3 Tips for Getting Accustomed to Cycling in a Group
Group rides are one of the best parts of cycling. Because you’re not huffing and puffing the whole time as you do on a run, the sport lends itself naturally to these challenging social outings. You can interact and enjoy being together while pushing one another to work a little harder to stay together and improve your cycling skills.
But if you haven’t ventured out on group rides quite yet, you should know that some things about them don’t quite come naturally. Remember, you’re moving at high speeds in close proximity to other cyclists. There are a few habits you have to develop in order to stay safe, ride successfully and not scare other riders away from riding with you in the future.
How do you ride in a group cycle safely while having a good time? Lucky for you, we’ve got a seasoned expert on hand to share his secrets. Longtime rider and cycling coach Darryl MacKenzie frequently takes less-experienced riders out together to demonstrate three key tips to help them get accustomed to cycling in a group. Here’s what he covers.
Don’t Stare at the Bicycle in Front of You
One of the easiest mistakes for a less experienced cyclist to make is to get focused on the bike immediately in front of them, ignoring what’s ahead down the road. This can be a recipe for disaster.
“If you’re riding along staring at the rear wheel, you’re going to get road hypnotized,” says Coach Darryl. “When the person ahead brakes, you will not notice, and you will hit their wheel.”
When that happens, it can cause a serious accident. The rider in front will likely hang on, but you’ll go down—and you might take the cyclists down behind you as well. To keep this from happening, you need to be able to see the road ahead. That leads to our next point.
Don’t Ride Directly Behind Another Cyclist
It’s much easier to get hypnotized by the wheel of the cyclist in front of you if you keep them, well, directly in front of you. If you want to see the road, though, you should stay slightly to the side of them.
Keeping to one side or the other enables you to look over the shoulder or past the side of the elbow of the front rider and see farther down the road. You want to watch for objects, road hazards, traffic signals or anything else that might interrupt a smooth ride. That way, you’re prepared if something causes the other riders to start braking. Even if you miss it and they slam on their brakes, you’ll veer to the side of the rider in front, rather than slamming directly into them.
A side note: If you’re worried about hitting the bike in front since you are not looking at it, peripheral vision works great to prevent this. Test it on your next ride. While looking past the rider in front, gradually slow or increase your speed. You’ll easily identify the change in the distance between you and the front rider.
Keep Your Hands Close to the Brakes
No matter how prepared and focused you are in your group cycling, there are times you just need to react quickly on a bike. At high speed on a group ride, you can realistically move 12 feet in a mere half a second. If the rider 3 feet in front of you slams on their brakes, you can see how quickly that becomes a problem.
“A common reason why people don’t want to ride in front of another rider is that they’re afraid that rider’s not going to be able to stop,” Darryl says, noting that this even leads some cyclists to avoid group rides entirely. “No rider wants to be the one that other cyclists do not want to ride with for safety purposes."
If you don’t have your fingers ready to grab the brakes instantly, you risk endangering everyone around you. Coach has seen whole groups go down when one rider isn’t ready to stop on a dime. Have your palms and fingers positioned so you don’t have to move them at all to pinch the brakes. If every rider in the group is conscious of this, it makes a huge difference.
Practice Group Riding Skills Before a Big Ride
These skills may sound simple, but they’re habits you have to develop. They’re not techniques you should just try out for the first time on a big group ride. Practice them with one other rider first to get accustomed to cycling in a group.
With a friend, you can take turns riding behind one another until you feel comfortable doing it without even thinking. Your goal should be to focus on riding this way until it becomes second nature. It may take a few practice sessions, but you’ll be ready for that big ride in no time.
Look for more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.