Riding in a group of cyclists safely takes a certain amount of skill, but more importantly it requires knowledge of how to ride appropriately. You will find a list of guidelines below to follow, which will make for a safe ride for everyone involved. If you don’t understand the reasons behind some of the guidelines, then by all means drop us a mail or ask an experienced member of the group at club rides.
Sounds easy, right? When people are faced with an unfamiliar scenario, one of the first things their body does is tense up. If you are tense, any movement you make is transferred directly through the bike. Being relaxed makes it far easier to control the bike and absorb any small changes in your surroundings, from obstacles such as slippy road markings to bumping elbows in a tight group. If you make contact with each other out on the road and are relaxed, there’s a good chance you will stay upright and survive to fight another day. If you are tense, the small changes will travel through the bike and you could potentially end up in a whole world of pain. Remember, we always want to stay rubber side down!
This applies not only in group riding but in all aspects of cycling, from obeying traffic regulations to getting out of the saddle to stretch mid-cycle. What is particularly important in group riding is that little changes can have a big impact. If you are in a group cruising along at 25kph and you stand unexpectedly to stretch your back/legs, your weight shifts on the bike, you become less aerodynamic and you slow down. This has a concertina effect and if anyone is behind you, they will either go right into the back of you or have to make a dangerous manoeuvre behind you to avoid an accident. Not to say you can’t stretch or stand if you need to, but bringing it back to the main point. Do it predictably and everything will be rosy. Predictability isn’t just about other cyclists either. We share the road with all manner of other road users. Announce your intentions to the world well in advance and everyone has plenty of time to react accordingly. Cyclists have a bad enough reputation on the road already. We need to do all we can to remedy that.
Obey The Rules Of The Road
I touched on it above, but it deserves an individual section. This is an important one to the reputation of the club in the local community (as well as your own safety!). We must ride responsibly as a group and consider other road users. In a small group if we are riding two abreast and cars are approaching from the rear, we single out. If we are in a large group and cars are approaching then we double up and separate the groups, leaving enough space for the traffic to pass between groups instead of having to wait behind and overtake the whole team in one move. We stay on the correct side of the road, NEVER jump a red light, take care at junctions etc. Listen to your group leaders when you are out and please obey their instructions. If you have a query about why you have been instructed to do something, save it for the next safe opportunity please.
No Half Wheeling
Generally we will ride two abreast when out on the road (this is MORE considerate to drivers, not less). The riders on the front are those who set the pace. Half-wheeling is a term for one of the front riders trying to push the pace to get a response from the other front rider. The idea being that the whole pace of the group speeds up. This is a way to lose friends quickly within the group. Rides are set to a specific pace to accommodate all riders in the group. If you want to push the pace and see what others in the group are capable of, save it for the 30 sign sprint or join the Chain Gang sessions!
Do Not Overlap Wheels
To the uninitiated, this may sound the same as half wheeling. It’s not. Overlapping wheels in a group is a fast track to collision! Picture the scene: You are within the group and the pace is steady. You overlap wheels to ask the next rider up a question or to chat about the week gone by. That rider then has to move out to avoid an obstacle and all of a sudden your front wheel is caught up in their back wheel…. And you all come tumbling down.
Taking Turns At The Front
Everyone has their own ability threshold. Everyone has good days and bad days. Generally the entire group has the opportunity to take a stint at the front and share the pain in the wind, but it’s not a prerequisite of group riding. If you are tired, pushing the limits of your abilities in a faster group or are just not ‘feeling it’ that day, then there’s no pressure to take a turn on the front on social rides. The only time this would be frowned upon is if you sit at the back conserving energy the whole ride, then drop everyone on the last climb of the day and cruise to victory! Not cool.
It is natural that your path of vision will be obstructed when you are riding in a group. It is therefore more important that those who have full vision relay messages about their perceptions through the group. Have a look at our Hand Signals page for more information about each command. The basics are simple though. Point out any hazards such as potholes and drains, call out approaching traffic from either the front or rear. Simples.
Make Sure Rider And Machine Are Prepared
This one is simple. Make sure your bike is in tip-top condition, gears and brakes functioning correctly and all bolts secure. Make sure that you are self-sufficient, even though you are riding in a group. Take spare tubes and puncture repair kits, a pump, a multi-tool, food, water, phone, money and wear appropriate clothing for the conditions!
No Aerobars or Headphones
Aerobars have their place, but that place is NOT in a group riding scenario. Save them for their intended purpose – Fast, solo rides where aerodynamics matter. Headphones also have their place when you are out on your bike – left at home!
Nobody Gets Left Behind
If the groups get separated at junctions, red lights, hills or any other obstructions, the front riders will soft pedal until everyone has regrouped. If you are among those who get caught at a red light or a junction, do not be tempted to ‘jump a red’ or put yourself in danger just to catch the group. They will wait. At set points along the route, the pack will regroup fully. This is particularly important if those at the back are not familiar with the route for example. The only circumstance where this guideline does not apply is on ‘chain gang’ rides. These sessions are all about speed and technique. If you fall off the back, the group will not slow down.
Easy On The Brakes
Brakes on modern bikes are very effective. That’s good. Very abrupt braking in a group of cyclists can have horrific consequences. That’s not good. With practice, your speed in a group can be regulated by soft pedalling and changing your road position or body position to increase wind resistance, which will slow you down gently. If you do need to use the brakes, use them sparingly and feather the front brake first. Keep pedalling as you brake and pedal against the resistance. That will give you a more controlled, predictable (remember what was said about predictability earlier?) decrease in speed.
Climbing and Descending
When you are climbing a gradient, any change in bike position or gearing can make a more pronounced difference in your speed over ground than either you, or riders around you may be expecting. There’s no massive advantage to ‘drafting’ someone up a hill at 8mph, so if you’re behind, leave a bit more room between you and the rider in front to account for any of these possibilities.
Equally important is the effect that slipstreaming produces going downhill. Gravity plays a part (which favours the larger riders – bonus!), but wind resistance increases dramatically at high speeds, so the rider on the front gets the full force. Following riders then experience the full benefit of drafting, which is cool but can also cause you to carry way too much speed into upcoming corners. Be sensible here and leave bigger gaps between riders. Remember to use the wind to your advantage to slow you down gradually. If you’ve overcooked it, stay relaxed and brake gently.
Change Up Carefully
Changing up describes the practise of rotating the group to give everyone a turn on the front. The front riders will move into single file formation and begin to soft pedal, allowing the rest of the group to overtake on the right. The riders in positions three and four will now be up front and the previous front riders will rejoin the back of the group. Rotations will generally take place every few minutes depending on the terrain and the abilities of those up front.
Hopefully the above guidelines have given you an idea of what to expect and how to perform in a group riding scenario. if you have any questions about the content above, please just ask one of the experienced riders when you’re on the road or drop us an email from the contact page.
British cycling have put together a series of excellent videos that will assist you in improving your group riding skills. Check out the videos here!