Getting out and riding with a group is without a doubt one of the best ways to learn about riding and get stronger as a cyclist. The motivation of trying to keep up with stronger riders is a powerful tool to get you to go deeper than you thought you could.
Pushing your limits regularly is the fastest way of improving your fitness, and riding with faster riders will always do that. But there are some particularly important rules, guidelines, and points of safety to keep in mind while heading out with a group on the road.
The fist thing you must consider when heading out with a group, is proper spacing. This is not a group run. You could be going fast, traveling at rates up to and over 40 mph in close proximity to other riders. If you are too close to the rider in front of you, tapping their rear wheel with your front wheel will almost definitely send you to the ground.
Typically, groups travel in single file lines called “pacelines” while on the road. This creates the most advantageous aerodynamic draft for all riders behind the leading rider. To get the full benefit of the draft of the person in front of you, keep your front wheel somewhere between 10 and 36 inches behind their rear wheel. The closer you are, the more benefit you receive from their draft, but also the more aware you must be to their every move. If they tap their brakes even slightly, you must respond in kind to avoid running into them.
The best way to stay vigilant to their every move when riding closely, is to watch their rear brake; basically, brake when it brakes. Another technique is to look at their back and after a while you will know how close your wheels are by just keeping your eyes there.
When riding next to other riders, it is extremely important to stay mindful of the distance between the end of your handlebars and theirs. Bodies can collide, legs could touch, but nothing will crash you more quickly than interlocking or tapping handlebars. Try to keep 12” between your bars to be safe.
As speed increases and decreases, spacing needs change. If you are on a descent, drift back and let a larger gap open to the rider in front of you. Reacting to the rider in front of you will become much more challenging the faster you go, so, space yourself accordingly.
Likewise on an uphill, staying closer to a rider is safer as you have more time to react at the slower speeds. Climbs are when I often when will ride next to another rider and talk, as there is little to no aerodynamic benefit from riding behind a rider at speeds under 10-12 mph.
Stay tuned for part two on pacing, coming soon!