Improving your Economy with Group Riding
There will be many of you who are club riders and therefore understand the joy and etiquette needed for safe riding in an organised group. others will have be honing their skills on the likes of Zwift, which while a great platform for building fitness, doesn't prepare you for the road craft needed.
For this blog then I will hopefully try to impart a little of my experience perhaps just as an aide memoir for the club rides and for those new to organised road rides, some basic reasons on why it is a great idea to ride in a group, some of the basic etiquette required (spoiler alert, it will change depending on the ride leader) and a few hints and tips on keeping you and the riders around you safe.
For the avoidance of doubt I will not cover how to ride as a chain-gang, a highly effective way to ride as a group, but needing significant road craft and skill to ride safely, ie dangerous to the beginner.
Why we ride in groups
To consider why, let's look a bit at the science. When riding at a reasonable pace of say 25kph, you need to push through about 100 kilograms of air for every hundred and fifty meters. On a long ride that is several tons of air needing to be pushed through; it's little wonder then that we get a little tired.
However by riding together as a group, ie riding directly behind somebody (referred to as "drafting"), perhaps 1 or 2 meters, you can save up to 30 percent of your energy. Thirty percent, think about that for a few moments....it is the equivalent of a 80 kilometre ride being more like only 53 kilometre ...okay I am simplifying it much more that it is, but you get the idea.
And that's the idea of why you ride together, generally no more than two a breast as an organised group such as shown in the picture here.
I realise that many of you are coming from cycling clubs, group riding as a peloton is second nature, so you may already have a good idea of who you can ride with comfortably, and who is a good match for your pace.
For those new to this, to press the point, when riding alone or as a loose bunch of people, on long open roads with full of false flats, after a few hours spirits can drop. Add the possibility of headwinds then speed will be significantly reduced, with significantly more effort...it is mentally and physically tough.
However, with a well drilled peloton or organised group riding not just because of the reduction in overall effort, you get to chat to people and the time will drift away, the days will seem shorter.
Keeping the Group Safe
As some of you may be new to riding as a group, here are a few basic do and don’ts and the techniques you need to master to keep the group safe.
So, here we go, in no particular order :
- Agree the duration that the person on the front of the group is going to stay there taking the wind. A good rule of thumb is a few minutes maximum, but you can make it shorter if you are riding into a headwind, as you do not want the lead rider taking the brunt of the wind for too long. Also don't make it every 15 seconds unless you are a very well oiled machine. So every few minutes,
- To change position, the lead rider should look over their shoulder and when it is safe to do, move out to their right (or left depending on the group leader's rules) and let the rest of group pass before rejoining the line at the back of the group.
- The person taking over at the front should not increase their pace, but should keep it steady. If done correctly, and with practise it will be a smooth process and the miles will drift by.
- It is permissible to ride two abreast, but not many car drivers (especially UK tourists) know that, so be very careful and use common sense if there is a growing line of cars that cannot pass if the road is too narrow to pass you safely.
- Do not allow gaps to grow in the line, if someone is losing the wheel of the person in front of them, let the person at the front know to take a little off the pace and allow the other one to rejoin; this is especially important for the person right at the back, once you drop off the line it is incredibly difficult to rejoin without burning a huge amount of energy.
- Do not get too close to the person in front of you, as you are putting yourself in danger of touching wheels especially if that person brakes, stops pedalling for a few seconds or stands up to change position on say a hill.
- Never overlap the wheel in front of you. This is called "half-wheeling", and is quite a common with inexperienced group riders. If the rider in front of them needs to move to the left or right and there is an overlap, then there may nowhere to go and you are potentially going to end up having a collision or accident. So please don't overlap your wheels
- Do look ahead rather than looking down at the wheel of the rider in front of you. It is easy to lose concentration, if they suddenly brake or swerve you may not be able to take action. So keep alert. Keep your head up and be a part of the group without staring at someone's back.
- Watch out for sudden cross winds; it is much safer to give each other a little extra space in case you are taken by surprise and pushed by a gust towards other people in the group.
- You may be tempted to place your hands on the tops of the bars, which is fine for solo rides but means you will be unlikely to be able to react to people braking suddenly ahead of you. It is better to have your hands covering the brakes while on the hoods.
- Extra care is needed to drink and eat within a group, a small wobble can cause an accident. Your road skills should allow you to drink without looking down to locate the bottle before and after and it is better to slightly unwrap food before putting it into your jersey pocket or simply agree with the rider leader that you will all stop for people to be able to eat.
- Even when not at the front, keep an eye out for each other and that you point out obstacles potholes, gravel etc.
- Don't brake abruptly. If there is if an obstruction and you can get over it and then do without braking.
- When coming to a slight hill or an incline, if you have a tendency to stand up on the pedals, you may have noticed that you slow down, even just temporarily. It is best if you can avoid standing up while in the group, if you start standing up you might find someone coming into the back of you. So again just be careful and be cautious of those around you.
- Conversely, consider the safe pace going down hills, keep it steady and therefore safe, do not put people in danger or take them out of their comfort zones, not everyone is as good a descender as you :-)
It is always a good idea to agree upfront or at least on the day the ground rules for riding as a group.
- First and foremost, agree the pace that you will be riding, and that everyone is able to comfortably hold that pace, not just on the flat, but on the rolling roads. Keep the pace, and do not get tempted to surge when it is your turn at the front.
- Agree that you will stop at the top of bigger hills or simply from time to time and allow people to catch their breaths and regroup, everyone climbs hills at different speeds, so it is very difficult to keep the group intact.
- Agree the warnings that will be used on the ride such as shouting “slowing” and “stopping”, keep it consistent to avoid confusion.
Golden rule of this is to practise beforehand. If you are not riding as part of a club, you will naturally find people who ride at your pace, so this is a good way to buddy up and help each other out.