Tips for Group Riding

Riding a bike is more sociable than you may imagine, you don’t have to go out on your own all the time.  I’m sure you may be a member of a club or have a few friends who join you on those weekend rides.  It’s at this point of a ride that you’ll end up riding next to another cyclist.

Being part of a pack or “peloton” is not just so you can enjoy a chat, although it may be for some riders telling others how there going to buy the next new bike.  There’s a reason the pro’s get into this formation, some would say it looks like a group of birds flying through the sky, the funny thing is this basis is correct.

It’s all about the aerodynamics and the wind resistance that you see groups moving at a faster pace than a solo rider.   So getting into a group has more than one benefit (unless your with my mate) but sitting behind a rider or group of riders will make all the difference.

However there are a few things you need to learn about riding in a group and the etiquette of riding with others.  After riding as a solo rider you really will appreciate riding with a few others and watch the miles fly by as well as the speed increase.

When you go out for a ride there may be times that you ride on you’re own and either approach a group or someone may approach you and your group.  If you’re out on a ride and you happen to be on you’re own and you approach another rider or group its polite to introduce yourself before you jump on their back wheel. 

I know I’ve been out enjoying a nice ride and as I look back I’ve realised theres a cyclist quite happily sitting on my back wheel.  This is known to be frowned upon in some of the more established groups out there and I can see why.  As the rider came past with no ability to acknowledge me and say thanks for pulling him along for the last 8 miles, he seemed expressionless.  It was at this point I realised he was not going to return the gesture and allow me to sit on his back wheel.

So rather than be like one of those rude and obnoxious riders say hello and ask if you can sit on their wheel for a bit, return the gesture once you feel ready and you’ll find you make new friends a lot quicker than you thought.

Getting into the tight group has huge benefit when you do it right.  The lead rider is taking the full force of the wind, it’s said that the rider following is getting a reduction of 50% then if there’s a rider behind again its even greater.  I have to agree the difference when your sat behind a lead rider is noticeably different.  To get the best out of your group riding you need to make sure you all rotate taking an equal time on the front.

It’s no fun riding with others and you do a good 5 miles on the front and everyone else does 2 miles, try and keep the pace nice and steady allowing everyone to ride at an agreed pace.  Once you all find a good pace you’re half way there.  What you will need to overcome is the confidence to ride fairly close to the back wheel of the bike in front.  I’d say a good distance is two hand lengths between the tyres, you could get closer but its your safety at the end of the day.

When you get confident in riding close to another bike the next step is to take the lead, this has its very own responsibilities and you are responsible for all the riders behind you.  The first thing you need to look at is the pace, this is set by everyone who is happy with a certain speed then you need to be extra vigilant looking out for any obstructions that could be a potential hazard.

From cars to pot holes and even the direction you’re traveling will be conveyed via hand signals.  If you need to point out a parked car then its a simple case of reaching around your back and pointing away, then for a pothole its a case of pointing to the floor on the side of the hazard.  As for turning its a case of putting you’re arm out in the direction you’re intending on going.

One thing you must remember and try not to do for both etiquette and your own safety, is “HALF WHEELING” this is frowned upon with most if not all cyclists and should the bike in the front position have to turn or move quickly the one who’s half wheeling will come off…thats a fact.  This will result in the front wheel being destroyed by the meck and the back wheel getting destroyed as well, not a good outcome for either riders and the blame will be put on the one who was half wheeling.

Taking you’re turn to lead is part of riding in the group and most groups have their own way of signalling a change in leader.  From rides I’ve been on when the lead rider has done his spell at the front he would look back to see if all is clear and move out to the right, allowing the pack to ride up on the inside and when he’s close to the back rider he can drop back in behind and rest.  This would then mean the group will be able to rotate making good distance and speed covering good ground, however getting everyone to work well together is a tough one.  Theres always that one rider who puts extra effort into his time on the front dropping the group, this is not down to being a better rider but not being a team rider and messing the group up.  Most groups have them, the problem with it is you can’t tell them, because they will just say “ I never realised “ which is a load of balls as the’ve been following and can see the speed from their top of the range GPS unit.

Although riding in a group has a fair few advantages there are also a few pit falls with it as well, for starters if your group is riding as pairs then you could be stuck talking to someone who waffles on about stuff you have no interest in, this might not happen but be warned.

Then you have those who weave all over the place as if they’ve been down the pub for a few before the ride, then you may come across someone who decides to clear their nasal passages or throat with you right behind them, yeah they won’t move out and keep clear of everyone oh no you’ll get it all over your top.

Finally there’s the big one, this is when the front rider or someone close to the front has a bit of a screamer and goes down.  The problem here is that anyone who’s behind them will also meet the same fate and end up on the deck, unless you have cat like reactions and don’t weave into any other traffic you’ll be requiring some medical attention.

I know I’ve pointed out a few different scenarios but the overall fact is group riding is both great fun and a brilliant way of covering some serious miles.  All you need to worry about is keeping up, there’s nothing worse than being dropped from a group because as hard as you pedal you’ll be lucky if you catch them up again.  Not until they stop for a coffee maybe, or at a set of lights.

If you really want to get into cycling more often I would say group riding is by far the best way to ride, the fun and laughs you can and will have are well worth it.  I love riding in a group and as for a laugh it’s hard not to when I’m there, I’m usually the one who’s having the laugh.

When you’re out on your bike next you may want to learn some of the bike etiquette and signals.

Pick the right Group – Club Rides would be broken into an A, B and C group (with A the fastest).  The website will give an indication of how fast this will be, or how long it will take to ride a certain route.  The hilly routes we tend to ride on around don’t always translate to a straight miles-per-hour figure.  We will refine these estimates of times for each route as we develop – please bear with us as we get this right and feedback (politely) when we need to change something.

As a general rule it will be worth starting with a slower group than a faster one.  But if you are not used to riding in a group then you might be surprised how much benefit you get from it (approx 20%).  By this I mean you will go 20% faster with the same effort.

Each Club ride will have a leader and “sweeper”.

The leader will not necessarily have to ride at the front but will be familiar with the route and have some cycling experience.  Please respect the leaderʼs decision, if for example they decide to shorten a route due to weather/light/safety concerns.

The “sweeper” will ride at the back of the group and make sure riders do not become detached from the main group.

Ride two-abreast when it is safe to do so – this way the group is a compact unit which can ride efficiently but easily move to single-file when needed to (for example to get past an oncoming car when the road is narrow).  On the roads, NEVER go three or more abreast, irrespective of how good the conversation is!

Communication is key to a safe group ride. Roads are full of traffic, rocks, signs, pot holes, parked cars, animals, pedestrians, etc. and visibility is limited for the cyclist in a pack. It is important to communicate to the riders in the group of potential hazards by shouting and pointing out hazards.

Hand-Signals: It is not imperative that all the cyclists in the group point out the same hazards or signals.  As long as a few are then this is normally sufficient (and the leading two always should).  If you are a beginner or unsteady then is far safer for the group to keep both hands on the handle-bars then it is to point things out.

The purpose of these signals is that the riders can continue to ride at a steady pace and can ride round the smaller obstacles without constantly having to brake (and sudden braking causes most incidents).

The thing you are most likely to see is where riders point down in the direction of an oncoming rock/hole.  If the two riders both point to the ground between them, this signifies there is small obstacle (such as a pothole) that they are going to ride one either side of.

If the rider on the left points to their left, it means there is something to their left that they might have to ride slightly to the right of to pass – and if you are behind them then you will have to take the same line if you also want to avoid it!  Similarly the rider on the right might indicate a similar obstacle to their right.

These signals allow the group to ride at a constant pace.

You will also see a ride pointing or waving behind their lower back.  If they are pointing right (the most common) then it indicates that the whole group will have to move to the right to overtake a large obstacle such as a parked car.

Shouts – Warnings youʼre likely to hear include:

Car Back: thereʼs a car approaching from the rear of the group ride Car Up: thereʼs a car approaching from the front of the group ride Car right or left: car is approaching on the left of right of the group ride Rock or Hole: there is a hazard in the road

Walker/runner up: thereʼs a pedestrian on the road ahead Biker up: there is a slower cyclist ahead that we are likely to overtake Clear: perhaps at a junction this is called when there is nothing coming and you know you can pedal through Slow – potential hazard ahead, control speed (but don’t brake sharply to a standstill) Stop – we are going to have to stop – there is a hazard we can’t ride round Line-out or single-file – asking that we move (whilst still keeping same speed) to single-file to for example let a vehicle past.

To be safe it is important to ride smooth, donʼt over react, avoid hard braking, be alert as to what is going on up the road in the front of the pack and anticipate what traffic will do.

Inexperienced rides who panic and touch a wheel may crash or cause a crash.  You can avoid problems by practicing these simple rules:

Stay alert at all times.  Hold your line.  Donʼt overlap wheels.  Donʼt look back! Relax!

Focus on the rider(s) ahead.  Beware of pot holes in the road.  Donʼt brake unless absolutely necessary

All of this may sound complicated at first but you will soon get into it.  It actually gives a whole new dimension to cycling as it makes it a team event – you have to communicate, support and trust each other, and everyoneʼs safety is in each otherʼs hands.  But you will find it one of the most enjoyable elements to riding in a club.

Enjoy !

I hope all this information helps you out in the future and makes your rides a whole lot more enjoyable.