Group Riding – Top Tips

Over the past 12-18 months the Nomads’ Membership has swelled to record levels. For newcomers to cycling there are a range of things to get to grips with. These include the basics such as getting fit enough to cover the distance and speeds cycling clubs cover as well as getting a bike, kit and nutrition factors right.

One aspect common to all newbies is having to ride in close proximity to other riders in a manner which is safe (for all riders) and which respects the Highway Code and also makes good progression on the road. The Highway Code is available online, check rule 66 for the myth-busting “single file” statements. Most “commentary” from motorists is usually related to riding single file. A response of “Read Rule 66″ may be a polite version of the various Anglo-Saxon retorts which may have been employed on occasion.

Riding directly behind the rider in front at roughly half a wheel’s distance from their back wheel requires concentration and above all, progressive, smooth and predictable manoeuvres. In the shelter of a group you will save energy and also share the load as you head out on whichever route you are on. Riding in a group is good fun, increases your skills and stamina and sharpens up your bike handling.

Top tips for this endeavour include:

  • Watch the SHOULDERS of the rider in front, not their wheel. Looking forward and up helps you to scan the road ahead. Looking down will cause you to lose sight of what is approaching or happening ahead.
  • Ride in a straight line. Or as near to straight as the road allows. Veering all over the place makes it hard to follow you and also increase the chances of a collision.
  • Do NOT brake erratically or perform sudden or jerky movements. This kind of activity sends ripples in to the following riders and, at worst, will cause a crash.
  • When changing gears be smooth and plan your change, the staccato clunk-clank of the front mech as it pulls a tantrum on a gear change will cause you to pause (even if very slightly) and this will create a similar effect as braking suddenly.
  • NEVER overlap wheels with the rider in front. “Half-wheeling” will increase the chances of wheels touching.
  • When peeling off the front always look around you and check that it is safe to do so, look over your shoulders and around you. A flick of the arm is the usual sign that the front rider needs a breather, so be observant. Riders coming through should maintain the same, steady speed and not simply hammer off in front. Increasing tempo as you hit the front of a group will cause it to stretch out and splinter and it will be much harder for the former front markers to get back on.
  • Do indicate and communicate your intentions to your co-riders. “It’s good to talk”. It’s even better to listen.
  • If you are at the front, indicate pot-holes and obstructions/hazards by pointing and/or calling them out. Remember that three or four lengths back riders will have limited visibility. The wind can also carry sound the wrong way so if you see or hear something DO relay it to the riders behind you. They may not hear it otherwise.
  • When you approach junctions and roundabouts, bring the speed down progressively and check for traffic before either stopping or moving off. Do NOT hammer off at the junction in the style of Eddie Merckx. It is likely that the group will become splintered at these road features so be sensible and check that everyone is still in contact. You will not be popular at the Cafe stop.
  • When you get to a hill or incline and you have almost religious quality visions of being the Eagle of Toledo or Marco Pantani in his prime, check around you before you make any increase in speed. Hill riding out of the saddle and sudden bursts of speed can lead to some of the things listed above coming in to fruition, e.g. overlapping wheels and sudden increases in speed. Check around you, if you do something like this in a road race and cause a touch of wheels you will be visiting the Commissaire. If you do it on a club run expect to be sent to Coventry, or worse, get a round of teas and cake in.
  • If someone (i.e. one of the old hands) is shouting instructions, listen and heed them. It’ll be because they are more experienced and however much like Froomie or Cav you think you are, you aren’t.
  • It is easier to get a gel or grab a bottle when you are near the back of the group. If and when you grab a drink, try not to look down as you replace the bottle on your bike.
  • Similarly if you want to clear your nose or throat out, check the wind direction and do it from the back. Nothing will endear you less to your new muckers than an assemblage of phlegm on their new Rapha merino wool top (other clothing brands are available although Rapha branded material could be said to be a legit target for bio-waste – this may not necessarily by HNCC policy 😉 ).
  • If you get a mechanical or puncture, shout it out. This will allow the group to come to a steady stop.

These aren’t exhaustive rules and there are a myriad of online articles you can check for yourself.

The British Cycling Insight Zone offers some great videos, posts and articles too.