Group Riding Skills

As we head to winter, its a good idea to recognize that there are many different types of rider in our club and in your group ride. There are those that are hard at it in the shed/gym maintaining fitness, those that are looking for a rest come end of season and will build up and those that are happy to get through the winter until the sun comes out and then rush to get fit….

All that leaves us with groups that can consist of different levels of fitness as well as skills, even more so than in the summer, believe me.

So its good at this time of year to go over some basics, as well as techniques that will help us maintain fitness and help us to enjoy our riding more this winter season.

First and foremost, this is a “no drop” club. That means we don’t ride on leaving someone to their own devices if they fail to keep up. There’s a number of reasons why that can happen and its not always the fault of the rider getting dropped.

Some riders have 5 or more miles under their belt by the time they arrive at the meeting point, leaving soon after, they are warmed up and happy to shoot off at full tilt, leaving the rider who hasn’t had time to warm up, the lung busting task of trying to catch them on cold legs, which can have a lasting effect for the rest of the ride.

Take off gently and let everyone come up to speed, this is the correct technique to practice at the start and also during the ride at junctions and roundabouts.

Groups shouldn’t form by folks sprinting to catch the faster riders, that just wears out the slower riders quicker and leads to them….getting dropped….. because those fast guys wasted their energy.

Groups should form by the riders at the front slowing and letting the group form behind them before attaining riding pace. A really good group gets back into formation quickly after whatever obstacle befell them.

If your taking longer than 30 seconds to get the group into formation after setting off, the riders at the front are going too fast.

Its also a great idea to stay in formation at that junction or traffic light that got in your way, speeding up regrouping, rather than bunching up on the white line. With the exception of crossing busy roads.

Once up to pace, its always best to maintain a steady tempo, the best way to do this is to stay together, consider the weaker riders when setting a pace and to ride as efficiently as a group as possible.

We and British Cycling recommend riding in a “2 by” formation as much as possible for both safety and for efficiency, and I’ll go into greater detail below on this.

Before we go into the lesson section….I hope to be able over the next few weeks, if you want it, that is, to come and join in with groups I haven’t ridden with before and help folks practice these techniques on the road. The reason I took on the role as Captain of the club was to share the experience of group riding that racing and club riding has given me over the course of my cycling career , so let me know if you want me to join your group or equally are strongly opposed .. I wont be offended.!!

So, how do we do it..
The 2 x 2 formation, which can also be called a double paceline, is a version of a paceline that BCC and British Cycling recommends to keep you safer so please take a moment to study what is in this communication and practice hard.

Done right, it takes up no more room than one line, and with 10-20 riders, it creates a much shorter length of line, making it easier for cars to pass.
Please use the YouTube links at the bottom of the page to view the info sessions that I found to be most informative on this subject.

Take it all on board, let’s talk about it, and more importantly practice it.

As we are generally riding on roads where our objective is to maintain tight control over our width, rotating tightly while leaving enough room for the riders to flow down the inside is preferable.

The front pair should leave the front of the group by moving the left rider first, then the right rider, and both rotate to the back of the group via the inside line of riders. The next set of 2 riders then continue at the same pace in formation, not surging when they see a clear road ahead of them, use your speedo, keep it the same.

Question for you………..Who would you rather be?

Whenever you see a pro team out riding, not racing, this is how they ride, can’t all be coincidence can it? Ride like a Pro – (their livelihood depends on it, so they do it right)

Typical scenes of cyclists not quite getting it right.

– Lines too far apart, should be elbow to elbow 
– Taking up all the road by staggering left and right, lost efficiency from not sheltering behind each other.
– Is that one of your new members getting shelled out the back never to return?

There will always be a time when single file is necessary, but large gaps between wheels makes the line a hazard from passing cars, forcing them into the middle of the line when they attempt to pass. Keep it short folks.

Game changing Attitudes to have

Be proactive around safety and pacing.

Nobody likes being barked at constantly, and certainly not during a nice group ride. But there are some times when it’s good to speak up.

The riders in about the 3rd row of a double paceline are in a good position to call for an adjustment to the pace. At this point in the group you can tell if the riders around you are struggling with the speed or the wind direction. Riders in the first and second rows can sometimes misjudge their pace and position relative to the rest of the group. Speak up, its your group too.

Call it
Our roads have holes, lots. Point them out, shout if you have to. The most effective groups rely on hand signals and save shouting for really urgent messages. If you have a larger group, any messages from the front only get to those that really need it at the back if you pass it on. Here’s a great guide to signals if you were short on hand-signal vocabulary.

Pull longer, not harder.
If you’re feeling like superman or you’re the fast guy of the group, don’t ramp up the speed when you get to the front. It’s not nice and it makes the pace uncomfortably hard for your friends. Instead, ride the group’s pace and stay at the front longer. You’ll get the training you want and give the rest of the group some extra time in the draft.

Pull shorter, not slower.
Conversely, if you don’t have the fitness to take a long pull at the group’s pace, you should still rotate through like everyone else, but just pull off quickly. There’s no rule that says you have to take a pull equal to the guy before you. The rule is that you need to pull at the group’s pace. Don’t slow down, because then everyone stacks up behind you. For a smoother experience for everyone, keep it short and pull off.

Pace the climbs for the middle of the group.
When the pack hits rolling hills it can be hard to keep the group together, especially when “that guy” drills it on the front. When drafting is less of a help to the riders in the middle and rear of the group ride, it’s important for the riders at the front to consider everyone when establishing the climbing pace. 

On social group rides like ours, it’s typical to wait at the top of longer climbs, but to minimize the frequency of these soft-pedal periods or stoppages, especially when its cold, try to set a pace that’s comfortable for the middle of the group. This may mean it’s a bit easy for the fast guys at the front and pretty challenging for some folks at the back, but this pacing strategy is good for keeping the group together over the majority of hills.

If you do get dropped on a hill and don’t want to wait for the regroup point to join back on, if its not at the top of the hill, that’s going to mean descending effectively.

A good skill to have around here, even better in the French Alps. Its great idea to follow someone you trust if you’re nervous, but if you need to up your skills, it can only come with practice and confidence. Here’s a great guide to getting there. No one ever remembers the fastest downhill daredevil, so don’t take chances, but doing it right never hurt.

Remember, it’s not a race. Except when it is.
Those periods will be clearly indicated and once the hammer is dropped, the race is on.

Once it’s finished, it’s over, finito, done, end of, gonzo, closed, at an end, ancient history…quit trying to hurt others because you’re having a great day. Use your strength to pull the bunch, not hurt it, race is over…

If it’s not one of those periods, don’t let others force you into riding badly, make your own decisions, let others around you know when it not correct riding for the situation, and do the right thing and get back into a safe 2×2 formation.

It’s not the ride leader’s responsibility to make sure you ride correctly, it’s yours, your families & your ride partners to make sure you ride smart, predictably, taking care of yourself and those around you so you all ride another day.

Video guides for 2×2 pace lines, please take a moment to view…

Finally a word from Chris Carmichael, “Don’t be that guy” (Yea I know he was Lance’s “coach”, but he still has a point….) Make sure you turn to page 2.
Weekend Reading: Group Rides Part II – How to Avoid Being “That Guy” – CTS

Ride safe,