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Never ridden in a group before, but want to give it a try riding with friends or maybe at a sportive? Here's what you need to know

Whether doing a sportive, club ride, road race or a ride with friends, there are times when you’ll be riding in a group. Riding in a coordinated and synchronised group offers the advantage of shared workload with the slipstream effect helping to reduce drag, so you can ride faster for less or the same effort, it can also be a very sociable way to ride your bike.

Riding in a group can be a daunting experience at first, but with experience and a few pointers, it can become a lot less scary. Riding in a group and being able to closely follow the wheel in front is a skill, but it’s one that is easily learnt.

There are a few things to know to ensure riding in a group is safe, for you and your fellow cyclists, so here are some pointers for riding in a group.

group riding2.jpg

Don’t overlap wheels with the rider in front

This is the golden rule of riding in a group. You want to ride closely with the wheel in front, as close as you feel safe doing to best benefit from the slipstream effect, but you don’t want to overlap your front wheel with their rear wheel. That way danger lies.

That’s because if the rider in front suddenly moves across the road your wheels will collide and the likely outcome is a crash, that could take out not you but the cyclists behind you as well. This is one of the most common causes of crashes in the professional peloton. Like this one.×

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Ride steady and hold your line — and no sudden braking

You want to ride in a predictable and consistent manner. It’s important to consider the safety of the cyclists around you when riding in a group and avoid any sudden, erratic or unpredictable behaviour that could potentially endanger the cyclists behind you.

So hold your line and avoid sudden side-to-side movements. You may need to change direction for an oncoming hazard of course, which is why you should be looking well ahead for such hazards and move smoothly around them with plenty of time, after communicating to the rider behind with a hand signal or verbal warning that you intend to move out into the road. If you do need to move out from the pace line ensure you indicate to the person behind you of your intention to change direction.

LOTTO-JUMBO-bunch

Sudden braking can be dangerous in a group, as the cyclist following you might not be able to react quickly enough and crash into the back of you. So brake in a smooth and predictable manner to avoid a pileup. It’s quite common to indicate you’re slowing for a junction or hazard with either a verbal “slowing” warning or holding up your hand to the cyclists behind you.

Follow a wheel

Most groups ride in a double pace line of two columns of pairs of riders. Unless you’re riding on the front, you’ll be following the wheel in front. Try to make sure you’re are actually following the wheel of the cyclist in front, don’t just plonk yourself in the middle. You’ll get a better slipstream effect and it means two cyclists can ride alongside each other.

While you want to avoid overlapping wheels as previously mentioned, it’s sensible to ride a little to one side - but still behind - the wheel in front so that if anything happens and the rider in front slows suddenly you can move to one side of them rather colliding with their rear wheel.

I remember being taught on the velodrome to ride to the right side of the wheel in front, so if they crash in front of you can pull up the banking and avoid the crash. The same principle can apply on the road.

If you’re new to riding in a group it can be a good idea to ride at the back for the first time and watch and learn from the way the group moves along the road.

Jaguar_Ride_Like_a_Pro_Web

Communicate hazards

When you’re following the wheel in front closely your view of hazards (potholes, holes, sunken drain covers etc) in the road ahead is obscured. So to help the cyclist following behind you, point out hazards either verbally or simply by using your hand and pointing towards the ground on the side of the road that the hazard will be coming from.

Verbal call signs include “hole”, “car up”, “car back”, “slowing”, “left”, “right” to name a few of the more common ones.

There are all sorts of hand signals you can employ for different hazards, from simply pointing to a hole, to warning of parked cars by placing your hand behind your bike and point in the direction you intend to move, to placing your hand out with the palm facing down and making a dog patting gesture for slowing at junctions.

These and more can be easily and quickly learned from riding with groups, and groups depending on experience and location will have their own signals, but those ones mentioned above are fairly common in cycling regardless of language. When pointing out hazards just make sure you provide enough warning for the person behind you and don’t leave it to the last minute.

Follow the rules of the road

Low Level Cycle Signals

You might be relaxed about jumping red lights (please don't), but when riding in a group, and especially when leading the group, it’s wise to follow the rules of the road for the safety of the group. When you’re riding in a group you have to consider the consequences your actions will have on the other cyclists in your group. So that means adhering to traffic lights, give way signs and so on.

Stay relaxed

Finally, as much as it can seem intimidating at first, try and stay relaxed when riding in a group. Riding in close proximity to other cyclists with your wheels several inches from the wheel in front can seem scary on your first experience, and it’s common to tense up with nerves, but try and stay as relaxed as you possibly can because you’re less likely to make a mistake or panic when you’re not holding the handlebars with a vice like grip. Relax and enjoy the beauty of a well-organised group.

group riding1.jpg

That's our advice, but if you've got any tips or advice you would add for safely riding in a group don't be shy (we know you won't be) and share them in the comments below.

David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.

27 comments

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NPlus1Bikelight... [94 posts] 2 years ago
6 likes

Safety whilst not being antisocial:

Be considerate with your back light especially in using for daytime visibility if you are not consistently last in the group.  50W flashing is not fun when you are 6 feet behind it, switch it to low power, steady mode and angle a few degrees down.

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DrG82 [254 posts] 2 years ago
3 likes
NPlus1BikelightsNJerseys wrote:

Safety whilst not being antisocial:

Be considerate with your back light especially in using for daytime visibility if you are not consistently last in the group.  50W flashing is not fun when you are 6 feet behind it, switch it to low power, steady mode and angle a few degrees down.

Totally agree with this, I did a solstice night ride last year and some of the riders lights were so bright I had to either let them ride off the front or nail it to keep in front of them. I asked some people to dim their lights and their response was that they didn't want to get hit by a car, despite the fact that it was around midnight on a perfect clear night in the middle of the countryside and the car would have to go through a dozen other riders behind them before they'd get hit.

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harragan [277 posts] 2 years ago
9 likes

 Another plea to not be antisocial:

Use mudguards in the winter!  

 

 

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bigshape [186 posts] 2 years ago
10 likes

"top ten worst cycling crashes" - is this really the most appropriate video on an article trying to encourage novices out on group rides??

yes, there are dangers, but i dont think most people on their first group ride are going to be tearing into a bunch sprint for the line at 60kph...

perhaps one showing the various common hand signals might have been more apt?

 

 

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SteppenHerring [380 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

1) join a club

2) Watch the flashing rear lights (as mentioned above)

3) And think about mudguards

4) No white shorts

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SingleSpeed [429 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

5) Don't bunnyhop/whip the tail over potholes/manhole covers.

(That's more a note to self than anything else)
 

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DoctorFish [212 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

From what I can tell from the video - avoid riding with a team car, it will take you out!

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The_Vermonter [114 posts] 2 years ago
2 likes

Unless established as part of a group's training protocol or approved by all, don't take it upon yourself to increase the pace of the group. No pro-level contracts are given to the guy who decides to blow the group apart on a Saturday morning cafe ride. 

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Mungecrundle [1528 posts] 2 years ago
5 likes

Respect the pace of the group. Some riders want and expect a damn good thrashing from their club ride. If the rule is that the group will drop slower riders then accept that this could happen and take it with good grace. It is great training trying to keep up with faster riders until you blow up. Some of my favourite rides have ended in exercise induced wretching.

Conversely, if the group is expected to work as a team and arrive together then the stronger riders should be pulling stragglers back into the group, taking the headwind sections and being the ones to call for a speed check so that no-one feels like a weak link.

It's all good if you remember to take a sense of humour.

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Al__S [1300 posts] 2 years ago
5 likes
harragan wrote:

 Another plea to not be antisocial:

Use mudguards in the winter!  

And not just a pathetic little ass-saver. Need a good long mudguard, extending below axle level, on the rear.

 

As for pace? It helps to have a good ride leader (who doesn't have to be on the front) who can exert a little discipline if someone keeps trying to push the pace, and just let them head off on their own. It's especially fun if you're taking a convoluted route and the speedy one doesn't know where to go at the next junction.

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stenmeister [357 posts] 2 years ago
2 likes

I ran into a wee group heading the same way as me on sunday but upon seeing they were half wheeling and riding three abreast I backed off knowing I was safer on my own.

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Martyn_K [277 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

When training the entry level riders in my club i summarise group riding in to the 'The Three C's'.

Communication - everyone is responsible for highlighting hazards both ahead and behind (verbally and hand signals).

Concentration - have a chat by all means but ensure that you are looking ahead.

Consideration - no sudden movements or braking.

 

As a warning i also note the negative version too, Carelessness Causes Carnage.

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sooper6 [29 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

Keep peddaling to maintain a constant smooth speed as it's annoying to try and hold someone's wheel who sprints and coasts. Riding on rollers can help develop some smooth pedalling skills that will improve your group riding.

If you are on the front going downhill on a slight descent remember those behind will have to be on the brakes if you don't keep pedalling.

Take it easy going uphill to try and keep the group together as much as possible.

Beware of the concertina effect In bigger groups, smooth riding and warnings are even more important. When riding at the back of a group keep one eye on the riders a bit further ahead. What starts with someone coasting at the front can quickly end in heavy braking at the back of the group.

Novices will almost always move too quickly on to the front and then carry on at the higher pace. The groups speed can quickly build until people start falling off the back, usually the novices who inadvertently were raising the pace in the first place.

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rix [265 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

For best aerodynamic effect find the biggest guy in the group and stay behind him.

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Rahario [7 posts] 1 year ago
1 like
harragan wrote:

 Another plea to not be antisocial:

Use mudguards in the winter!  

 

 

 

Full mudguards if possible.

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valeriesmith [4 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
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earth [446 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
NPlus1BikelightsNJerseys wrote:

Safety whilst not being antisocial:

Be considerate with your back light especially in using for daytime visibility if you are not consistently last in the group.  50W flashing is not fun when you are 6 feet behind it, switch it to low power, steady mode and angle a few degrees down.

 

It's not fun anything than half a mile behind.

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JohnnyRemo [310 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Wear short white socks. No exceptions...

 

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JohnnyRemo [310 posts] 5 months ago
1 like

If you get out the saddle take your bike with you. That and no white shorts...

 

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rjfrussell [524 posts] 2 weeks ago
1 like

to avoid arguments about what "car up" and "car down" mean, can we all agree it is "car front" and "car back"?

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hawkinspeter [3864 posts] 2 weeks ago
0 likes

Are there a standard set of hand signals or do different clubs use their own? If they are standard, can we have a follow-up article with a description of them?

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Ric_Stern_RST [60 posts] 2 weeks ago
0 likes
hawkinspeter wrote:

Are there a standard set of hand signals or do different clubs use their own? If they are standard, can we have a follow-up article with a description of them?

They tend to differ slightly in different regions of the country, as do verbal checks such as "car up" (in some areas this means there's a car behind and in other areas it means one is coming towards you). 

However, although the hand signals are different they are also reasonably similar 

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hirsute [979 posts] 2 weeks ago
1 like

Don't stop at the velolife cafe.

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TheBillder [12 posts] 2 weeks ago
2 likes

My club uses "nose" and "tail" for approaching traffic hazards. Works well as you can't half-hear it. Also the useful "clear" at junctions when it's safe to follow across.

Ride leaders need to remember that the concertina works both ways. I got stuck turning right into a major road once and it took over a mile of hard work to get back on. 15 miles later I had to ask the group to stop waiting for me and let me crawl home alone as that mile had totally burned me out. If the leader had waited until we were all onto the main road, I might have been able to survive.

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JohnnyRemo [310 posts] 2 weeks ago
1 like
rjfrussell wrote:

to avoid arguments about what "car up" and "car down" mean, can we all agree it is "car front" and "car back"?

"Nose" and "tail" work better for most.

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horrovac [3 posts] 2 weeks ago
0 likes

Don't overlap wheels (unless you know what you're doing).  On several randonnées I couldn't help overlapping. The group was not keeping pace properly, they were oscillating like hell, so to smooth it out I had to overlap every once in a while. It was fine though, I don't like it, but I can manage.

If you don't know what you're doing, don't. A chap two riders in front of me, a habitual overlapper and not really a good group rider, hooked his spoke on the QR of the bloke in front of him dodging a hole, broke several spokes and went over the bars as his front wheel locked up. The chaps in front of me went left and right of him and braked, leaving me nowhere to go but over him.  Luckily, the bike was fine, and I merely cracked a rib or something and could complete the ride. So for the love of God don't brake unless you absolutely must. Certainly do not stop next to someone who just crashed, if you clear him ride past and stop when it's safe. Don't do an emergency stop in the rain with your disc brake in a peloton full of people with rim brakes, just to avoid riding through a deep puddle.

 

If there is ANY chance of rain, for the love of everything that's holy, use mudguards! And I don't mean a thing that clips onto your seatpost, or even an ass-saver, I mean full mudguards. SKS does a set of extra long ones that go well below the axle and have a big mudflap on the end, get those. On the 400km brevet I did this year it was raining heavily the last 150km or so, a bloke had those and I loved him for it. Mine were the shorter version unfortunately, but even that was head and shoulders above the rest of them who only had ass-savers or clip-ons. I got so tired of  trying to dodge the rooster-tails of the chap in front, that despite having no energy left I got to the front and lead the group for tens of kilometres until I was half dead, just to escape having buckets upon buckets of dirty water sprayed into my face and feeling the road grit between my teeth all the time.

 

Also, don't oscillate. Keep your speed. Don't let the chap in front get away, then pedal to catch him, then stop pedalling to not crash into him, then let him get away... This costs almost as much energy as not riding in a group at all, and forces everyone behind you to waste energy as well.

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mdavidford [95 posts] 2 weeks ago
0 likes

"top ten worst cycling crashes that aren't even close to being the top ten worst cycling crashes"