Lost Art of Group Riding

EVERY so often, I miss riding in a large group. There is nothing quite like gliding along, nestled within the safety of a group of cyclists. You have a laugh, share the workload and get a decent build-up for the batter to the final road sign.
Two abreast, tight against the curb, nice and steady – that’s what group riding etiquette dictates. There is a certain beauty to how a disciplined group cruises along so effortlessly – like a steam engine slicing through the countryside.
People stood by the roadside take a moment to stop to stare. Young children smile as they witness something new and give a friendly wave. Even our arch nemesis, the motorists, can’t help but admire the way an organised group singles out almost autonomously when their need to overtake arises. Group riding can be poetry in motion, but only when it is done right. There are some clubs who don’t brief newcomers correctly in riding etiquette and the end result can be chaos – riders half-wheeling, others breaking ranks to chase down imaginary opponents up non-existent slopes before disappearing back into the pack never to be seen again until the final sprint.
Get it wrong and group riding can be a recipe for disaster. How do you combat this? Well, for starters, there needs to be a chief to lead the Indians. Every large group ride needs a captain who is willing to take charge from the start and lay down the rules, etiquette and, more importantly, destination.  A chaotic group has no idea of how to ride together. Some will ride three abreast, others will strangely drift towards the line in the middle of the road with enough room to park a bus between them. Then there are those who throw their bike all over the road or grab the brakes constantly, causing panic towards the back.
When I was first introduced to riding in a group, the rules were simple – sit at the back and watch. From this vantage point, I was able to observe how the others stayed shoulder-to-shoulder, allowing cars to pass freely while also enabling riders behind the front to enjoy the slipstream.
Each pair pulls on the front, sharing the workload with others. When it comes time to peel off, the rider on the right moves to the right, while his counterpart on the left does the same but to the left – again in unison.
Both gradually reduce their speed gently to those following directly behind slice through the pair to take up the lead at the front of the peloton. Those who have just finished their turn now nestle at the back enjoying a well-earned rest in the slipstream of the group.
Within the group itself, riding two abreast is acceptable – three is not. Whoever is the odd-numbered rider, they must sit at the back. Each rider has his or her turn being alone at the tail-end of the group, where everything must be shared
Disciplined groups look out for one another like lions looking out for their cubs. They point out obstacles in the road, signal directions and even offer shelter, food and drink to those who are struggling. The strongest rider has a duty to look after the weakest. It’s a case of ‘all for one, one for all’.
When a rider is unfortunate to suffer a puncture or mechanical, we must stop and help them with the repair. Every cyclists has a bad day and the pack has a duty to help everyone get through theirs, as bad fortune will undoubtedly be shared equally as much as good.
Half-wheeling, the term used to describe a rider who is constantly pushing the pace half a wheel in front of the others, is an insult not a compliment. Nobody appreciates a rider who constantly forces the pace to prove their strength.
Group rides are not races – races are races. Save your strength for when it matters. Good riders are in sync with each others’ abilities and the objective of the group. When everyone is ready, the tempo will increase and the group will inevitably splinter – strongest will surge ahead before the pack regroups at a designated point.
In essence, group riding should be something that everyone enjoys – not despise. Experiencing an
achievement or a good time is better shared. Together, a group can eat through the hours, effortlessly devour countless hills and cut through towns. Of course, there must always be a café stop. After all, if an army marches on its stomach, then a group of cyclists need their caffeine fix. SCM

About james 65 Articles
Editor of Spin Cycle Magazine

1 Comment on Lost Art of Group Riding

  1. Advocating that the riders on the front peel off to the left and right in essence put the pack 4 wide on the road until they drift to the back. We did this for all of my last 30 years of pack riding until some smart person decided it was safer to rotate from the left side to the right side and stay double pace line all the time. The trick is communication and realizing you need to pull half the time as normal before rotating right where you will remain in front of that side until rotated in front of. It’s just safer (and more legal where I live)

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