Group riding is the main activity of a cycling club or a friend group. In every group ride, you should follow some rules and apply some tips for the group’s safety, and better performance.
Why group riding?
- Riding with a group saves each individual rider’s energy. You can go longer and faster than riding alone (see notes 1 – drafting).
- A group is more visible in the traffic than an individual rider.
- Riding with a group will improve your riding skills and performance.
- It is a good social activity, you can have a lot of good friends.
- Group riding is fun.
Before joining a group ride
- Your bike handling must be good.
- You must have enough experience with riding under different conditions (wind, rain, bad road surfaces, etc).
- Your bike’s health must be ok (i.e. well-working derailleurs, not too old tires).
- You have to wear appropriate clothes for cycling. Avoid clothes that may get tangled in the chain, or in a wheel. Wear real cycling clothes. You should look like a pro. There’s no need to mention that you have to wear a helmet.
Group riding tips
- Ride a single paceline on the roads with heavy traffic.
- While riding, hold your line. Never weave.
- Never slow down suddenly – you should even don’t stop pedaling.
- Never allow your front wheel to overlap the rear wheel of the rider ahead of you (wheel-overlap) See the picture below. Rider X is wheel-overlapping. If rider Y moves slightly to the right, there will be a crash. There is an exception to this, though, in the left or right echelons, see below.
- Ride as close as possible the rider ahead of you.
- When you stand up on the pedals, your speed suddenly decreases slightly. When this happens, the rider behind may hit your rear wheel and a crash may occur. Do not stand up suddenly in the middle of the group, or warn the rider behind before standing up.
- If you need to leave the group formation for any reason, warn the other riders before leaving.
- It is kind to share the work in the front. But if you don’t feel good, (i.e. if your training level is not well enough, or you feel sick, etc) tell this to other rider and when it’s your turn to pulling the group in the front, leave the position as soon as possible to the rider behind you. It would be more annoying to other riders that slowing the group speed down than you not share the workload.
- When you’re at the front, try not to change the group speed in the first few seconds. If you want to increase the speed, then the best results are achieved with a slow increase in order to keep the paceline smooth and efficient.
- How long do you pull the paceline before rotating to the back? The answer depends on the number of riders in the paceline and their relative strength. If you are struggling to maintain speed at the front of the paceline, then it is past the time to rotate to the back. Some riders are stronger than other riders, naturally. However, every contribution, small or large, adds to the complete effort and provides additional rest for the stronger riders that they would not have had without your effort.
- The rider at the front is the group’s eye. She/he warns the other riders about the obstacles or dangers on the road (i.e. cars, dogs, holes on the road, etc) by showing them or if necessary, by shouting out.
- The other riders are responsible to inform the rider at the front if something happens behind, i.e. some riders dropped, or someone has a flat, etc.
- If any mechanic problem occurs to a rider (i.e. puncture), the whole group stops. After fixing the problem, the ride continues.
- Never be a “Half-wheel Harry”. Half-wheel or half-wheeler: A rider that rides half a wheel in front of another on training rides and group rides. No matter how much the pursuer speeds up to keep up with him/her, s/he stays that distance ahead. Usually, these people are frowned upon and less desirable to ride with.
Paceline types and rotations
The single paceline is the most basic group riding formation: one straight line of riders, each rider drafting (see notes 1) closely behind the next.
The single paceline picture below shows the rider pulling off to the left. But there are various reasons to pull off either direction. If there is a crosswind the lead rider will pull off whichever direction the wind is coming from. This is because the riders in the single paceline will naturally line up as shown in the “echelon” picture (see below) to hide from the wind.
Some believe that the rider coming off the front and going backward should not be in the lane of car traffic and should, as a general rule, pull off to the right. Basically, whichever direction the group is using, all riders should do the same thing.
Double paceline (butterfly)
The double paceline is a minor modification of the single paceline. In this setting, there are just two single pacelines side by side. When the two lead riders have finished their turn at the front, they pull off, one to the right and the other to the left.
A double paceline is the best way to socialize while cycling as a group.
Rotating paceline (Circular paceline or Belgian Tourniquet)
A rotating paceline or Belgian Tourniquet requires more focus and greater skills but is very satisfying to be part of. In a rotating paceline, there is an advancing (faster) line of riders and a retreating (slower) line of riders.
The retreating line is on whichever side the wind is coming from. If it is a headwind a tailwind or no wind, usually the retreating line will be on the right side and the advancing line will be on the left.
The key to a rotating paceline is that when the rider at the front of the advancing line clears the rider who is on the front of the retreating line, the advancing rider moves into the retreating line and softens up his pace. The rider who was behind him continues the pace of the advancing line until that rider switches over. The rider in the advancing line should never surge.
The idea is that you ride to the front and float to the back in a constant rotation. You change your speed by “soft-pedaling” as you switch to the retreating line and increasing your pedal pressure as you switch from the retreating line to the advancing line.
Smooth switches, and keeping the distance between the riders in the paceline as small as possible will keep the paceline smooth.
An echelon is a paceline ridden in a crosswind. The riders will naturally find cover at an angle as shown below. An Echelon can refer to either a single paceline or a rotating paceline. In either case, the lead rider will pull off into the wind.
- Drafting or slipstreaming is a technique where two vehicles or other moving objects are caused to align in a close group reducing the overall effect of drag due to exploiting the lead object’s slipstream. Especially when high speeds are involved, as in motor racing and cycling, drafting can significantly reduce the paceline’s average energy expenditure required to maintain a certain speed and can also slightly reduce the energy expenditure of the lead vehicle or object.