When you first ride in a group you may be slightly unsure as to what is going on; where you should be riding in the formation or who is in charge etc. There are a few rules to riding in a group safely and effectively. There’s also some basic etiquette you need to know, just so you don’t upset other riders or road users.
Why ride in a group?
For several reasons; social, safety, sporting and fitness. And, of course, 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 how to get into cycling.
Wear plenty of warm 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.
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.
The benefits of riding in a group are more than just social. You will cover more ground with less effort in a group, saving around 20% 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, try to look up, this way you will relax more and see any problems before they arise.
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.
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.
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 won’t abandon you.
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.
Other general shouted instructions
“Oil up/oil back/oil down”: A general warning of a car trying to pass or one coming around a corner. A car coming down the road towards you is usually ‘Car down’ although sometimes this can be ‘Oil down’ depending on which part of the country you are in. A car coming up from is usually ‘Car back’ or ‘oil back’ or car up. The easiest way to remember the difference is “down the road and up your bum”.
“Easy” or “Look up”: If this is shouted it usually means 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. This is especially important if you are in a large group and it will take a while to get around the hazard.
“Single out”: 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.
General hand signals
Hand up in the air: Usually signifies that the rider signaling is stopping (e.g. for a puncture) or there is a hazard in the road that the whole group may have to stop for.
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.
Indication 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 away malodorous wind!!) 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.