When I first started riding about five years ago, I was terrified at the idea of riding in a group of people. Every time someone rode close to me I’d move as far away as a could, but over time I’ve grown used to riding in closer proximity to others. In fact, I’ve noticed that the more experienced the other riders are, the closer they are likely to ride beside you, and on the whole this is pretty safe.
So I thought it would be useful to share a few things I’ve learned. This is not a definitive guide and I’m sure there are others both in Australia and around the world who do it differently but these tips will help get you going.
One of the great benefits of riding in a group is that you’ve got a collective of people all with two eyes keeping a look out for obstacles, issues and each other. So in the groups I ride with we let each other know if there’s an issue affecting our safety. This includes calling ‘clear’ or ‘car right or left’ at roundabouts and intersections, calling ‘pothole’ or other significant obstacle for the benefit or riders behind, called ‘car back’ if there’s a car passing the group, and signalling an intention to stop at lights, stops signs, etc.
That doesn’t mean you should ride down the road calling out every little twig. I work on the principle that you should call significant issues and just point to lesser ones. Some more experienced riders prefer to use hand signals exclusively, but I think particularly for less experienced riders it is worthwhile to use some calls.
Take a turn at the front
Some group rides are just a group of friends out for a ride and it is likely that in this situation the stronger riders spend the majority of time on the front. There are also more formal bunch rides where each rider will have their turn at the front. So make your own judgement about whether you need to spend much time on the front. If you are weaker than the majority of riders then you’ll be better off having a brief time on the front of the group.
Give it a go
Don’t be intimidated by fast looking bunches. Find one that suits your pace, or preferably that goes just a little faster than you would normally, so you can challenge yourself. My cycle club, LACC has bunch rides around Sydney Olympic Park (SOP) every Tuesday and Thursday and the riders break into six groups of different speeds. Group one is the fastest and six is the slowest. Anyone can join in the group of their choosing. The groups all do the same laps so if you get dropped from one you can join the slower one behind. And the very worst that can happen is that you’ll end up riding around on your own which is really not a big deal. When I first started doing the LACC ride at SOP I used to take shortcuts through other streets to get back on the group. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can improve.
Find someone you trust
When you start out, it’s best to ride on the wheel of someone who has superior bike skills so that you know they will be predictable and not do anything unexpected. If you find yourself on the wheel of an erratic rider, don’t be afraid to change your position within the group by signalling and moving to the left or right to move further back.
It is also important to keep your head up when you are riding closely behind another rider. Don’t stare at the actual wheel but rather look through them at hip level so that you can see if there’s an issue ahead of you.
Don’t overlap wheels
Another important skill to master is to follow the line of the rider in front so you are not ‘overlapping’ their wheel. It’s alright to ride off-centre from them a little, but don’t let your front wheel overlap their back wheel and come up beside them, because if they move across they’ll bump your front wheel with their rear wheel and send you packing.
When you are following closely behind someone you need to ride at the same speed as them and remain consistent because you are likely to have another rider on your wheel. If you have to brake for some reason then tell the rider behind what you are doing.
Leading another rider safely and smoothly also requires practice and is not that easy to do well. With someone riding closely behind, you have a responsibility to keep them safe too, which means no sudden braking, or change of direction that might cause them to touch your wheel. There’s no compliment higher for me than another rider telling me that they like riding on my wheel because I ride at a consistent pace.