Cycling in a group

Cycling in a group - Via Flickr Owen P

“Do you guys want to ride in a group? You gain around 20% efficiency”. I’d never been asked to ride in a group before, it felt new and exciting. But what is this strange foreign concept of cycling in a group? Well, I was about to have the ropes shown to me by a much more experienced cyclist.

We quickly formed in to a group or, if you are in to your Tour de France, a bunch. Two riders at the front and two of us at the back. Out of our group, the three of us had no idea what riding in a bunch involved.

Pothole!

The experienced rider started calling out turns coming up and any obstacles. For example he would shout “pothole” and then point it out. This would give us time to manoeuvre around which was useful when you couldn’t see far ahead of you.

Be predictable

The key element we all quickly realised was to be predictable. It wouldn’t help the rider next to me if I suddenly swerved and neither would I be able to stay on the wheel of the rider in front, if he kept moving in and out of the saddle and shifting his position on the road.

The experienced rider would occasionally shout out “single file” and we’d form in to a line. This was when it was a narrow road or the conditions were less predictable.

As we were in a small group we didn’t need to pass the instructions down. However, a little like a Mexican wave, you would normally shout out what the rider in front has called out.

Signalling your intentions

There are a lot of hand signals in group rides such as indicating your directions, indicating for people to move in or for someone to overtake you.

In our first little group ride we mostly relied on calling out instructions. Such as “Approaching rider” if you wish to overtake. Then as you overtake you shout “passing on your right”.

Cycling etiquette

Things can get much more advanced than this. For example selecting where you want to position yourself in the bunch and spending some time at the front. However, the best way to learn these is to head out on a group ride with a cycling club and observe what others are doing.

My first group riding experience was a lot of fun. You could instantly feel the difference in wind resistance the moment we formed in to a bunch and it felt good to work as a unit as opposed to battling it out on your own.

I came across the video below which explains a little more about group riding. If you have any tips as someone who has more experience in this area then please do leave them in the comments.

Image via Owen P Flickr

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17 Responses to Cycling in a group

  1. Matt 11/06/2012 at 3:06 pm #

    Mudgards are usually required if you want a place in a group (mandatory in some cycling groups). Not too much fun getting a face full of road water.

    • Tommy Z 11/06/2012 at 8:49 pm #

      I would absolutely recommend joining a club if you are interested in becoming a better cyclist. The old boys and girls in the clubs know a huge amount about riding and are always willing to teach

  2. Chris 11/06/2012 at 3:12 pm #

    First time I ever rode in a group was when I first went out with my local club.
    Found it a bit unnerving at first but once I got used to the various shouts and signals I found it a very enjoyable and efficiant way to cycle.
    One thing i wouldn’t recommend people do is “half wheel” as if a rider swerves suddenly this could cause a bit of a pile up.

    In short go out for a spin with your local club as their experience is worth volumes.

  3. Frank 11/06/2012 at 3:19 pm #

    And oh my god watching all those fit cyclists in a group is definitively a plus so remember to stay behind ;-)

  4. Liz 11/06/2012 at 4:11 pm #

    I’ve also found that there is different cycling etiquette across different groups. I’ve found CTC groups to be pretty good with hand signals, pothole warnings, and so forth but some other cycling groups not so much. But I would definitely recommend cycling in a group – it’s a good way to get to know other cyclists, other routes, and to challenge yourself.

    • Barton 11/06/2012 at 6:04 pm #

      I have found the same thing. My observation has led to this conclusion: cycling clubs use hand signals and shout-outs with regularity, a group of people who just get together to ride weekly (a bunch of friends, training partners, any non-sanctioned club event, really) do not use their hands or their mouths to aid others. It is nice to be overtaken or approached by the cycling clubs – you know what is coming.

  5. Barton 11/06/2012 at 6:10 pm #

    The local cycling clubs in my neck of the world all have mandatory introductory courses before you are allowed on a group ride (above the basic beginner group ride level). They teach all the voice and hand signals (first time I saw someone shaking his wrist with fingers splayed towards the ground, I thought his hand had fallen asleep – who knew it meant rough road/potholes ahead). They also teach where to ride – as in, not three wide, who is to merge back in if riding two wide with on-coming traffic, not at someones back wheel, etc. Also very helpful (to me) is their experience on determining my ride level. I would have put myself in a much lower group level than they said – and it would have frustrated me on the group ride – whereas now I have to work not to get dropped (not by much though) and so it challenges me to improve. Sadly, the best rides in my cycling club take place on Friday mornings, when I most definitely need to be at work!

  6. BikeRoar 12/06/2012 at 5:03 am #

    Interesting article, It has been so many years (over 20 now) since my first bunch ride I forget people can be nervous. One thing I would add is only using your brakes when totally necessary, riding or using the brakes to much causes headaches for the rider behind, therefore everybody behind them. Learn to sit up, move slightly into the wind to slow.

    This is to me the most frustrating and common trait I notice of riders new the the group ride is over using the breaks.

    Try to get in a mass bunch with 300 – 400 riders. It is an experience you will never forget.

    • Andreas 15/06/2012 at 12:03 pm #

      Some good extra tips there. I’ve been trying this out myself, to use brakes less and instead rise up out of the saddle and use the wind resistance if you want to slow down. Obviously, failing that as long as brakes are apply gently then you don’t have any issues.

  7. Stephen 15/06/2012 at 10:23 am #

    Mudguards?? No!! Group riding is generally more structured for the faster groups but probably the most important thing is to listen to truely experienced riders and thus get good advice rather than so called experts that have , shall we say, unusual rules of the road.enjoy, it is fun in a good group.

  8. Dave 15/06/2012 at 10:26 am #

    I found the video interesting but my question is, what do you do in a mass ride like the one I am on going to Brighton 1st July with (hundreds, thousands?) of folk sponsoring a charity.

    I am a savvy commuter, but this will be a new experience for me, and I am sure most of them will not have seen the clip on ettiquite.

    Any suggestions are most welcome

  9. Chris 15/06/2012 at 11:30 am #

    Give yourself plenty of space.

    In my experience charity rides such as these attract plenty of cyclists who have never rode in large groups in in some instances be down right dangerous…. Especially in the fast downhill sections.

    I would leave as early as possible to avoid the crowds….

    • Andreas 15/06/2012 at 12:04 pm #

      Good tips Chris. Also, if you want to complete the ride quickly then get there early. Otherwise, be prepared to join the “slow cycling movement”.

  10. Goonz 15/06/2012 at 11:47 am #

    Nice article, on my recent London2Paris ride I learnt to ride as a group as I had never done so before. At first I thought the constant hand wiggling at sides was to loosen the blood flow and trapped nerves but then I was told its to point out potholes! I soon starting following suit.

    Our group did break up on hills and long stretches but by the end of the ride we had all formed a rather smart peloton (dare I call it that)! We shouted out for cars passing and when it got narrow we formed single file with the lead cyclist shouting down.

    It really makes a big difference in performance and makes life a lot easier on longer rides.

    All in all I’d recommend it and am hoping to join a club to cycle with some experienced cyclists. Anyone around the Barking area care to join up at a local club?

  11. Sue Booth 16/06/2012 at 9:18 am #

    I can recommend CTC leaflet cycling in a group http://www.ctc.org.uk/resources/Go_Biking_with_CTC/Guidetocyclingwithagroup.pdf and heartily add thanks to Andreas for this.
    Liz – you are so right – being in a group is social, can be safer as you are more visible, help is at hand for minor mechanicals, advice about riding style and position…
    Bike Roar – indeed, it is very easy to forget as an experienced rider what it was like when you first started out – having taught my two daughters it reminded me of all the basics I took for granted.
    and finally Stephen – mudguards – er, yes in this country!!!! otherwise you are at the back, mate! We use the fantastic network of country lanes, and they are not only wet but can be muddy in parts – if you want to keep your friends, mudguards are actually quite important – they also save your bag, bottom, back and even head from being caked!
    Goonz – how far away would this group be…http://www.essexcycling.co.uk/

    Sue

  12. Sue Booth 16/06/2012 at 9:33 am #

    Video – it is good, but describes racing, not leisure/ touring – and rather dangerously depicts three- four across the road – nah, check the Highway Code http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/TravelAndTransport/Highwaycode/DG_069837

    Sue

    • Dave 16/06/2012 at 5:29 pm #

      Your point is taken Sue, but I have looked at previous Brighton Charity rides and four abreast is nothing compared with the hordes I anticipate.. As I intend to arrive in Brighton on a classic example of British engineering, my Brompton M3L I shall have to leave early and push hard to stay ahead

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