Road riding - part 1

 

Going out on rides on your own is often pleasurable and can be very relaxing, but the benefits of group riding mean you get to ride further, faster and socialise at the same time too.

 

However to a roadie newcomer, a group ride can be daunting and off-putting, thoughts of getting dropped and having to ride home alone can swamp the imagination, but it needn’t happen to you!

 

We’ve got some pointers to help get you out on the road in a group, riding safely, having fun and making new riding buddies.

 

RoadRiding1_bunch-provence

 

WHY RIDE IN A GROUP?

 

There are loads reasons; social, safety, sporting and fitness, and if you are new to the sport or the area, you won't get lost. By riding in a group you'll learn road skills and be able to chat to more experienced riders, generally speaking it is the best place to learn about cycling.

 

Find a ride suitable for your level.  Once upon a time club runs were fast and furious - if you couldn't keep up they would leave you in the middle of nowhere with no food and no map (yes, they did and I'm still not happy about it). But things have changed now and cycling is now one of the easiest and most sociable sports to access. You can find a club run near you usually just by asking at your local bike shop or alternatively check out www.britishcycling.org.uk.  However, ask if the rides are fast or social and how far they usually go. Best to find out before - especially if you arrive at the meet to find 4 pro riders who will probably ride 80 miles at 23 mph. Most clubs have shorter or slower rides so it may be best to try them out first.

 

Be prepared Wear the right clothes and carry the following with you: a rain jacket, a pump, essential tools, spare tubes, food for three to four hours and plenty to drink. Also carry a mobile phone and some ID, plus money for tea stop or train fare home. You shouldn't need a map, but take one if you need some added 'get home' reassurance or are in a new area.

 

Ride in two lines Two parallel lines of riders is the safest and most practical riding formation. All club runs will assume this formation, usually with the ride leader at the front and another experienced rider towards the back. Do not break the line and overtake only on hills or safe places where the road ahead is clear. Contrary to some road users opinion this is legal and it is at the discretion of the riders to single out. Narrow roads or busy roads should dictate when you can apply this method of group riding.

 

Stay close.  The benefits of riding in a group are more than just social. You will cover more ground with less effort in a group, saving up to 30% of your energy when sitting in the bunch. So stay close to the rider in front to maximise the slipstream and allow riders around you to also use it to best effect. If you are nervous about hitting the wheel in front, ride 6 inches either side of it and don't stare at the tyre in front or overlap it, try to look up, this way you will relax more and see any problems before they arise. You can tell what the rider in front is doing if you look about shoulder height and slightly past them, that way you have time to respond to the group moving around a pot hole etc.

 

Don't 'switch' suddenly.  Hold your line and keep a steady cadence, this is for the rider who may be riding behind and needs to be close and confident that you won't move suddenly or wobble. The riders in front will not stop suddenly without warning so you won't have to make any sudden moves. It's a game of trust and only novice riders will tend to touch the brakes without warning, you can learn this by riding behind an experienced rider and avoid having your fingers covering the brakes. Ease off pressure on the pedals if you get too close, but keep spinning still to maintain fluidity.

 

Relax.  Try to relax your upper body as much as possible. This will help prevent fatigue and also prevent you from making sudden changes in direction. Bend the arms a little and keep your head up. Keep your upper body still to avoid wasting energy bobbing around, this will also keep your riding smoother and in control.

 

Don't ride off the front.  Depending on the type of group you are riding in, the main principle of group riding is to ride together (either socially or 'through and off'). So attacking off the front is not a good idea, it will usually upset the more experienced riders and generally upset the discipline and pace of the group. Sometimes there will be a long hill or section where there will be some hard riding allowed. Often there may be a sprint for a town sign, but remember to be sensible, this isn't a race and there are riders in the group who may be dropped or start to suffer if you want to do your level 3 effort 30 miles from home.

 

Tell someone if you have a problem.  You may be feeling a bit shy about it but tell the riders around you if you have a puncture or mechanical problem, don't drift to the back and off it without telling anyone. If they drop you on a hill they will wait or send a rider or two back to pace you up to the group so don't worry, they most likely won't abandon you.

 

Punctures.  The group may ride on and then retrace so they keep warm whilst you fix you flat. If you are a slow mechanic ask for help. There will be experienced riders who can fix a flat in a matter of seconds, so don't feel afraid to ask if it will save the group time.

 

Send the message to the front.  If you are riding at the back and a rider is dropped for whatever reason tell the riders in front of you and ask them to shout up to the front. The pace can then be adjusted to suit the problem or the group can stop. Once riders have been left behind, finding them and regrouping can be a pain.

 

Warnings 'Car up/back' is a general warning of a car trying to pass or one coming around a corner. A car coming towards you is usually 'Car up' although sometimes this can be 'Oil up' depending on which part of the country you are in. 'Heads up' or 'Look up'  is usually shouted if there is a bad junction or potential hazard ahead and to pay attention yourself. It's often very easy to rely on the ride leaders to warn you of pending problems in the road, but everyone should take responsibility for this. These calls are especially important if you are in a large group and it will take a while to get around the hazard. 'Single out' is used when a car is behind and needs extra space to overtake, or if the group is approaching a narrow road or overtaking a line of parked cars. If in a large group it may be sensible for the group to split to allow the car a chance to get past in two stages.

 

 

RoadRiding1_pack-provence

 

GENERAL HAND SIGNALS

 

Hand up in the air.  Usually signifies that the rider signalling is stopping (e.g. for a puncture) or there is a hazard in the road that the whole group may have to stop for. An emergency stop will probably be accompanied by yelling 'stopping' or similar, if you're in a big group you"ll be expected to pass verbal signals back through the pack too.

 

Pointing out holes in the road.  This is essential. You must point out drain covers, holes, dead badgers, glass or anything else which may cause harm to a cyclist. Basically if you have to go around it tell the rider behind about it before they hit it.

 

Indicating directions to riders behind.  Whether it is slowing down or turning at junctions, large groups need everyone to indicate for other road users, so let them know what you intend to do.

 

Waving for parked cars, horses and pedestrians.  When overtaking, riders will sometimes wave a hand behind them (like they're wafting a fart) this signifies there is a hazard that means the group will have to move out. They will do this 'waft' in the direction you will need to move. Remember you are expected to do the same so the rider behind you has seen the obstacle.

 

In the next instalment we'll talk about chain gang riding and 'through and off' technique, click here for part 2 in the series.

 


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