Hints on Supporting a Cyclist

By John Hawk Marino, founder of RAAM and The 508 and the Godfather of Ultramarathon Cycling

A pace vehicle and crew is primarily responsible for providing a cyclist with food and drink, change of clothes, navigation, light source at night, and protection from motorists in certain situations. In order to avoid being a hazard on the roads, all pace vehicle crews should have an understanding of how to support a rider. Read and learn the information discussed below. There are two ways to support a rider:

  1. By playing leap frog with the rider, e.g. driving ahead, stopping and offering support as a pedestrian, then repeating the process.
  2. By following directly behind the cyclist, at the speed of the rider, and giving support from a moving vehicle.

How to Play Leap Frog

  1. Use this method when there are many cyclists in close vicinity, for example at the start of any ride or race, or when two or more riders are within a close proximity where following becomes a hazard to traffic and to the pace vehicle itself.
  2. Use this method in heavy day-time traffic when following directly behind creates a bigger danger for motorists trying to pass, e.g. narrow two-lane winding roads where passing is difficult, or when three or more vehicles are stacking up behind and there doesn't look like the road ahead will provide an opportunity for passing.
  3. When driving on the roadway, always travel the speed of traffic, not the speed of the rider. Use turn indicators and arm signals at least 200 FEET prior to stopping or turning. Signaling your intent with your left arm is useful in addition to signaling with your lights.
  4. When parked or stopped, always display your emergency flashers.
  5. 5When parking or stopping, do so completely OFF the roadway, and make sure the rider has enough room to pass without having to ease out into traffic.
  6. Always park or stop on the right side of the roadway. Select a safe spot that will allow enough room for the vehicle.
  7. Avoid stopping on downgrades because the cyclist is moving too fast for a hand-off.
  8. Stopping at the crest of a hill before the cyclist gains speed is good in case the rider wants to change into warmer clothes for descents, and for feeding purposes.
  9. All hand-offs should be done as a pedestrian and not out of the window of the vehicle.
  10. Select a spot with enough room for a hand-off.
  11. The rider should throw empty bike water bottles, etc. on the side of the roadway next to the vehicle before the hand-off is made. Pick up all litter.
  12. When passing your rider prior to a hand-off, drive far enough up the road to give yourself time to park the vehicle, get out of the vehicle, open the trunk, find the food/drink/jacket/etc. and get in position for a hand-off before the rider passes. This will take practice with your rider.
  13. Any goof-ups with traffic reflect badly on the rider ahead. For example, if you zoom out into traffic in front of another motorist, that motorist could possibly take anger out on the rider ahead by a nasty remark, horns, throwing debris, spitting, or even easing a rider toward the shoulder. Show the motorists that we know what we're doing!
  14. Give trucks all the room they need. Most are on strict time schedules and some feel as though bikes should be ridden on a sidewalk. Rather than try fighting, just accomodate them as best you can. They are bigger. Creating hostility does not make cycling safer. Use a CB radio to explain to truckers what's going on. They almost always take interest.
  15. Drive with your lights on during the day also. This will help alert opposing traffic that something is going on.
  16. Post a sign on the back of the pace vehicle that reads CAUTION BICYCLE AHEAD.

How to Follow Directly Behind a Rider

  1. Follow at a distance that will allow you to stop if the rider falls.
  2. Post a sign on the back of the pace vehicle with a white background and red reflective lettering that reads CAUTION BICYCLE AHEAD. Also, use the required Slow Moving Vehicle triangle and the roof-mounted flashing amber lights.
  3. Always check your rear view mirrors on a continual basis for traffic to the rear. Be able to identify a motorist that is not responding to your flashing lights.
  4. The rider should ride as far to the right as is reasonable, given the road conditions when being followed.
  5. Prior to a hand-off, make sure traffic to the rear is clear. Carry out the hand-off as quickly as possible. If traffic comes during the hand-off, carry out the hand-off, but make sure traffic responds to your presence.
  6. If the rider flats, pull off to the right as far as possible. The cyclist should get off the roadway and stay far enough from the vehicle as not to be hit by the pace vehicle should the pace vehicle be hit from the rear. If there is no place for the pace vehicle to safely stop, then drive ahead to the first possible stopping place. The rider should tend to the flat or wait for the crew to come back.
  7. All hand-offs should be carried out through the right passenger window and never from the driver's side.
  8. At least two people should be in the pace vehicle, a driver and a feeder/passer. Three is better.
  9. A system of horn signals should be worked out between the rider and pace vehicle in case of an emergency situation to the rear, e.g. many quick honks means get over to the right, a wide load is coming up the rear, etc.
  10. A PA system is useful to speak to the rider and give directions, e.g. turn right at the next street by the Mobil Station, etc.
  11. A CB radio is useful to speak to your other support vehicles or to truckers.
  12. On a narrow, two-lane road with traffic backing up to the rear, the pace vehicle should try to ease over to the right to let traffic pass. Stopping is sometimes advised, but signal the rider that you are stopping momentarily. If stopping won't solve the congestion problem, signal the rider and drive up ahead to the first stopping place. Traffic can then pass.
  13. If the police stop the pace vehicle, for whatever reason, deal in any manner you see fit and reasonable. Pace vehicles will generally be permitted providing a greater hazard isn't being created. Police departments interpret direct following differently. The bottom line is safety to all traffic.
  14. All additional support vehicles must drive at the speed of traffic. Caravaning is absolutely prohibited, under all road conditions, day or night. Caravaning is when two or more vehicles follow directly behind a rider. This makes passing difficult. Additional vehicles should play leap frog, or just drive up the road 5 to 10 miles and wait.

How to Follow a Cyclist at Night

  1. The rider must be equipped with a front and rear light, plus reflectors just as if there were no pace vehicle. Moving reflectors or lights are advised, e.g. pedal/crank reflectors; leg lights; spoke reflectors; reflective vest; reflective tape on helmet, gloves, and shoes.
  2. Always stay behind the rider at a safe following distance, unless a greater hazard is created. If traffic cannot safely pass, e.g. winding road with poor visibility to oncoming traffic, both the rider and pace vehicle should pull over and stop at the first possible place to allow traffic to pass.
  3. If the pace vehicle has to stop for gas or food, the rider must wait. It is important to do all shopping during daylight hours.
  4. Use low beam lights when traffic is approaching from the front. Any additional headlights should be shut off. They can be blinding to approaching motorists.
  5. Plan rest, clothes, or food breaks around when the vehicle needs to stop during the night for fuel.