Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! An example of what kind of team-player I am! I started a post on how to ride in a group and never finished it. Sorry, to busy being solo!
Anyhow. Riding in a group was my challenge of the summer. I've been a LONE RIDER for a very long time. Usually 'cycling in a group for me is an exercise in nerves. I either follow and stay off the back or head to the front, waaay to the front, or am a nervous wreck just waiting for the person in front of me to decide to slow-down quickly, stop, swerve, decide to speed up suddenly, or just derby me. I know, I sound frantic and suspicious...but there are a lot of shitty bike-handlers out there and you never know. My philosophy- it's better to be wary than not.
That being said, riding with people can be very rewarding. It's nice to have someone to chat with while you're pedaling along, it's also nice to have someone to draft when it's windy... and no, I did not learn my group riding skills from drafting strange 'cycling dudes on the Greenway! Although you personally have little control over the person next to you, you do have control over yourself and your bike, so here's a few tips by season.
Read through for tips on riding with a group.
Winter: Since winter is nearly upon us, this is kind of important and goes well with those safety lessons you learned at the last seminar-
1. Ride like you're a car. You have the right to a lane, use it. Do not let cars push you into the gutter (which will be full of ice chunks and black holes). Usually I ride in the right tire track of the street. You will find yourself doing this during the summer months too, it becomes a habit that will keep you safe. If you ride in the gutter, cars WILL try to pass you without making room. If you take your lane, they have to respect your space. IF THEY DON'T- feel free to give them the finger in your lobster mitts (they won't be able to tell, but you'll feel better, trust me).
2. Make sure everyone you're riding with knows about this- winter time is slippery time. Don't try to race the stop-lights. It is better to stop and wait than run a red light when neither you or the car coming at you can stop. It's also better not to stop in general, but when are we that lucky with the lights? This is also one of the reasons I ride fixed in the winter! Stopping is much easier to control when you're NOT COASTING.
3. Ride a straight line. Don't try all the fancy swerves and avoidances of dry asphalt. If there's a patch of ice, ride straight over it. Do not panic and try to go around suddenly, upon which your wheels will go out from under you. This is guaranteed to create a pile-up when someone's brakes fail them.
4. Wear the appropriate gear (long-johns, thick socks, boots, hat that covers the ears underneath the helmet, scarf, warm gloves, water-proof jacket with minimal layering). It's not fun to ride w/ people who are freezing cold and getting frostbite. You have to rehabilitate them and listen to the complaints upon reaching your destination. It can ruin your day.
Summer: This applies in the winter-time, too.
1. Be predictable. Ride in a straight line and have a goal towards which you are riding. Do not swerve unexpectedly unless the person you are riding with is a circus clown. Do not play chicken with people who are unprepared (no helmet) or unwilling.
2. Do not make sudden stops. The person behind you will crash into you or need to make an unnecessary evasive move.
3. Signal. Either verbally or with your hands. Verbal signals are "all clear!" when you check both ways at an intersection for cars. Feel free to ride close enough that when you shout "Take a right!" and turn right, the person you are with is in the know (BUT DON'T TURN INTO THEM!). Using your hands is also very "handy" ;). I don't even bother with the correct signals- most people, especially motorists, know not what they mean! I simply move into the turn lane (on the left side too!) and point in the direction I am turning. Simple. Who doesn't know what that means!?
4. Remember, you have the right to a lane. Taking a full lane for 3 cyclist abreast can be very empowering...until cars are afraid to go around you and start harassing you. Perhaps it's worth looking at the rules before you ride out- I know that the bike lanes drawn on regular streets are usually supposed to be single-file for bikers...but...if you're comfortable biking within ass-grabbing distance of your partner...be my guest.
That's my advice for riding with people and for safe riding in general. Remember, rule number one is BE PREDICTABLE. Communicate well with the people you are riding with or the cars you are motor-pacing and everyone will ride away happy and intact.