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According to an article in the New York Times, “The Bittersweet History of Bike Clubs” (January 19, 2010), the Boston Bicycle Club (established February 11, 1878) was the first official bicycle club in the nation.  By the following year another club had formed in Buffalo, and then the first New York City club came about in 1880.  Despite the cold weather and icy cobblestone streets, these cycling clubs quickly became a part of the growing middle-class culture in urban centers.  Not surprisingly, recent immigrants found these clubs an ideal way to connect with one another and reminisce about “the Old Country.” Before long there were Italian, Belgian, Irish and German cycling clubs.  These soon gave way to the Mongolians and the Norseman’s club, the Harlem Cycling Club, and dozens of others.

What do you need to know before joining a cycling club?

Today’s clubs are more likely to be founded by an avid cyclist who prefers the safety of riding in groups.  In the beginning he or she will invite friends and neighbors to join in, but this eventually leads to friends of friends, coworkers, college students, and anyone else who finds out about the group.  In the case of many cycling clubs membership is limited to a certain number of riders, which often results in a waiting list for the most popular clubs.

Are there special rules for riding in a bicycling club?

There are a series of rules that should be followed in order to ride within a group, yet it’s surprising how few people are aware of them. It doesn’t matter how much experience you have with cycling, if it’s your first time riding in a group these rules will be indispensable.

  1. It’s Not a Bike Race – You don’t need to show everyone in the club how strong you are or how tirelessly you can pedal uphill.  It is far more important to keep pace with the group.
  2. Ride Bar-to-Bar – This is probably the most important rule of group cycling.  When riding in a group, you should always go side by side in groups of two with only a few centimeters of space between you, and you should be aligned “handlebar-to-handlebar.”  Even if there’s a corner coming up, remain side-by-side and take the corner together.  If you ride with your bars ahead of the rider next to you, you will be accused of “half-wheeling.”
  3. Peeling Off and Pulling Through – When you get tired of riding at the front end of the group and it’s time to take a break, As you both peel off to either side, the other riders will come through the middle.  Just make sure when you peel off that it’s done in a controlled and steady manner and be sure you let the rider beside you know what you plan to do.  Whenever the two riders ahead of you peel off, it’s important to keep pace by maintaining a steady speed and squeezing through the gap.
  4. Moving About in a Group – If you need to go to the back of the group, or need to move away from the side of the road because the road is damaged or obstructed, just steadily move in whatever direction you want to go. The key to safe riding in a group is to make gradual and steady movements.
  5. Obstacles and Hand Signals – When you notice an obstacle in the road ahead, put your hand down and give a signal that lets the riders behind you know in which direction they should go to avoid it. A quick wave of the hand will usually suffice.  If you only see the obstacle at the last minute, ride through it! Better to get a flat than to take down the whole group. On the subject of obstacles, please only point out those that are worth pointing out.
  6. Slowing and Adjusting Speed- This is probably the biggest cause of crashes in group rides. For some reason, when someone slows down ahead of them, a lot of riders jump for their brakes and yank the heck out of them, almost skidding and taking everyone down with them.

These may seem like a pointless bunch of old-school cycling rules, but they come from very simple principles of general safety for group rides and most serious cycling groups require them. So stick to the rules, and spread the word about cycling safety to any newcomers to the sport.

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