The art of group riding
Riding as part of a pack is the utopian ideal of cycling : You go faster and farther with less effort, and colorful commentary from your riding buddies on monster hills or nasty roadkill or too-tight cycling shorts always make the harder sections seem less grueling.
But initiation into a cycling group doesn’t always come easy. There are hand signals, code words and seemingly bizarre rules that were largely created for safety reasons. New riders usually pick up pack skills on the fly, through observing, trying, getting cussed at and eventually catching on.
The best way to become more confortable ridinf in group is ( not surprisingly) riding in a group. That said, there are nimber of skills and tricks you can practise to speed the process along – and ensure that you dont’ end up with a nickname like « Swerve »
Join the pack safely
Alex Stieda shares five key skills to master before jumping into a group.
Pedal smoothly. First, you need to learn to ride steady on your own. Many beginners use too low cadence, which make the bike surge forwrd with every pedal stroke – annoying and even danferous in a group. Keeping you cadence hight will also allow you to adjust to speed changes in small increments, rather than braking or all-out acceleration. To keep your pace, cahnge gears frequently to match the terrain and wind conditions. Remember: don’t look dow at your bike’s drivetrain as you shift. Practisse solo until you can do it by feel.
Get close and be predictable. Packs are most often formed of one or two lines od riderrs to maximize the wind-breaking benefits. To feel the draft, go with on or two other riders to a quiet, flat road and practise riding single file. Gently move laterally a foot or so to find the space where there is the least wind resistance. That’s the saeet spot. This position will vary depending on where you are relative to the wind, much like sailing.
Know when to pull off. In genera, the higher the wind resistance, the shorter you time leading the pack should be. In stiff head-winds you may see the front for only a second or two. On a gradual downhill, you may spend 2 minuts leadinf before you pull off. The length of a pull also depends on the ability of the rider; if you find yourself struggling to maintain the group’s speed, it’s time to drop to the back. If you’re feeling strong, you can stay up front longer – just save something for the trip home. When you’re ready to pull offre the front, le the rider behind know with a hand or a voice signal, check over your shoulder for cars, gradually pull out of line and the ease uo just enough to drift slowly to the back of the group.
Double up. Next, ride two by two, trying to get within an arm’s reach of the shoulder next to you. You should be riding near enough to carry on a conversation without those behind you hearing what you are saying – really, that close. Build to a group of 4 to 6 riders before you join a larger pack.
Look ahead. No matter where you are in the pack, ti is essential that you watch the road surface in front of the group. Those at the front should be pointing out dangerous objects coming up – holes, rocks, dogs and the like – but everyone is responsible for sharing this awareness. Gaining confidence in lifting you gaze from the wheel in front of you takes tile, but you can jump-start it by going to a grass field with a friend and riding single file to pratcise. You’ll find it’s not hard if you both ride steadily and predictabky.