Advantages of Compact Groups
- 12 or fewer cyclists form a compact group (no larger than a tractor-trailer) that is fairly easy to pass via the next lane on most roads. Many experienced cyclists find groups of 10-12 to be ideal, providing good efficiency without being too big. For twisty mountain roads lacking sections with long sight distances, a smaller size of 6-8 cyclists is preferable.
- Communication and leadership are highly effective in small groups.
- Beginning cyclists can learn through close personal supervision from more experienced cyclists in a consistent, structured group environment.
- Skilled cyclists who know each other well can trust one another to ride closer together for greater efficiency
Issues with Larger Group Sizes
- As group size increases, the clear sight distance required to pass safely increases, and motorists have fewer safe opportunities. Motorists may become impatient, and risk-taking by motorists may become more likely.
- 20 bicyclists riding two abreast is considered to be the upper limit of a contiguous group that can be passed safely on most two lane roads under good sight distances.
- If a gap in a large group appears, motorists may attempt to pass part of the group, but get trapped in the middle of the group.
- An undesirable “accordion effect” happens as the front and back of a larger group differ in speed with road conditions. Cyclists must often slow down before they expect the need to slow down, or they struggle to accelerate as the front of the group speeds up after cresting a hill.
- Coordination of the group becomes more difficult as size increases. Cyclists with different riding habits or skill levels can create conflicts with those who prefer a more consistent and orderly formation. Leadership is weaker and there is less consensus on preferred formation and practices.
Large groups can be crowded and stressful for riders with little room for maneuvering.
Breaking up Large Groups
- Ride leaders will often break up larger group rides into smaller platoons. Be aware that the different groups may travel at different speeds or cover different distances or routes. Make sure to follow the group that matches your preferences and abilities.
- Ride leaders often announce during a pre-ride speech how the group will break up, and where. They may stagger the start into multiple groups at the very start or the ride, typically with the faster or longer distance cyclists leaving first. Alternatively, they may plan for the groups to split up at natural points along the way. (For example, “We will split into three groups at the stop sign before the big hill.”)
- Very large groups are common at annual event mass ride starts, and can take advantage of traffic control assistance to “get out of town” in a dense high-throughput configuration. However, these mass starts usually break up shortly thereafter into small groups due to interruptions at intersections and differences in rider ability and speed preference. Faster riders should position themselves at the front during mass starts, and more casual cyclists should start at the rear, in order for the segmentation to happen in an orderly fashion with minimal turbulence.