How to Ride in a Group
When you’re riding in a group of two or more, riders around you are likely to be close, so it’s important to keep your riding consistent. Group riding is firstly about being safe, and the smoother you can keep your riding, the easier it will be for your fellow riders to stay close, but not on top of you! Be prepared to move with the group; keep your hands near the brakes so you can adjust as needed and, to begin with, keep at least a wheel length between you and the rider in front. If you also keep your wheel slightly to the side of the one in front, it will give you a bit more time to adjust your speed when you need to. You can get closer as you get better, but take your time.
Riding in a large group, sometimes called a peloton, can be very exciting. If you’re new to the group, ride at the back for a while and get used to how others are operating. If you want to move to the side, look for a space and use a simple hand gesture or shout such as “on your left/right”. Similarly, if someone is about to move into your space, let them know you’re there. Make sure you look up and are aware of what the group is doing. If you have a hill coming up, the group may slow, so be ready.
If your riding group is smaller, it is common for riders at the front ride 2 abreast where possible, ‘drafting’ for the rest of the group. Drafting is where group riders are sheltered from the wind by the lead riders. Riders take it in turns to lead at the front, and the order and length of time spent there will be decided before you leave. A turn could last up to five minutes depending on the ride, but don’t worry if you’re new to group riding, it’s perfectly okay to take shorter turns. Once the lead rider is finished, they will move out and gradually drop back down the line until they reach the back, when the back-marker will call “last rider” to let the returning rider know they can now slot in behind. If the road is too narrow for two riders, a single line may be used.
A more advanced two-line riding approach is Through and Off, where one line is fast and one is slower. Turns at the front are short (5-10 seconds) and once the lead rider of the fast line is done, they move across to the front of the slow line and ease off the pace a little. Now the new fast line lead rider takes their turn before moving over and slowing. Once in the slow line, riders gradually drop back as the fast line overtakes them. Once at the end of the slow line, they move back to the fast line, moving with it until they reach the front again.
Hand Signals and Shouts for Riding in a Group
The key to safe and effective group riding is communication, but the last thing you want to do when your legs are pumping and your lungs are burning is to try and hold a conversation with your neighbour. All we really need are a number of hand signals and shouts. Here’s a run down of the more common ones you’ll need to be aware of.
- Arm out to the left or right – the rider is about to turn in the direction indicated
- Elbow out to the left or right – the lead rider is about to move out and back through the group in the direction indicated
- Moving hand palm up and down – the rider is slowing, perhaps for a corner or junction
- A closed fist behind the back – the rider is about to stop
- Open palm behind the back – an obstacle or hazard in the road (some riders will then point in the direction they want the group to move to avoid the obstacle)
- Call of “car!” – a car is approaching
- Pointing and/or a shout of “Hole!” – a pothole or other hazard in the road
- Pointing whilst wiggling the fingers – gravel or other loose debris
- Rider pats their backside – a reminder to the cyclist behind to ride more carefully
The two lead riders are primarily responsible for warning the group about upcoming hazards and manoeuvres, and messages are passed back down through the group to keep everyone aware.
Group Riding Etiquette
The basic principle here is: be polite. Cycling is often an individual sport and moving successfully into a group environment may require conscious effort, and certainly a good understanding of etiquette.
Step one is to be aware of the hand signals and shouts mentioned above, along with those particular to your group, and to make sure you play your part! If you see a pothole, point it out. Don’t assume other riders can see what you see, when you see it.
Know your ability. Overconfidence can lead to mistakes, and when riding in a group, mistakes can lead to big problems. So err on the side of caution when riding with others. Practice your cornering and manoeuvres on your own time, when you’re with a group, the group comes first.
When leading a group, don’t try to impress by putting in a gargantuan shift at the front and then becoming too exhausted to keep up. Be conservative and build your stamina gradually.
If the group keeps in touch between meets, be a part of the conversation so that you can arrive prepared – and this doesn’t just mean ensuring your bike is in good shape. Bring the food, water and any money you need; build an understanding of the route if one has been agreed; be sure to let people know in good time if you can’t make it.
And if someone pats their behind at you, tighten up your ride!
Group cycling requires teamwork, cooperation and communication. Once mastered, it can be a very exciting way to ride. Take your time, pay attention and learn the rules, and this just might be your new favourite