Riding in a group08 December, 2013 0 comments
Learn to ride in a group
Riding in a group is a powerful experience, both for learning from other cyclists and for achieving greater results. To reap the benefits, however, you must learn how to play your part, because when carried out poorly a group actually becomes counterproductive.
Here are some tips for getting started with group rides – and making the best of them.
Understand the basics
Riding in a group makes it possible to maintain a higher speed than would be possible alone. To do this, cyclists ride close together to lessen wind resistance, and rotate their positions so that one person leads the group for a few seconds to several minutes at a time. This is called the paceline.
The simplest formation is single paceline, in which riders align behind one another, and a period of leading the line is followed by pulling off to one side and drifting back to the end of the line. In a double paceline, there are two lines of cyclists, with everyone keeping the same speed with the cyclist by their side, and leaders pulling off to either side simultaneously. There is also the rotating paceline, where one line of cyclists moves slightly faster than the other, and the leading rider of the faster line crosses over to the front of the slower line. Any paceline is called an echelon if ridden in crosswind and cyclists find cover from the wind at a slight angle, instead of staying right behind each other. Whatever the formation and number of riders – it is most important that the cyclists move as one.
Master smooth pedalling
Before you start group training, it is a good idea to get really good at steady smooth pedalling. This means that you should aim to reduce braking and fast acceleration in your riding style, as well as surging forward at each pedal stroke. Instead, try to adjust speed gradually, and change gears more frequently, so that your riding style becomes smoother even with different wind conditions and changes in terrain. This will make you more predictable and natural as part of a riding group.
Here are some tips for making your ride smoother. When you need to slow down slightly without altering the rhythm of the line, you can sit up for a moment and let the wind slow you down. Alternatively, you can softly apply the brakes while continuing to pedal. Thirdly, you can try pedalling softly instead of pausing your feet completely when possible.
Learn to ride in the wind
It is great to start practicing with one or a few training partners. When you ride behind one another, try to move close together and find the placement where there is least wind resistance. Try to get accustomed to how the “drag” of the bike in front of you feels. Soon, riding so close together and finding the sweet spot with least wind resistance will become natural.
Get real close
When riding in a double paceline, the two lines should be fairly close together. This means that ideally there is only an inch between the handlebars, and you’re in a distance where it would be possible to bump elbows together. It obviously takes time before it feels natural and safe to ride so closely together, but this is what you should aim towards.
Adjust to hills
Many group crashes are caused by sudden changes in speed that tend to happen on hills. Therefore, it is better to increase the gaps between each rider by a bit when going uphill. Moreover, it is important to give extra attention to a smooth riding style in this situation. Although your speed naturally slows down when going uphill, you should try to do this as gradually as possible. Don’t stand up very suddenly, and when you do, pull your bike forward at the same time. Similarly, try to avoid sudden and hard pedal strokes that ruin your smooth flow – change gears more frequently instead.
Take it gradually
Riding in a big group of advanced cyclists requires a lot of skill from a beginner. Therefore, it is best to start by practicing in smaller groups before you join a larger pack. As with everything, a gradual approach is best.
Keep your eyes ahead
Whether you’re in the front or at the back of a group, you should always try to remain aware of the road. This means lifting your gaze from the wheel in front of you and eyeing the surface in front of the group or some distance ahead of you in order to notice any dangerous parts on its surface. This way, you’ll be able to avoid accidents and communicate about dangers to your group. If there is an obstacle that might damage a person or a bike behind you, point it out while using a hand signal, refraining from panicky yelling.
Pull off carefully
When you are ready to pull of from a leading position, you should first let the rider behind you know about it by using a hand or voice signal – this will make sure the rotation is smooth. Then, check for any approaching cars and peel away slowly, drifting to the back of the group.
One for all and all for one
When you assume the leading position, try to make sure that you keep the pace as even as possible – this is not a time for showing off what you can do. Taking a look at your cycle computer may help in maintaining the speed.
When tired – pass a round
It is obvious that not everybody in a group has the same level of fitness. But since a group is just as strong as its weakest members, it is best to preserve their energy instead of allowing them to fall behind – catching up is hard to do! Therefore, if you’re feeling tired, it is best to pass a few turns of leading until you’re ready to take up the effort again. To do this, open a gap in front of you to let riders join the line, or alternatively, only stay in front for a few seconds and then pull back to the back of the line.
How do you feel about riding in groups? Do you have some more tips for beginners? Share them in the comments!