One of the greatest skills I’ve learned (and continue to learn) from my Fondo clinics and local bike shop organized rides is how to ride in groups.
Cycling in a group, whether you’re with a handful of riders or dozens, takes all sorts of awareness, patience, skill and bravery. But the effort and attention is very worthwhile. Riding in groups gives you the benefit of drafting from other cyclists in front of you who block the wind, which can save you enormous amounts of energy and keeps the overall speed higher. Plus you have people to talk to, which is nice, and pace yourself off of, which will make you a better cyclist.
With regards to drafting, a case in point: my average speed while training in solo rides always seems to hover around 25 km/hr. But when I rode in a Medio Fondo in Fort Langley earlier this summer, I was able to maintain a higher average speed of 30 km/hr despite the course being 84 kilometres long. The difference is really quite remarkable. It was all thanks to the group effort of me and strangers in front and behind who shared the workload as we trudged along.
Here are some valuable tips on how to ride in groups (aka group riding etiquette) which must be learned and adhered to if you find yourself in a group and want to be welcomed back. I’ve copied this from the Central Vancouver Cycling club website (more on Club cycling later). Many thanks to them!
- Obey the rules of the road! Adhere to all traffic laws.
- Helmets must be worn at all times.
- Ride no more than two (2) abreast. Single paceline in traffic. Stay as far to the right hand side of the road as safely possible.
- DO NOT ride along the centre line of the road!!
- Stay completely out of the road when stopped or waiting.
- Use hand signals to indicate turns (left and right), stopping and slowing.
- Use verbal warnings. This includes warnings for turns, stopping and slowing. “Car Up” – To warn of approaching vehicles. “Car Back” – To warn of passing vehicles. “On your left” – When overtaking an unsuspecting cyclists.
- Point out and announce hazards in the road. This includes holes, bumps, storm drains, road kill, gravel, sand, pedestrians, cars, etc. Anything disruptive to the cyclists behind you.
- Let others in the group know if you are stopping for any reason, or if you are leaving the ride –don’t just disappear!
Group Ride Basics
- PACELINE – a string of riders who alternate turns riding at the front, pulling then resting by sitting in, drafting in the slip stream of the other riders.
- Single file, double and rotating pacelines will be used during group rides depending on road conditions.
- DRAFTING – riding a slipstream, or pocket of moving air, created by the rider in front. This enables the second rider to maintain speed with less effort.
- NO SUDDEN MOVEMENTS!! Riders need to ride straight, steadily, and smoothly. Your riding affects all other riders in the group, so be consistent, safe and predictable. Always be aware of what is happening around you.
- If you brush shoulders, hands, or bars with another rider, DO NOT panic. Stay relaxed and allow your upper body to absorb any bumps.
- If you have a mishap (flat tire, mechanical, etc) stay relaxed. DO NOT slam on the brakes. Slowly, smoothly and calmly slide out of the paceline. Once you are clear, then slowly decelerate before stopping off the side of the road. If you are at the back, calmly let others know you have had a mishap, other riders will communicate up the paceline to let the group know to stop.
- ALWAYS be considerate to other cyclists and motorists!! Your actions reflect up the club, your sponsors and the cycling community as a whole!!
- DO NOT litter. Put any wrappers in your pockets until you get home.
- Ride a comfortable distance behind the wheel in front of you. Begin riding 2-3 feet away and work up to closer distances as you start to feel more comfortable. Practice helps!! Experienced riders will ride within inches of each others wheels.
- DO NOT fixate on the wheel in front of you. Look beyond the rider directly in front of you to see what is up the road. Be aware of what is in front of you!!
- DO NOT overlap wheels. If you touch wheels, the rider behind should smoothly and calmly slow down. The rider in front should maintain his line and pedaling.
- DO NOT slam on brakes!! If you roll up on the rider in front of you, easy pedal and smoothly ease to one side. Allow the wind to slow you down.
- Avoid gaps. If a gap does open, smoothly and slowly accelerate to close it.
- When riding downhill, do not slam on the brakes. Slowly and smoothly move to either side of the rider in front of you and allow the wind to help maintain your speed.
- Allow a little more room for reaction time due to the higher speeds.
Paceline (Passing and Pulling)
- Generally, the lead rider will pull off to the left. There are some exceptions to this rule, but this is typically limited to experienced riders in echelons during windy conditions.
- DO NOT accelerate when taking the lead!! The lead rider should pull off to the side and smoothly decrease speed. The second rider should maintain the speed of the group. If the speed is to be increased, do so slowly and smoothly. Allow the rider to regroup at the back and benefit from the draft. Remember, he just did a pull and is probably a little tired. If you surge, the rider pulling off or even the group may take exception to the acceleration and do the same to you!!
- When pulling at the front, maintain the speed of the group. Do not stay on the front so long that you decrease the speed of the group. Keep the pace steady!!
- DO NOT over exert yourself at the front!! Stronger riders should pull longer, weaker riders should pull shorter. Do not be embarrassed to simply pull through immediately.
- DO NOT rush to the front and pour on the full power until you are exhausted or blow. Save enough energy to regroup with the end of the paceline and recover.
- When the lead rider pulls off, slowly move to the back of the group, but maintain some speed and do not stop pedaling. Stay close to the group as you drift back, this will help shield the other riders from the wind. When you are beside the last rider in the line, smoothly pick up your speed and move over behind his wheel. Careful not to slow down too much, otherwise you will have to accelerate hard to maintain contact with the group or miss the group all together.
- DO NOT ride to the front of the paceline and pull out in 2nd or 3rd position from the front opening gaps for the riders behind you. If you find yourself at the front, pull through and over once the front wheel of the rider who pulled off in front of you is past your rear wheel. This will not take anymore energy and prevents opening gaps for the riders behind you.
- On a hill, maintain your effort, not the speed.
- If the group is travelling too fast, sit on the back. When the front rider pulls off and moves to the back of the group, move to the left so you are on his wheel and allow him to move in behind the rider in front of you. An advance verbal warning giving them plenty of time to react is helpful. Only do this at the back of the group, as riders behind you may want to pull through and the rider moving to the back probably wants as much rest as possible.
Do Not Leave Stragglers
- If you get separated at intersections, as a matter of courtesy, the lead group should soft pedal until the rest have rejoined;
- If you are near the back of the group and you notice that someone has missed a light or been dropped, communicate up the line to let the riders at the front know they should soft pedal until the rider is back with the group;
- Another note here is that if you are the one who will be caught by the light, don’t run the red light to maintain contact. If they don’t wait for you to catch up, you may not want to be riding with them anyway;
- Also as a courtesy to those who may not be able to stay with the group, the pack should wait at certain points along the route to regroup. Especially, at turn points and if the stragglers don’t know the route;
- No one should be left alone on a group ride.