As noted on the intro page, the Downtown Breakaway has rules to keep things orderly and safe. Here are the basics:
1. Listen to the ride leaders.
Most group rides have designated leaders, and the Downtown Breakaway is no exception. The ride leaders are both announced on the ride listing at the Potomac Pedalers’ website and at the ride start (as leaders may vary from week to week). The rule of thumb: what a ride leader says, goes.
Ride leaders have to juggle a lot of things while leading the ride. This includes policing bad behavior, praising good behavior, pointing out hazards, helping resolve conflicts, and making sure every rider has a safe and enjoyable time on their bicycle. Yes, there are times when this may seem annoying, but ride leaders give instruction to benefit the entire group. The leaders have been riding the DTB for years and have seen a lot of things, good and bad, happen on the ride. They simply want to prevent anything that could be detrimental to the group ride experience.
2. No bike racing tactics in a club group ride.
Over the past few years, the DTB has grown a lot. As such, it attracts all kinds of riders, including current and lapsed racers. But first and foremost, the DTB is a club group ride, and should be treated as such. It is not a race training ride.
As such, the following racing behaviors are frowned upon on the DTB and can result in being excused from the ride:
• Diving blindly into turns, especially ones controlled by stop signs or traffic lights, or those intersecting with major roads.
• Passing on both sides of slower riders (especially at close distance). Please pass to the left if at all possible.
• Not signaling slowing or stopping.
• Riding really close to other riders (who may or may not be racers). This can cause an unaware or non-comfortable rider to panic.
• Half wheeling (i.e. overlapping your front wheel with the rear wheel of the rider in front of you).
• Attacking in a smooth paceline to try and quickly up the pace.
Yes, these techniques exist in racing. But in a group ride that isn’t exclusively racers or racer-adjacent riders, it creates an unsafe situation. Many times, other riders will blindly follow (some or many of whom are not versed in race technique and ride style), and this will eventually lead to tragedy.
So please, think of it this way: if you are in the front of the group, you are not alone. You are leading a large, long train. Think of the group first. It won’t hurt to be a little more conservative and smooth, and your fellow riders and ride leaders will be most grateful.
3. Call out all slowing and stopping, potholes, and turns.
This is one I call out before every. single. DTB. And yet, it still happens. We are lucky that there haven’t been any pile ups, but if things aren’t called out, it could get messy very quickly.
I realize that some of these slowdowns and stops can’t be avoided. Some are just sudden and you need to grab a handful of brake. But there should be a shout of “SLOWING!” or “STOPPING!” if this occurs. Give warning so those around you aren’t caught unaware. We are not mind readers – we need communication.
Don’t assume the person behind you will see a pothole you quickly steer around. Pinch flats and wheel touches (read: crashes) happen on this ride when people don’t call out the holes to those behind. And it’s easier to avoid these things by riding no more than two abreast so folks have room to steer around an obstacle that has been pointed out or sighted.
Get loud and gesticulate if you can. Communicate with the riders behind you, and keep passing this along all the way to the back of the line.
To reiterate: safety is the first priority.
With turns and navigation, please don’t assume everybody knows the route (even though they should have the route on their GPS or smartphone). Call out the turns if someone is ahead of you and unsure of the route (and if you don’t know the route you probably shouldn’t be off the front). Use your hands as turn signals for those behind. Simple, no? Then let’s do it!
4. Ride single file or two abreast, no more*.
As well as being the law in both Maryland and the District of Columbia, two abreast is the safest number of riders in a lane of traffic. Riding two abreast, there is breathing room for riders who aren’t comfortable riding in a pack (ahem – racers, I’m looking at you), as well as room to move around if there is a pothole or obstacle in the road.
The * is because there are a few points on the ride where the ride is best served by gathering in a tight, swarming bunch. And example of this is when the route turns onto Massachusetts Ave from Wriley Road in Cabin John, and we need to immediately take the left lane on Mass Ave. Here it’s best that we take up only the left lane, so we typically will stand three abreast in a tight bunch to most efficiently use our road space. But this is the exception, not the norm.
In addition: please don’t cross yellow road lines into an oncoming traffic lane. This is reckless, dangerous, and gives all people on bicycles a bad name. Drivers and those who wish bicycles nothing but scorn look upon these behaviors as fuel for their anti-bicycle rants. Let’s not give them anything to kindle their rage.
5. Rotating pacelines for the return along MacArthur Boulevard.
In order to maintain a smooth pace, make sure everybody gets a good workout without getting overly shelled, and to keep our position on the winding road that is MacArthur Boulevard, we do a proper rotating paceline. This is different than what is done in most club rides or races. When done properly, it is efficient, smooth, and fun. And because it is two riders wide, it helps prevent drivers from making dangerous passes on blind corners.
The best primer (with a great animation showing how it’s done) on rotating pacelines comes courtesy of Selene Yeager and Bicycling magazine. Click here to read it. In addition, here is a do-and-don’t list for rotating pacelines:
• DO pedal smoothly when you are on the right-hand side of the rotation.
• DON’T surge in this paceline; maintain a stable speed to keep the group together.
• DO peel to the left off the front when you get just ahead of the person to your left.
• DON’T stay on the right-hand side to take a longer pull – that’s not how rotating pacelines work.
• If you’re the first person on the left, DO call out “clear” to the person to your right to indicate it’s safe to merge left.
• DO call out “last” when you are the last person on the right to let the person falling back know it’s safe to merge right.
• DO soft-pedal your way back once on the left (only 1-1.5 mph slower than the right-hand column – any slower and the line will stretch like an elastic band).
• DO communicate! Please don’t assume that riders will know when it’s clear to move from one side of the paceline to the other.
• DO accelerate gradually from a stop to keep your group together.
If all this works properly, the rotating group should stay together and roll smoothly, quickly, and efficiently along the road.
6. Return groups no larger than 14-16 riders – period!
This is for safety reasons, and there will be no exceptions to this rule. When in a group of 14 to 16 riders or fewer, a rotating paceline can be efficient and well organized while taking up no more distance on the road than a box truck (38-40 feet). Any bigger and the safety of the riders goes down exponentially. While it’s tempting to stick with your “squad,” we will divide up into groups of 14 to 16. You may get split from your friends. In that case: introduce yourself to some potential new friends, be a mentor, be social.
7. Please keep things social.
The DTB has been a regular ride for Potomac Pedalers for over 20 years. Its origin was as a social, mid-week ride that left from the urban climes of DC. As such, it has always been about being social and friendly, with camaraderie abounding. The DTB has grown to attract riders of many types, from recreational cyclists, to current and lapsed racers, to people new to group riding, to fitness enthusiasts, to folks just visiting town for a few days. Let’s keep it a welcoming environment: introduce yourself, offer to help new riders, be friendly. Keep in mind Velominati Rule #43.
And remember one ground rule for this ride: no headphones – ever.