Riding in group can be both a daunting and exhilarating experience for those starting out in the sport. If you catch onto a riding group while out on the road or head out with a group of friends there a number of simple but specific things you’ll need to know to both remain safe and become a smooth part of the riding group.
To begin — why do cyclists ride in groups? Put simply — it’s more efficient. In what is primarily an endurance sport conserving energy where ever possible is vital if you want to go the distance and still have something to pull out of your hat when you get to the finish line or hit the hills. Drafting, or riding in another cyclists slipstream, will mean you expend thirty percent less energy. When cyclist are sharing the task of breaking the wind at the front of the group it means they can go faster for longer and tire less quickly. Group riding skills and knowledge are vital to anyone wanting to cycle regularly.
You should try to maintain a consistent distance between your front wheel and that of the cyclist you’re following. Some where around twenty to thirty centimeters is optimum. Much closer than this and the danger of collision increases, much further away and you’ll lose the benefit of the slipstream and they may pull further away from you making the gap harder to close. You need to be constantly aware of what is happening up ahead, of the group’s and the individual ahead’s speed, obstacles coming up and general traffic around you. A group will usually communicate up and down the line informing each other of speed changes, hazards, other cyclists and cars as they go.
You can often control your speed with out having to use your brakes, which will result in a loss of momentum and possibly too sudden a speed change for those behind you to react to. By moving your position on your bike, for example sitting up, you’ll get more air resistance and so slow naturally. Also pulling slightly out of the line of the slipstream will slow you although you have to be cautious if riding two abreast.
You must avoid crossing your wheel with the cyclist in front of you. This means your front wheel has over lapped the back of their rear wheel. It is extremely dangerous as a wind, or road surface can easily result in the wheels colliding. This will end badly for you, the guy in front may well not be affected but it will knock your handle bars out of line most likely resulting in you and everyone behind you crashing…into you. As the speed in group riding are much faster than when riding alone you must be very careful to pay attention. A split second of distraction can be all it takes.
With those dangers highlighted riding in a group forces you to be very focused and may well demand more of you than you would of your self in solo training. As it forms such a consistent part of racing and riding in general it is vital that you include group training as part of your larger program.
There is far more to group riding than can be covered in this article and there are many resources available on the internet to further your knowledge. It is an essential set of skills — not only for your safety but also if you want to take your riding to the next level.