We originally posted this article a while back, but decided to pull it back out because so many of our readers have told us this info has been very helpful for them.
While every group ride is different, there are some basic rules to follow if you don’t want to be pegged as dangerous or, worse, not be invited back again. Depending on the amount of traffic and the local laws, most groups ride single file or two-abreast. The latter makes for nice conversation and makes it a bit quicker for cars to pass. Sometimes though, a group simply has to ride single file.
By following a few simple rules, group rides become more fun, less dangerous, and more effective cycling for everyone!
This is general info based on the commonly accepted etiquette. You will find that when participating in a big ride like one of the Cycle Oregon experiences, you’ll be glad to know these guidelines so you can be a good steward of the road.
Be sure to check with the ride to see if they have additional guidelines, too. If it’s a club/group ride, simply ask, “Is there anything about your riding style I should know?” If it’s a supported ride like Cycle Oregon, check their guidelines. For safety reasons, they may restrict the number of people who can be in a pace line (Cycle Oregon does).
Rule #1: Be a good guest.
If you are invited to ride with a new group, show up on time. As the group if there’s anything you should know about their group riding style. Also, don’t go immediately to the front and try to drop them. They probably invited you because they want to talk to you and get to know who you are. If they are constantly chasing you, that is impossible. Go for the occasional sprint (if they tell you it’s coming), otherwise just relax and enjoy the ride.
Rule #2: Ride in a straight line.
There are few things more frightening on a group ride than someone who has trouble holding a smooth line. Wobbly riding by one individual is magnified as you go down the line, so bend your arms, breathe and stay relaxed while making sure you aren’t too close to the wheel in front of you.
Rule #3: Avoid braking constantly.
Look ahead and not down at the wheel in front of you. Learn to feel where you are in relation to the rider ahead. One way to make sure you keep your distance from the wheel of the rider in front of you is to gently move to the left into the wind for a moment or two. Catching a bit of wind on your chest will often slow you down enough to avoid having to touch your brakes.
Rule #4: When you are in front on a gentle descent, keep pedaling.
The riders behind you are already coasting in this situation. If you coast too, they will certainly have to brake. They may have to anyway, but if you keep a bit of pressure on, they will have to brake less and the whole group will stay happier.
Rule #5: Point out obstacles.
This could easily be rule #1 because it is so important. When you see a hole/stick/gravel/car-pulling-out-of-driveway ahead, point it out to the riders behind you as you smoothly move to avoid it. Simply pointing your finger down usually does the trick, but you might also want to yell out the hazard.
Rule #6: Look where you are going.
We have all spent time, tongue hanging out, staring desperately at the rear hub of the rider in front, but that’s racing! On a group spin, keep your eyes up and look ahead. Learn to gauge, without actually looking, the distance between your front wheel and the wheel ahead of you.
Rule #7: Leave Room
If you’re riding with skilled riders you know, you can hang tightly on the wheel in front of you. But for supported distance rides, you fully of strangers, leave ample stopping distance. Do not trust the person in front of you to stop in time. If you crash into someone, it is your fault for following too closely.
When riding in a tight group, stand up smoothly. Once in a while, it’s nice to get up out of the saddle for a bit. When you do this, your bike naturally moves back a bit. So, to avoid taking out the person behind you, who is no doubt carefully observing rules #1-6, make sure you do it carefully by leaving a bit of room before giving the pedals one hard push as you stand.
Rule #8: Warn your fellow riders.
If you are in the back and you hear a car approaching from behind, just say “Car back.” If you are in front on a narrow road with no center line and you see a car approaching, say “Car up.” If you are somewhere in the middle, pass it on. Simple!
Rule #9: Slow down after you rotate off the front.
One thing often seen on group rides is lead riders pulling off only to stay at the same speed. This forces the next riders to go even faster. Naturally, this only works for so long before someone can’t go that fast and the group begins to separate. When you rotate off the front, simply ease back a bit with the pressure you apply to the pedals. When everyone does this, a paceline flows smoothly and motion becomes poetry.
Rule #10: Share the road.
Cars definitely don’t add to the fun of any ride, but we all use public roads so we have to share. Keep right, obey the rules of the road, be courteous towards other road users and ride predictably. Support your local bike advocacy organization (here it’s the Bicycle Transportation Alliance) – they help keep the roads safe.
Adnan Kadir is a USAC-certified Level 1 cycling coach who believes that in sport, as in life, it is important to strike a balance between the various aspects of what one does. Adnan has been a competitive cyclist and triathlete for nearly 25 years. His full-time coaching practice can be found at AeolusEndurance.com