Organized bicycle club rides routinely practice the courtesy or custom of calling out obstructions, debris, or dangerous road conditions. I want to give a big shout out to the clubs that routinely enforce this best practice. Based on the calls we get, however, it doesn’t always happen in situations where people are riding with pickup groups or people they don't know or don't generally ride with.
Another important consideration is whether the warning about an obstruction or danger is conveyed all the way through the line to those towards the end. Every rider needs to be informed—front to back. Here are some instances that have been conveyed to us illustrating potential dangers for someone not in the lead.
Dangers of Bollards When Cycling in a Group
The first two involve bollards. These are generally poles installed on a trail for the stated reason of preventing vehicles from riding onto the trail. When these bollards are installed, they are required by code to be marked in a way to give someone reasonable notice that an obstruction is in the path ahead. These requirements are not always practiced, and many bollards have no surface warnings painted on the trail.
Consider a situation where two people are riding together, one slightly ahead of the other. They are approaching a bollard in the center of a trail. It's well seen by the lead. The first rider, however, is situated so as to perfectly block the view of the bollard by the rider behind. As both riders get close to the bollard, the lead cyclist simply turns slightly to avoid it while the person following has no opportunity to react and strikes the bollard at cruising speed. This scenario can turn into a disaster, as I have personally witnessed.
In another bollard occurrence, a person is riding along with a group of people on a charity ride, and the riders are not previously acquainted with one another. The person involved is the last cyclist in a rather large group. As the group approaches the bollard, no one calls it out, and the last person in line hits it squarely at cruising speed. This accident could easily have been prevented. If the lead rider assumed the bollard was clearly in plain view and avoidable, he or she also needed to consider riders following behind that may not have had the opportunity to see it.
Dangers of Road Debris & Other Objects
The same concern exists for road debris: boards and other dangerous objects lying in the bike lane. If, for some inexplicable reason, a rider in the lead fails to call it out, following riders won’t be aware of the danger and potentially could be seriously injured.
Or consider an artificial road condition that has been in place for quite some time. One group had a situation where concrete was spilled on the roadway and left to dry, creating an irregular rough area. It was traversed by bicycle clubs on a regular basis and well-known to those who had seen it previously and were prepared to deal with it. What happens, however, when someone who joins the group has never encountered it? Not only should it be called out, but each person in line needs to ensure that the message goes the entire length of the pace line. The call out isn’t useful if the message doesn’t get to each rider. In this particular situation one rider went down and suffered serious injuries.
So this is just a reminder for each of us to be mindful of calling out all obstructions, debris, or road hazards so that every rider is aware of them. Each of us wants to enjoy riding and return home safely. Riding in a pace line can make it quite difficult to recognize potentially dangerous conditions that are otherwise in plain view to those in the lead. That means the dangers need to be detected in time—a safety precaution easily put into practice by calling it out on every ride.
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