What defines a safe and enjoyable group ride? A tight grouping of bikes adhering to parade-like formation set by a leader? Or is it an outing of individual riders who happen to enjoy heading out on a road ride together?
The reality is, situations develop rapidly. A non-issue for one rider in a group can present a serious threat to the next rider in line. For instance, an empty driveway to the right of the lead rider may present a vehicle backing out of the same driveway just seconds later. Will that subsequent rider be able to create space from the threat or be able to slow down?
In a tight formation, riders often move as a single group, diminishing individual riders’ situational awareness, their flexibility to change lane position and ability to slow without creating problems for the rest of the group.
Instead, if riders approach group riding as individuals, each becomes responsible for reading the environment and adapting to situations by adjusting lane position and speed appropriate for the situation and according to their own comfort and skill level. Each rider creates enough separation between bikes to establish a suitable space cushion and to make it easier for each rider to take in the big picture (vs. fixating on the rider directly ahead).
Consider instituting a ride plan for your next group ride. Agree that each rider retains full use of his or her lane. Establish a two-second minimum following distance to enable each rider to read the road ahead, anticipate potential threats and allow enough time and space for each rider to respond to changes in the riding situation. And, while it may not look the same as a tight parade formation, a progression of skilled, individual riders that adapts to changing situations is a mighty impressive sight.