We had an incident on yesterday’s lunch ride, and it got me thinking that I should talk a little about group trail riding etiquette.
Tom was riding sweep, and had a crash in an off camber, sandy dip. It also pinch flatted his rear tube. Tom was OK other than being a little dirty and scraped up, but since he had to fix his flat, there was no way to tell us where he was or what is condition was. The rest of us had finished the descent and were looking up the hill you see in the picture below. We waited and waited. A wait this long means someone is either hurt or they have a mechanical problem, and it always sucks wondering which one it is. I’ve been to the emergency room enough times to know it could go either way. Two guys went back to work, and the remaining three of us rode back up the hill in search of Tom. By the time we had reached him, he had just finished changing his tube, and we had an extra climb in the bag!
So what could we have done differently in this situation? Here are a few recommendations for trail riding in a group:
You are responsible for the rider behind you. This technique works well, and covers every rider in the line. By checking over your shoulder periodically for the rider behind you, you never get too far away. This enables you to provide quick assistance, or to ride down and alert the riders in front of you as to what has happened. This prevents people from having to ride back up the hill for simple mechanical problems, or in a worse case scenario, expedites a rescue mission.
Use trail intersections for regrouping points. The larger the group, the more important this becomes. Small groups seem to stay together, but large groups can spread out over a pretty good distance. This can be caused by varying levels of skill or fitness, or because of trail conditions such as dust. The more riders you add, the dustier it gets, the more people hang back and wait for clean air.
Regrouping at trail intersections becomes even more important when taking people into unfamiliar territory. Nobody should have to stop and guess which way everyone else went. It’s good to establish some rules with the group before the ride, stating that you will always stop at intersections if the entire group isn’t visible. You can also define exceptions to this rule to keep other riders from having to guess. If you come to an intersection, but continue on straight, just keep riding. Only stop and regroup if you will be turning off onto another trail. But again, this only works if you discuss this before hand!
Stopping to regroup can also keep the morale of the group high. I’ve been off the back enough times to know that your mood can sour if you feel you’ve been left behind. To ride several miles by yourself when you’re suffering can create feelings of resentment for the other riders. This may be ok, and even expected in a race, but in an organized group ride, conversation and camaraderie are just as important as the trail itself. Everyone should feel like “they’re all in this together”.
Does anyone else have thoughts or suggestions on group trail riding etiquette? Leave a comment!