Group Riding and the Roadies

Over the years I’ve been on all ends of the stick when it comes to cycling. So let me preface this article by saying that we all go through the learning curve when it comes to riding - be it riding slow, riding fast, riding well in difficult conditions, or riding in groups.

Having said that, I want to take this opportunity to explain a few of the basics about riding in groups to all you neophyte triathletes (and future roadies) out there, so that you can understand why some of you get yelled at, berated, or otherwise insulted during these group rides by our more experienced roadie friends.

The Bottom Line

When you ride in a group, you are no longer a tri-dude or tri-girl pacing off on your own. You now have to worry about the people in front of you as well as those in back of you. You need to think how your actions will affect everyone’s safety in the group as well as how your actions will affect the training quality of everyone in the group. In that vein, here are a few hard and fast rules for you:

Stay Off Your Aerobars

During a fast group ride, don't ride on your aerobars if you are rotating through the group. Your handling skills are affected and you will not be able to maneuver quickly if someone in front of you hits a pothole, wrecks, slows down for no reason or good reason, etc. In fact, I would recommend not riding your aerobars in a group at all unless you are the strong man taking a pull in a break at the front, or are pacing off the back of the group with a gap between you and the last rotating cyclist. Stay off your aerobars in all other situations during competitive group rides.

If you run into the back wheel of the cyclist in front of you, and go down, or react poorly due to being in an aero position, and take or cause the next few cyclists behind you to go down (with you), you may not only become injured yourself – you will be responsible for the injuries of others riding behind you due to your negligence. Then you will become a pariah among cyclists.

This rule does not apply for small groups of triathletes riding together with the intention of taking long solo pulls, or competitive groups whittled down to 3-4 experienced athletes doing a slower rotation (fast speeds but pulling for longer durations).

Signal For / Call Out Obstacles

When you ride in a competitive group of cyclists, do everyone the courtesy of pointing out potholes or other objects in the road and using hand signals to show stops, turns, upcoming obstacles, etc. If you fail to notify the cyclists behind you of upcoming hazards, once again, they may become injured due to your negligence.

Rotate Through the Paceline

When you ride with a competitive group of cyclists who are engaged in a rotating paceline, do not go to the front of the rotation and then sit on the front, effectively blocking the next cyclist from coming through, unless you have some devious race day strategy you are practicing. Take your 2-3 second pull and then move over (and slow down slightly, or soft-pedal, as we say) so the next cyclist can pull through. I guarantee you will have a better workout rotating steadily with a group of 6-8 and holding 29-30 MPH then you will doing your 24-25 MPH 1 minute pull. In addition, when you sit on the front at a pace slower than what the group can hold if they rotate, you are screwing up everyone else’s workout.

So rotate, rotate, rotate until everyone’s engine wears down…then show them your engine and stay at the front. If you really have the urge to push it early on, jump out and attack (accelerate quickly then hammer).

This rule does not apply to triathletes/cyclists who can pull faster on their own than the group can rotate. Go out and make them suck your wheel. But you better be sure that this exception applies to you!

Quit Being Freddly

Learn how to handle your bike properly. If you are a ‘squirrely’ rider, cyclists will call you out on it. Why? Because you’re all over the road, accelerating, decelerating, veering left, veering right, all because you have lousy control of your machine. Again, the control you exert over this machine can have an immediate and long-lasting effect on the other cyclists around you. Cycling injuries are no laughing matter. So take it upon yourself to learn how to pedal smoothly; how to pull through a rotation effectively; and how to pull off the front properly. Don’t be a Fred. (This rule does not apply to people named Fred…until they ride Freddly-style).

Don’t Hit those Brakes

Use your brakes as a last resort. Why? Because someone is about 6 inches behind your wheel, and a quick, short stop could see them run into the back of you. Hopefully it is an experienced cyclist who knows how to lean into your wheel while he or she decelerates. But you may catch someone off-guard, and once again, while you may have braked in order to avoid somebody else’s mistake in front of you…you’ve got to remember the people in back of you. If you can, go off the side of the group to the left provided there are no cars or cyclists coming either way, or if it looks safe, run off the shoulder into the grass to the right. The best solution though, is stop pedaling, sit up, flare your arms, and let the wind drag slow you down without hitting the brakes. If you have to hit the brakes, give a verbal warning to those behind you.

Learn to Turn and Burn

If you want to earn the ire of your local competitive cyclists, slow down at every turn and go around it like Grandma peaking around the corner on her way to the Supermarket. Look, I love Grandma, but she can sure take her time! If you want to ride with the big boys and girls, you’ve got to learn to be bit aggressive into and out of the turns. Lean into it. Check for upcoming traffic/obstacles. Don’t hit the brakes. Hold your line. Accelerate out of it. This article doesn’t do the subject justice. Go practice.

Help New Cyclists

Guess what? Once you’ve gone through the learning stages and are pretty comfortable with your riding ability, it becomes your duty to be ‘that roadie’ who points out problems and assists the newer riders. You don’t have to be mean or insulting about it. Just deliver the message with a smile. You should want to help the new triathletes/cyclists because:

That last one is the coach in me. The athlete in me says something else (not to be printed here)!

Marty Gaal - 13 June 2003