Cycling doesn’t have to be a solo activity. But before you venture out with others, brush up on a few skills and familiarize yourself with basic group cycling etiquette.
Find the right group for you. You can find rides by asking around at your local bike shop, consulting internet cycling forums or talking to fellow riders and bike club leaders. This is the easy part. The challenge is finding a group ride that suits your needs and abilities. If you can, get in touch with the ride leader and find out what kind of terrain they cover, the average speed and distance. A “no-drop” ride means that other riders will wait for you if you lag behind. You can also ask the leader for a cue sheet. Most group rides are separated into A,B and C rides. Other rides are thinly veiled races that award climbing or sprinting points and regularly drop riders.
Arrive prepared and on time. Give yourself enough time to get your bike ready and to introduce yourself to the group leader. Carry a spare tube, pump, multi-tool, ID and enough food and water. Be aware that the group may not stop much or at all, so leave any food or gels in easy-to-reach jersey pockets.
Get skilled. Practice a few basic skills to protect yourself and other riders.
Draft safely – When you draft the rider in front of you, you are able to perform less work, but still enjoy high speeds. When riding in a pace line, try to stay six inches to a foot behind the wheel of the rider in front of you, and don’t let any huge gaps open up. Don’t half wheel the rider in front of you, as this can cause a crash. If you increase your speed, pull far enough to the left to clear the rider in front of you momentarily before drifting pack into position.
Communicate – It can be difficult to hear in a group, so practice nonverbal communication such as pointing to potential road hazards, indicating when you are stopping or slowing down and flicking your elbow when you’re pulling off the front of the group.
Be predictable – Try to maintain an even speed and avoid sudden breaking or swerving. Sit up on the bike to gently reduce your overall speed. When you take a pull on the front, resist the urge to ratchet up the group’s speed.
Look up the road – Instead of staring at the wheel in front of you, look up the road a few riders. If someone brakes suddenly or swerves to avoid a pothole, it doesn’t take long for an accordion effect to ripple through the group. Anticipate potential hazards so you have time to react. Looking ahead can also give you time to prepare for changes in the road like a long climb or fast downhill.
Relax and learn. Remember to breathe and focus on keeping your upper body relaxed. This will not only help conserve energy, but will also help you react quickly to any sudden changes. Play around with your positioning and don’t be afraid to go up to the front. Instead of guessing, ask questions. Most cyclists will be happy to help.
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