Group Riding Skills
Double Pace Line begins with riders in double file formation. Ride side by side with your front wheel in line with your partner’s. Try not to pull ahead (known as ‘half wheeling’ and very un-cool). Check your computer to ensure you are maintaining the group’s speed when you are at the front. Otherwise, follow the rider in front of you, but with a slight offset to provide extra braking distance in case of emergency. Ideally, your front wheel should be a few inches behind the back wheel of the person in front of you. Increase that distance according to your skill-level and comfort, the skill-level of the person you are following and the skill-level of the group as a whole. You will also want to increase that distance a little to account for rough road conditions, higher speeds during descents or any other time you need more visibility or maneuvering space. Do not make sudden changes in speed or direction. Remember, other riders are very close behind you, and they depend on your consistency. Always have your hands close to your brakes so that you can react quickly in an emergency; that is, on the drops or hoods only; NEVER on the top of the bars.
The 2 riders at the front of the double pace line do the brunt of the work into the wind. The following riders make about 30% less effort, yet ride at the same speed. It benefits the group as a whole to rotate the leaders off the front once in awhile and replace them with a fresh pair. The amount of time a pair will spend on the front depends on how fast the pace is, how strong the wind is and how strong that particular pair is. It could be 30 seconds up to 15 minutes. In any case, the leaders go to the back of the pace line when they have had enough. Both go together. They look forward and behind to see that there is no traffic coming. Then they make a small hand signal to show they are about to break formation. The rider on the left moves to the left and the rider on the right moves to the right. They must then pedal a little softer so that their speed drops slightly relative to the rest of the group. The second pair, still side by side, moves between them and to the front, without changing pace. It will now feel harder for them because they are riding into the wind but the km/hr should remain the same. The pair that has rotated off the front will eventually arrive at the back of the pace line. A shoulder-check will ensure that they are now the last pair. They should then speed up slightly and pull into position at the back of the pace line.
Double pace line is the default formation any time we are on the road, it is the preferred formation for fast and slow touring and most training rides. There are 3 exceptions. 1. When traffic is heavy, we simply ride in single file, as described above. 2. When a fast-paced training ride is required, the formation usually develops into Single Pace Line (Racing Pace Line). This is a more advanced technique that is taught at our clinics and on some rides. 3. Echelon is the 3rd formation. It too is advanced but should not be used on our training rides. It should only be used when either the road is closed (as in an official race with marshals) or when you are absolutely sure there will be no traffic. It is a racing pace line used when there are strong cross-winds. We recommend that if you have not tried these techniques yet, or if it has been a while since you were skilled at them, that you attend our clinics when offered. They require practice to become proficient. The effort is worth it however; the result is group riding that is smoother, safer, and faster for all.
***Keep your head up and your eyes looking ahead*** In a close formation, you must be looking up and ahead at all times. Look to the front of the group or at least a few riders ahead of you. This way, you will see any problems or changes in direction or speed, well in advance. The riders close to you (left, right or directly in front) will be sensed using your peripheral vision, which is more adept at judging movement than your straight-ahead vision. For some things we rely on other group members (when it is hard to see the road ahead) and for other things we must rely on ourselves (traffic safety). In general, we do not communicate by yelling things out. It is usually impossible to hear what is being yelled. “Car!” can sound very much like “Clear!” to someone with wind in their ears. At intersections, you MUST look for yourself to see if it safe to cross. Do not yell about cars coming in either direction (on-coming or passing) on the road in the normal way. They have every right to be there and that is exactly where we should expect to find cars. Since we will be riding in an orderly fashion close to the right hand side of the travel lane, at all times, we should have nothing to worry about. It is up to the driver of the vehicle to assess how best to proceed past an orderly group of cyclists, just as she or he would proceed past any other slow-moving road user. An experienced group member may order “Single file” if necessary, but under normal circumstances even on narrow roads, it is safer to ride in double file since it forces the traffic to slow down and pass safely, rather than to try to squeeze past when there isn’t quite enough room. So, we will save our yelling for warnings of an urgent or unusual nature. Please signal all turns and stops with regular arm signals, well in advance. Also, point out potholes and hazardous objects in the road so that following riders can avoid them.
When we ride as a group, we try to keep the pace as even as possible. Increases and decreases in speed must be gradual and all associated gear changes smooth. At an up-hill, we climb at the pace of the two lead riders, who will try to keep the pace steady. If this is too slow for you, hard luck! These are group rides – remember. You should not break ranks and show how fast you can ride to the top. There is no point to that; you will only have to wait for everyone else to catch up. In the process you will wear out the weaker riders, who, having extended themselves too much on the hill, will not be able to increase their speed at the top. The group will inevitably break up. If you are interested in doing hill intervals, pick a couple of buddies and do it at another place and time, or choose a more advanced group. Alternatively, an even, moderate pace up a hill will keep everyone together and ready to increase speed at the top. This will maximize the average speed of the ride and the training effect for everyone. If you need to get out of the saddle to climb (only on very steep hills), wait for the part of the pedal stroke where you are actively pushing down. This will reduce the ‘pause effect’. If you stand while not actively applying power to at least 1 of the pedals, the rider behind you may crash into your back wheel. Practice while out on your own. Down-hills should be approached in the same way. Follow the lead riders. Increase the distance from yourself to the rider in front of you a little, to give yourself a little more reaction time in case of emergency. If your speed picks up too much, do not break ranks or pass other riders. Gradually decrease your speed, by applying the back brake lightly, and pedaling against it if necessary. NEVER go down a hill with your hands on the top of the bars. They should always be on the drops. This puts your hands close to the brakes in the most powerful position (in case of emergency) and it lowers your centre of gravity making you more stable and safe.
Changes of Speed and Direction
All changes should be smooth and gradual. Remember, everyone behind is depending on you to lead them safely up the road, around potholes, dead animals and corners, and up and down hills. There must be no sudden movements to left or right (switching). Switching is very dangerous in a group and can instantly lead to serious injury for fellow riders, as a result of a crash. Common sense is a virtue. Do not remove things from pockets, eat, drink, take off clothing, startle another rider, suddenly break ranks or do anything else that may result in an erratic movement when riding in a group. If the speed is fast you must be especially vigilant. Your hands must be on the bars at all times. To eat, etc. you must wait until it is your turn to be at the back of the group, when no one is following. Drinking and the ‘shoulder check’ should be practiced ahead of time to ensure that they can be performed without swerving.
Avoid sudden braking at all costs. Be aware that the front brake has a very abrupt stopping action whereas the back brake is less abrupt. Know which is which. To reduce speed slightly, use the back brake lightly and pedal against it at the same time. To increase speed, first pedal faster in the gear you are in, then change up to your next gear. Your cadence should be between 80 and 120 rpm for regular flat riding, on hills this may be reduced down to 60 rpm or lower. The higher the cadence, the smoother rider you will be, better able to adapt to changes of speed and other maneuvers.