Why we are so Picky
("single file" and other rules)

Bob Jacques

If you are an experienced rider, you may have noticed that the RAC volunteers seem a little, shall we say, "enthusiastic" about calling out every single infraction they see. Otherwise peaceful rides are disturbed by calls of "single file!" and "stop at the stop sign!". This can seem like too much when you are out in the middle of the desert with no cars visible out to a horizon that is miles away and a volunteer is making everyone put a foot down at the stop sign.

Believe me, we hate enforcing these rules as much as you hate hearing us do it. We dislike it even more when we get caught breaking the rules (which happens more often than you think). We do it for one and only one reason and that is to keep our riders and the drivers around us safe.

Over the years we try different changes to the rules to see what works and what doesn't. If a rule has the desired effect of making everyone safer without making the ride unpleasant for ourselves or the drivers around us, then we keep it. If it doesn’t offer enough benefit in exchange for adding another rule to follow, or if it places a large burden on traffic, then we get rid of it.

I'll give you an example. The single file rule is probably one of our most controversial. After all, why can't we ride side by side on the 56 bike path which is easily 4 bikes wide? I agree with you. Riding side by side on the 56 bike path in the wide sections if perfectly safe. Unfortunately, this enables two separate problems. First, once we start allowing two people side by side, it very quickly escalates to 3 side by side and from there to a mob of bikes taking up the entire bike path. I have no idea why this is. It must involve some kind of group psychology. If we tell a group of riders to stay single file we only need a few reminders to get them to stay that way. If we tell a group that no more than 2 can be side by side, even with constant reminding, we can't keep them from going to 3 and 4 abreast.

The second problem is that we would have to create a set of rules that we could use to tell the 5th graders when it is safe to ride side by side and when they must be single file. We have found that gets too complex for a lot of the kids (and some parents and at least one volunteer). A simple rule about always being single file is much easier for everyone to understand and follow.

Simple rules becomes especially important when you consider how your brain works when you have been pedaling for 8 hours. When you get tired, your brain shifts to automatic pilot. If you have been training for six months to stop at every single stop sign, then, when you arrive at one late in the day, the stop will be automatic. That can be a lifesaver.