The group accelerates and your focus narrows to the thin slice of rubber spinning inches from your front wheel. You shift into a heavier gear and grind your chainrings to match the pace. You dodge a pothole then move to the front of the bunch. The rider beside you grimaces. Moving over to the white line, you push harder on the pedals. Your legs burn and your throat is dry. Still, you drive on, not wanting to be the first to let off. A corner approaches. Without hesitation, you cut to the inside, fly recklessly through the turn, and sprint out as hard as you can.

Photo: Événements Gaspesia – Gran Fondo Forillon

If this situation reminds you of your regular group ride, you and your fellow riders may be missing the point. In the scenario, the riders aren’t working together. Instead, they form an unsafe collection of cyclists on the road. Group riding is a collective effort that can, and should, be one of the most enjoyable ways that you can spend time on your bicycle. Here are a few tips to make future bunch rides better and safer experiences for everyone involved.

Relax

If this situation reminds you of your regular group ride, you and your fellow riders may be missing the point. In the scenario, the riders aren’t working together. Instead, they form an unsafe collection of cyclists on the road. Group riding is a collective effort that can, and should, be one of the most enjoyable ways that you can spend time on your bicycle. Here are a few tips to make future bunch rides better and safer experiences for everyone involved.

Look ahead

If your vision is fixed directly in front of you, say, on someone’s rear wheel, you are blind to upcoming obstacles, changes in direction and movements of the pack. Focus well ahead so that you can take in everything happening around you and anticipate your next move in good time. Use your peripheral vision to manage your immediate space.

Spin

It is difficult to react to accelerations and decelerations if you are using heavy gears. With lighter gears, you can make adjustments in pace quickly and efficiently while saving valuable muscle strength. You’re also able to make finer adjustments in pace without surging amongst your colleagues and disrupting the flow of the group.

Communicate

If riders fail to relay important information, the others cannot react accordingly. Each rider is part of a cohesive whole and needs to point out obstructions and turns.

Maintain a manageable pace

Half wheeling is a perennial trap for cyclists riding side by side. The speed of the bunch will gradually ratchet up as each of the leading riders matches the pace of the other. Eventually, everyone is suffering at an unsustainable tempo. Agree on a pace beforehand and stick to it. During the ride, make changes in speed gradually: slow down on uphills and don’t accelerate as you come through to the front.

Be predictable

Erratic riding leads to accidents. Throwing your bike backwards as you stand on the pedals, braking harshly and other unpredictable movements can easily cause crashes. Focus on riding in a safe, steady manner.

With these points in mind, your group rides will become more fluent affairs. Everyone will be in unison; each rider swapping turns smoothly, riding in front just long enough to maintain the pace. You will glance at your computer and hardly believe the speed at which the group is travelling. Your legs will turn freely. You’ll see a corner approaching over the shoulder ahead and will be sucked into the lead as it fades off to the side. You’ll take the corner smoothly, check behind to ensure that everyone is attached and then gradually pull windward, leaving room on the road for the line trailing behind. The next rider will come through as you point to a crack in the pavement and then fall back into the rotation.

A well-working band of cyclists is an amazing thing to be a part of. With practice, you will soon master the nuances of group riding and, in doing so, learn the essential skills that will serve you at all levels of the sport.

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