Guide To Riding In Groups

21 June, 2017

This year I joined my local cycling club. Mainly to meet new people with a likeminded passion for cycling and to learn where the scenic routes are. I remember on my first group ride, I was unsure how to ride with the club. I wasn't educated in the hand signals, calls, or how to safely climb a hill behind a member of my group (still learning). When it comes to group riding, the most important thing to know is how to be a responsible and safe cyclists, not just for ones own sake but also for the sake of others.

What's great about group riding is having people come together to enjoy themselves, nature, and each other. I love joining passionate cyclists on a journey filled with roads full of smiles. Every now and then you may have people in your group who think they are in a race against each other and may not know the rules of the group but the general rule of the group is to enjoy riding together. When preparing for an event or ride, it's best not to wait last minute to check of the basics of caring for your bike and knowing the rules of the group ride. Here are just the basics to help you get in the know of the rules to help you feel confident in your next group ride.
Bike Check
First step to preparing for a group ride is to prepare your bike: clean and lubed chain/drivetrain, check air pressure in tires, and ensure your brakes are working. If you're not sure how to do this, you can watch this video on how to prepare your bike for a ride. You can also take your bike in to get tuned, just be sure to take it in days before the event or ride.

Most club or group rides do not provide items for a ride so it's best to kit your bike up with water bottle cages, tool kit, bike lights, and pack some snacks in your jersey or a bike bag. Consider carrying snacks to refuel like energy bars, gels, nuts, dried fruit, and chocolate. My favorite bags to carry are handlebar bags such as the Road Runner's Burrito handlbar bag, perfect for all my snacks and personal items such as sunscreen, credit-card, insurance card, ID, cash, and phone (these you always want to carry on your body too).

Other things to bring on a ride are: tire levers, spare inner tube, patch kit, mini-pump, and folding multi-tool carefully packed up in a saddle bag. If you're not familiar with fixing a flat or making basic fixes, it's probably a good idea to learn how, see Rapha's post on Fixing A Flat.

When it comes to group rides, I like to think of rules like a conversation. There are basic principles to cycle safety made up of predictable signals. Whether you're turning, stopping, or pointing out a hazard, everyone has their own take on how to execute them. Once you get to know the basics, it makes riding with a group a lot easier once you know how to communicate verbally or with gestures affectively. Always assume someone is behind you and never rely on others to communicate for you. Check out these cycling hand signals that are pretty universal for most clubs or rides. If you're not comfortable taking your hands off the handle bars, calling "right turn" 'slowing" "stopping" "hole left" "on your wheel" "passing left" "car back" is helpful too. Being able to loudly communicate and control your movement will help everyone.
Holding Your Line
Always be pedaling when you're moving. It allows those behind you to predict your move. Even if you are just coasting along while going downhill, you may confuse some riders that you're stopping or slowing down, it's hard to predict, so even just slowly pedaling is better so that everyone knows you're moving. Ride in a straight steady line at a safe distance behind the rider in front of you, this allows yourself or others to look behind without a blind spot. At traffic stops, stay in single file, this is never a time to pass others. Control your body so that you are not weaving or wobbling around on the road.

Riding Double
When in a group ride, most of us like being side by side with friends where we can talk together. However, when it comes to riding safely, it's better to ride single file if cars or other riders come along. My club encourages us to only ride double lines on quiet roads, 2/3 right of the right lane, not road. The best time for you to be side by side is when you are taking the road when the lane is obstructed. 

Climbing And Descending

Climbing and descending is an art in cycling. To safely descend in a group, it's best to keep your hands loosely gripped on the drops or hoods to control your line and speed. To add stability on downhills with curves, slide your weight to the back of the saddle, grip your saddle with your thighs, and grip the top tube with your knees. On curvy downhill roads, put your outside legs down. If the inside leg is down, the pedal can scrape the ground and you may lose control.

On a climb, you are working against gravity, others, and your bodies strength. To make climbing or descending easier in a group it's key to keep right to let others pass and leave extra room between riders than on flats in case a rider ahead stops suddenly. Hand positions and body positioning on the bike can help you breath, control your bike and speed when riding behind others.

To go uphill, put hands on top of handlebar with a loose grip, either in the center or the curves behind the hoods, imagine your grip like playing a piano. Shift your weight to the back of the saddle, pushing with your glutes while shifting your body weight to help you pedal up the hill. Shifting your weight back helps to control stability while helping you keep a straight line. When standing for uphills, shift up one or two gears to create even tension in your pedals stroke, this also helps to learn how to go slowly uphill with control so you can stay behind a slower rider if necessary- this is a sign of a skilled rider.

If you're a newbie to group rides, one thing to take away from this is that you're not alone. Never hesitate to ask questions about the rules, sometimes even skilled riders need a refresher. Always maintain your position, communicate, and others may follow your lead in confidence.

Image courtesy @tiffanycromwell

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