Now that the snow is falling, if I can't ride, I'm going to spend some time writing about riding. I'm always looking to improve how I'm riding. Both my own personal skills, and as a group. I'm big on stagger. I think we all have a few friends that we don't have no problem riding side by side with a reasonably slow speeds, good riders who hold a line. Even in very slow turns I'm so comfortable with their skills. But in any turn of reasonable speed or more or busy area, stagger is it.
My brother has some friends who say there is no point to stagger. One recently ran into the other going around a turn and one has a broken arm. Enough said.
Recently I went out with the group I first started to ride with, affectionately known as the DD Bikers. We did this to make us sound tough. The DD really stands for Dunkin Donuts. Because of course, we meet at Dunkin Donuts on Route 9. We went out recently, and had some new guys with us. And I learned some things.
Twice over the trip we ran into traffic because of two lanes coming down to one. The first time, the cars were on the left, and we were merging from the right in Figure 1. We were moving slowly – say 10-15 mph. I was the 3rd bike on the right.
As we started to get to the Merge, I moved closer to the bikes in front of me, trying to give the people behind me more room to move in. The guy riding next to me, a guy I hadn't rode with before, first did something very smart – he moved to the left to kind of secure our space between in the cars. This rider is the green bike in Figure 2.
This would allow the four of us to get in, but likely would mean that the two or three bikes behind us (the blue bikes) would get separated - there would be a car between us. Then the guy in on the 4th bike slowed his pace. Brilliant! This allowed the bikes behind us to move up and stay with us. See Figure 3.
I've ridden for years, and cars typically do not respect us. I know this isn't news. I was reading American Iron this morning and Chris Maida talks in his column on how a driver rode up next to him on his left - and he was in the left lane. If I see bikers riding, if they are moving at a speed similar to me, and
I'm in my cage, I tend to pull up behind them. I am trying to protect them from guys riding too close or hitting them. They're fellow bikers and you never know. I hope the favor is paid forward for me, my friends, my brothers, or any other biker.
This is a tremendous riding technique for keeping a group, even a reasonably large sized group riding together. The fact that I as the 3rd rider behind the leader and closed up on the leading bikes helped – it gave the group behind me more room to fit in but it would only let one or two more bikes in . What the fourth rider did ensured that a reasonable sized group would stay together and kept the car behind from unintentionally clipping one of us if we merged late to stay together. It was safer in my opinion, because if the group is separated, there can be a number of issues. For example, an inexperienced rider could be leading the second group. Or any rider leading the second group could lose sight of the first riders. Or worst, if someone passes the car between us, or is spending much time trying to watch the group ahead, they could be hurt if they are not paying attention.
Of course, the group had to re-stagger themselves, and the fourth rider became the last rider. If we ran into the same situation again, of course, we'd get a bit more rearranged.
Later the same day, we were approaching a bridge, bikes on the left and cars on the right essentially stopped. I was the third rider again, but this time I was closest to the cars on our right and I was going to slip to the right and copy my very smart friends move earlier. I'm a relatively quick rider and we have a few slower riders to the back. My moving out and moving to the back means I will enjoy my day a little less, perhaps having to ride a little slower, but I decided I would pull out and move to the back to keep us together and safe.
Because we were stopped and on a bridge and essentially had a very wide lane, the last rider in our group was able to move up to the front of the group, move into the cars and stop – and allow us all room to move into traffic between two cars as the cars in front of our last biker pulled forward. I think he probably saw what “biker 4” did earlier, but if he didn't, it was two very independent but similar strokes of good riding in the same day. The benefit of his move of course is that he is riding last because he seems to like to – and would be last again when we got down to one lane. Of course, in this situation we didn't have to re-stagger and re-order.
Group riding is difficult. Its not like it's possible to train everyone - groups likely change every time you go out. To me meeting new people is a big part of the experience. We get some simple rules on group ridign – stagger, stay so much behind, etc. I don't believe we can execute complex multi-bike safe riding techniques, orchestrated like a ballet since the same group rarely rides together twice. But this is something that simply requires one of the bikers, riding within range of the lead group (or the last biker if he has room to come around) to help the bike stay together and help everyone be safer.