Several riders recently asked for some basic guidelines about riding in a group. I think this is a worthy topic for this week’s entry. After all, I was just talking to a friend about how little we knew about the dynamics of a group ride when we were first getting started. Whether we were getting dropped or nearly killing our fellow riders in a pace-line, there was simply so much we had yet to learn. As I’ve said in previous entries, there is a lot about cycling that can’t be learned through any other way than direct experience. As my tautological saying goes: “you won’t know these things until you know them.” That said, here are a few pointers to get you started:
1) A group ride is NOT a race. As competitive as some group rides may be, there are certain ground rules that apply in a ride that have no bearing in a race scenario. Most importantly, every rider must remember that they are subject to the rules of the road. In especially competitive group rides, it can be easy to forget about things like stoplights, driveways, and passing cars. The larger the group, the more likely it is that riders will ignore certain rules of the road. This should be exactly the opposite. The larger the group, the more important it is to follow the law. Large groups of riders can pose an imposition to drivers, and this can result in dangerous confrontations. Additionally, the rules of the road provide a preexisting framework that every rider can be prepared for, ensuring the safety and success of the group as a whole.
2) Be courteous to your fellow riders. Point out things like potholes, dangerous intersections, and turns coming up ahead. Give the riders behind you enough advance notice. Simply pointing down at a pothole as you ride by it will not provide your fellow riders the time they need to avoid the obstacle safely. Don’t make yourself crazy trying to point out every little thing, though. It’s inevitable that a crack or pothole will go unaccounted for, and there’s no sense in berating yourself or other riders for an errant pothole or crack that goes unaccounted for.
3) The Two-Foot Rule: Even more important than pointing things out, try to move the group away from potential obstructions or dangers before you reach them. Try to provide at least two feet between your handlebars and any significant obstructions in the road. Remember, if you are leading a group of riders, the slinky principle applies. Basically, anything you do will happen progressively slower as you move further through the group of riders behind you. If you brake, the riders behind you will each have to brake more forcefully. If you turn or swerve suddenly, the motion will become more and more extreme as you move farther back in the group.
4) Finally, remember to have fun! The easiest way to destroy the ambiance of a great group ride is to take yourself too seriously. Group rides are a great way to escape the rigors and anxieties of everyday life and spend quality time with friends. They should be lighthearted and safe. Come to a group ride with an open mind and be ready to learn. You’ll be amazed how far you’ll come in just a few short weeks.
Stay tuned for an update and some pictures from the past few weeks’ races. I’ve been having a lot of fun traveling with my Argentine teammates, and it’s great to be back in NJ to compete in longest continuously held bike race in the United States, The Tour of Somerville, which takes place on Memorial Day! After that is the biggest race of the season, The Philadelphia International Cycling Championships. I’m looking forward to giving everyone an insider’s perspective on America’s longest and most prestigious single-day race.