they can get past.

You might get the impression that our rides become kind of militaristic exercises in discipline but because we try to choose roads with less traffic we are not yelling commands up and down our riding line for the entirety of our tours. We will do a little side by side riding on occasion when there is no traffic to talk but generally we stay in formation because it takes practice. We areout there enjoying ourselves. The whole objective of our formation riding is not to take away the fun but to make the trip as safe as possible.

More From Pico's Cycling (Photos and titles are clickable links)

Home Built Trailer

Determined to continue touring after starting a family, we built this beast and successfully used it. Hard to beat the price for a young family just starting out.

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Writer Jack Hawkins is learning the ropes and tells us about some of his experiences along the way.