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A group of cyclists in matching maroon jerseys smiling and having a conversation riding along a country lane

Learn To Be the Rider You Like To Ride With

Once you’ve pedaled enough small group rides, you soon learn to recognize the cyclists who know what they’re doing. You just know where they are and what they’re going to do next, and you feel safe riding with them.

Squirrelly riders, on the other hand, make you feel uneasy and uncertain. You’re not sure what to expect, and you never feel relaxed when you’re riding together.

You may know how to tell the difference, but could you articulate it clearly enough to become the right kind of small-group rider? How can you become the kind of rider you prefer to ride with? For longtime cycling coach Darryl MacKenzie, it’s all about knowing what makes those cyclists such great pedaling partners. Here are 13 things they do well — and that you can learn to imitate.

They Don’t Sneak Up on Either Side

Small-group riding pros understand that their fellow riders want to know where they are. If your riding partner has been pedaling on your left every time you’re side by side, they’ll come up on your left. They won’t startle you by suddenly showing up on the right.

If they do get into a different position, they don’t hesitate to call it out. A quick, “On your right!” goes a long way toward making your riding partner feel at ease.

“This may seem like a petty thing, but it’s anything but,” says Coach Darryl. “Nobody wants to be surprised like this.”

They Don’t Veer Too Far Into Traffic

An unaware rider does more than just surprise their fellow cyclists. They get so distracted, they easily veer out of their lane into traffic.

Even if you don’t follow that rider out into traffic, this situation makes you feel uneasy. You know they’re slowing down the vehicles behind them, and they’re putting themselves at risk. 

In contrast, a good riding partner is always aware of their lane. Regardless of what else is going on, they stay where they need to be to keep themselves and others safe.

They’re Always Looking Ahead

Experienced small-group riders are also always alert to what’s in front of them. When they see a hazard ahead, they call it out for the group. Better yet, they slowly veer around it to make it a non-event for everyone. 

Whatever obstacles they encounter, these riders take the responsibility of being in front seriously. And their riding partners are safer because of it. 

They Don’t Force You Onto Rough Pavement

Roads can take a beating from all the vehicle traffic they see. Often, certain sections of the road get especially ragged from heavy use. While cars can handle those bumpy stretches, it’s much harder for a cyclist and their thin tires. 

Alert cyclists watch for these and don’t put their fellow riders in a rough position to ride on bumpy pavement. If they notice some road that’s taken a beating, they give other riders space to avoid it. 

They Call Out Turns in Advance 

Similar to the first habit we mentioned, experienced small-group cyclists know not to surprise others with sudden turns. Being mindful of this can help the group avoid many crashes.  

Darryl once witnessed what can go wrong when riders don’t do this. When one rider surprised others with a sudden left turn, it resulted in a three-bike pileup at the front of the peloton.

They Know How to Use a Mirror

A lot of cyclists buy mirrors that attach to their handlebars. Although this is better than no mirror at all, it leaves them with serious blind spots. 

Instead, savvy riders attach a mirror to their sunglasses or helmet so it moves with their head. With this kind of mirror, they can move their head to adjust their rear view, alerting them to the location of all riders around them. 

They Don’t Swerve Too Suddenly

Notice a theme here? Surprise is good for superheroes, but not cyclists. This is yet another skill that’s all about eliminating the element of surprise when you ride with others. 

A good riding partner is always measured and gradual in their movements. They don’t jerk their bike or swerve suddenly, as they know this will catch other riders off guard. 

They Give You Space on the Downhills

You can pick up quite the pace going downhill on a bike. Savvy cyclists are well aware of this fact, and they give their fellow riders plenty of room to stop. 

“Crashing at 3 or 4 miles per hour is one thing, but crashing at 20 or 30 miles an hour is an entirely different level of danger,” says Coach Darryl.

When you ride with someone who knows what they’re doing, you’ll never feel too crowded on the downhills.

They Give You Space Side by Side 

It’s not just about space on the downhills, though. Every cyclist needs a little space around them at all times. And when your handlebars are almost touching, you know another rider has invaded your personal bubble. 

When another rider is right next to you, all it takes is one little bump or sudden movement for your handlebars to collide and send both of you down. Alert riders know this, and they leave plenty of space.

They’re Always Ready to Brake 

Proper hand positioning is one of the surest signs of an experienced cyclist. It sets apart safe riders from squirrely ones, so Darryl is always watching for it when he rides with someone new.

“I’m always uneasy around somebody whose hands are positioned so that they have to move their palms to operate the brakes,” he explains. “It’s a disaster waiting to happen.”

Why? When you’re traveling at high speeds and with other riders or obstacles nearby, the second it takes to move your hands into braking position may very well be too long.

They Don’t Get Too Close to Cars Near Intersections

When you share the road with vehicles, you always have to be ready to react quickly. Intersections, in particular, can be dangerous places to navigate. If you get too close to a vehicle as you approach an intersection, you’re assuming they won’t brake suddenly, change lanes or turn. That’s an unwise assumption, and it can have serious consequences. 

Seasoned cyclists pay a little extra attention in these moments, making sure to give a little extra space to traffic and stay in the safest lane possible. 

They Don’t Put You Right Behind a Large Vehicle’s Exhaust 

This habit is a matter of simple courtesy. No one wants to suck in exhaust fumes from a bus, and cyclists can be particularly exposed on the road.

Alert riders notice when they’re getting close to a bus’s tailpipe. Not only do they avoid stopping right behind it, but they also give their fellow riders space to avoid doing so.

They Pay Attention to Riders in Back 

Finally, the best and most experienced group riders know how to lead from the front. They pay attention to the whole peloton and try to ensure that everyone can keep up. They slow down so others can catch up when needed. 

When inattentive cyclists get in front, however, they lose track of the riders in the back and pull too far in front. Before you know it, the slower riders are left in the dust. 

Group Rides Aren’t for Everyone

Now that you have a much clearer picture of what the rider you want to be, you can focus on building these skills. However, it’s important to note that group riding isn’t for everyone. Some people are just too easily distracted or unable to give the attention required. 

“Some cyclists prefer to ride alone and not worry about a group,” says Darryl. “This is certainly OK, especially if the solitary rider would not be thinking of the safety and well-being of other cyclists while riding in a group.”

If that’s you, it’s important to recognize it and stick to pedaling solo. Your fellow riders will thank you!


Are you trying to become a better all-around cyclist? We’ve got tips like these from Coach Darryl on our blog every week. Follow and subscribe to our newsletter so you never miss a post.

You can also find more of Darryl’s insights at his website.

Photo by Fat Lads on Unsplash