Group Riding Systems
Our new Events Co-ordinator has bullied me into writing something about the riding systems the group regularly uses for its social rides. So here goes. The purpose of these riding systems is to:
- Keep the ride safe and enjoyable.
- Ensure that everyone that started the ride finishes the ride, i.e. the ride starts with a group of riders and ends with the same group of riders.
- Within the context of a group activity, allow some scope for individual riding preferences. I say some scope because I think that all of us have to accept that when participating in a group activity such as a social ride that we all need to make allowances for each other if we are going to enjoy it as a group.
The two systems that are used are The Marker System and what I will term The Follower System. I don't guarantee that these two systems are infallible as I have certainly participated in some rides using these systems were things went a bit wrong. However, the systems should always work but in group rides you only need one rider to lose concentration for the whole thing to breakdown, i.e. a chain is as strong as its weakest link.
The Marker System
The Marker System is used for all sizes of riding groups and is the more commonly used riding system in the group. When a ride operates this system, riders fall into one of 3 categories:
- The Leader
- There is only one of these and, as the name suggests, this is the rider that leads the ride. Typically it's the
person who planned the ride as he or she should have a good idea of where they are going!
- The Back Marker
- There is only one of these and he or she is the last rider at all times.
- The Markers
- All the other riders in the ride. These are bracketed by The Leader and Back Marker and their position within the ride changes as the ride progresses. More about this later.
The main principle of this system is that the Leader assigns the rider immediately following him or her, i.e. the number 2 rider, to mark the direction the Leader is taking where there is a need to mark a direction change (or perhaps to clarify an ambiguous road system). It is the responsibility of the Leader to assign Markers. When you find yourself behind the Leader you need to be alert (but then you will be won't you?) as he or she will point where you need to mark when the ride changes direction. (According to our Events Co-ordinator, Martin Shepperd gives a clear strong indication while I flap a limp wrist?) Anyway, when you get the indication from the Leader to mark, you watch which way the Leader is going and then look for a safe place to pull over and stop where the riders following you will be able to see you as they approach you. As each following rider comes into sight you clearly indicate the direction the Leader has taken. When you see the Back Marker coming up behind you, he or she will slow down to allow you to rejoin the ride in front of him or her. You'll have realised that after this manoeuvre your position in the ride will change from 2 to next to last before the Back Marker, and with the exception of the Leader and Back Marker, the riding position of the other riders will have gone up by 1. The new number 2 rider will be the next to mark.
When you are directed to mark, remember:
- Make sure you stop where it is safe (and legal) to do so. For example, for a roundabout where following riders should easily see you on the exit from the roundabout, it's usually safer to stop and mark on the exit and not the entry. Wherever you stop, make sure other road users can see you in plenty of time and that it's easy for them to get by you.
- Make sure you stop where following riders can see you as they approach you. For example, if the Leader has turned left at a junction and directed you to mark the junction you will need to consider whether you should stop just before the turn or just after the turn. Following riders may not see you if you stop just after the turn when you are obscured by a high hedge or some other obstruction. They'll keep going without making the turn. Disaster!
- It's impossible to be prescriptive about where to stop. You will need to use your own common sense and judgement to work out a safe and visible spot to stop and mark. It has to be said that this is not always easy.
- There may be other vehicles around when you rejoin the ride in front of the Back Marker. Don't think you need to dive out in front of the Back Marker at all costs as the Back Marker will wait, stop if necessary, until it is safe for you to pull away.
Some other points that I feel are worth making:
- It's not unusual for a rider not to be able to see the rider in front of him or her. The strength of this system is that you don't need to keep the rider in front in sight. There should always be a Marker ahead to show you the way so don't feel you need to keep up with someone who wants to go faster than you are happy to. The system allows for riders to progress at differing speeds.
- There is no need to mark all junctions. For example a cross-roads does not need to be marked if the ride goes straight across it. So don't get worried if you come to a junction with no marker. Go straight across it. (If there is no marker and no obvious straight across you're lost.)
- As a Marker, apart from when you're behind the Leader you will follow the same rider throughout the ride.
- You should make sure that before you start that you know the eventual destination just in case it all goes wrong!
- If you're stopped marking and nobody appears for what you consider to be an excessive amount of time you should backtrack a reasonable distance to see if anything untoward has happened.
- Don't panic and abandon your mark. Remember, not everybody is making the same progress and there should always be a Marker waiting to show you the way. Many a ride has broken down because a Marker has panicked and deserted his post!
- If you're planning to leave the ride before it gets to its destination let the Leader and Back Marker know where you intend to leave the ride before the ride sets off. If possible, also let those riders around you know that you intend to leave the ride and, in any case, give them a clear leaving the ride indication when the time comes for you to leave the ride.
The Follower System
The Follower System is only used for small groups and consequently is not used as much as the Marker System. Unlike the Marker System, in this system everyone remains in the same position throughout the ride. So if you start second you'll finish second and so on. The other big difference is that deciding when and where to mark is a shared responsibility.
The principle behind this system is that every rider in the ride takes responsibility for the rider following him or her not getting lost. What this means is that each rider only needs to make sure that the following rider takes the right turn. If you lose sight of your following rider and the rider in front of you makes a turn then you are obliged to stop and effectively mark the turn until the following rider catches up and is clear about which way you have gone. Some riders prefer to keep their following rider in sight at all times but this is not strictly necessary.
As you would expect, the Leader of the ride is responsible for setting the direction of the ride. It's normal for the Leader to stop and allow the riders to regroup if he or she feels the riders are getting too strung out. Be warned that the rider who lose his or her following rider is expected to pay for everyone's tea and snacks at the destination (when everybody eventually finds their way their there).
I expect it's all as clear as mud to you now!