{Guest Post} Group Cycling (Part 2)

12 09 2011

Happy Monday! We had some amazing weather here in DC, and I (Steph) was able to get out and enjoy it with a brick on Saturday and a nice 4 mile run on Sunday. Can it just stay this nice all year round? Anyhow, Chloe’s still on vacation, so we’ve got Part 2 of Courtney’s Group Cycling post for ya! You can read part 1 here. (By the way, she KILLED it at the ITU WORLD Championship. Check out her race recap!)

Hopefully, you’ve found the right group for you, and are ready to get started. Now what?

Before the group ride

1. Check your tires and spare equipment (tube, CO2 cartridge, bike tools, etc.).

2. Have some type of nutrition.

3. Prepare your outfit/gear the night before.

4. Print out or copy a map of the route.

5. Plan to arrive 15-30 minutes early depending on how much time you need to set up. If the group ride says 7:00 am, this usually means they are leaving at 7:00 am. Take this into account.

6. Arrive an additional 5-10 minutes early for your first time with any group to sign insurance paperwork if required, meet the group leader, and talk to other cyclists.

7. Meet one of the riders and let them know you are new to group riding prior to the start. They will point out nuances with the group, give cycling tips, and give encouragement.

During the ride

The first 5-10 miles are usually a warm up pace, followed by a 20-40 mile steady/faster pace with a few pick-ups, and then 5-10 miles of a cool down. With a well organized ride, the group will ride in two single file lines. Two riders will pull at the front, meaning they will have to work against the wind and set the pace of the ride. Since this is more difficult, the front riders will come off the pull and drop to the middle or back of the pack and the next two riders will be in front. When other riders block the wind, you don’t have to work as hard and are in what’s called the “draft”. Drafting allows for the group to have a faster average speed than if everybody were riding solo. Another style of group riding is an echelon but more advanced groups will ride this way.

Here are a few pointers to keep in mind while part of the group.

1. Stay towards the back of the group because this way you don’t have to worry about people behind you until you are comfortable riding with a group.

2. Stay at least one foot away from the person in front of you. This will allow you to draft but not get too close the tire.

3. Keep a steady speed no matter where you are in the pack. I call it the “yo-yo” effect when somebody speeds up and slows down without warning or consistency. Not only is it annoying to be behind somebody who “yo-yo’s” it’s dangerous because sometimes I have to tap my brakes to accommodate a sudden change in speed.

4. Keep your pedal stroke steady because it’s easier to predict changes in speed. If I’m behind you and all the sudden you stop pedaling and coast, then I start to worry what might be going on up ahead. Think of your feet as brake lights, if you stop pedaling it’s almost like tapping or sometimes “slamming” on the brakes.

5. Don’t slam on your brakes if possible. If the group is well organized everybody should have fair warning about any speed changes or obstacles in the road. Slamming on your brakes can cause a bad accident.

6. Use hand signals and verbal warnings. This means pointing out cracks, cars, turns. Call out“slowing”, “stopping”, “glass”. Giving people a warning will let them act in the safest manner and warn the people behind them. There are special hand signals that are fairly universal.

7. Don’t ride in aero position because you don’t have as much control over your bike.

8. Pay attention to other cyclists, cars, stop lights, twigs, turns, etc. Each cyclist is responsible for signaling safety hazards to the riders behind them but this doesn’t always happen…so ultimately you are responsible for yourself. Be aware. Be safe.

9. Listen to other cyclists. I’m not only talking about verbal warnings but group rides are a great way to learn more about cycling techniques, safety pointers, or ways to become stronger on the bike.

10. No headphones. It’s just not smart.

11. Don’t pull unless you can maintain the group’s pace. If you are already having a difficult time in the draft, you’ll have an even more difficult time pulling. Wait until you’re a stronger group rider to help pull.

12. Pull to help out the group when you are strong enough to share the workload. Only pull as long as you can maintain the group speed, this may only be half a mile and that’s fine. Use the correct hand signal to come off the pull by making a fist and tapping your butt. Pull off to the left of the group and find a spot between other cyclists or rejoin in the back.

13. Make sure YOU are comfortable with the speed, closeness of other cyclists, and overall group ride atmosphere.

14. Have fun! It’s such a rush to look down at a fast speed on your odometer and feel the energy of riding with other people. Safety should always come first but group rides are popular because they are enjoyable and challenging.

Hopefully this post encouraged you to try out a group ride rather than scare you away. I love group rides for so many reasons and they have truly helped me become more comfortable and stronger on the bike. Good luck with all your athletic adventures and be safe on the road!

Question of the day: Have you ever done a group ride? Tell me about it! What tips do you have for a group ride?