Cycling in a group safely and efficiently is one of the key skills of road cycling. However, the first few times you ride in a group it can be a confusing experience. Our video has all the essential information and techniques you need to know to stay safe, give you confidence and have an enjoyable time.
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Basic group riding technique
When the road allows, you'll usually be riding two-abreast in a double pace line. This allows everyone behind the two leading riders to shelter from the wind. The time each rider spends on the front is usually decided before the ride starts, with an understanding that tired riders will take shorter turns.
Keep your speed smooth and controlled as possible, as everyone is riding in close proximity to one another. This means no grabbing handfuls of brake or fast accelerating. Always have your hands covering the brakes, either on the hoods or the drops.
Starting out, it's best to keep at least a wheel length between your front wheel and the back wheel of whoever is in front of you. As you progress, you can close this gap up, but you should avoid overlapping your wheel with the person in front as the wheels may make contact with the slightest gust of wind or bump in the road. Try to keep your head up and look ahead for hazards or signals from the other riders.
When approaching hills, it's important to widen the gap between cyclists to allow for slowing down.
Ensuring everyone in the group knows about what's going on, is aware of any hazards, and is happy communicating with the others is very important. The front riders are responsible for warning the group about upcoming hazards, corners or junctions, and the signals should then be passed all the way back through the group. If you aren't familiar with hand gestures and calls, then make sure you check these with the rest of the group before you set off.
Call clearly (but not too loudly) and give notice of hazards as early as you can to give time for the group to react. Keep your pace even with the rider beside you, and you'll be set.
Advanced group riding skills
If you’re used to riding with others and are comfortable with basic group riding skills, it’s time to take your group riding up to the next level with some advanced techniques. These techniques are ideal for road racing, breakaways and team time trials.
The two most commonly used advanced techniques are the ‘through and off’ and the single pace line. These are both used to keep a high pace over flat or rolling terrain, and most groups alternate between the two, depending on the number of riders and the type of road.
The through and off technique
This technique is ideal for groups of six or more riders on roads where the local laws allow cyclists to ride two abreast, as it’s an efficient way of keeping the speed of the group high.
A fast ‘through and off’ is a constantly flowing machine consisting of a fast line and slow line. It’s a lot like a double pace line, except that riders continually rotate. By taking short, sharp turns at the front, it’s possible to push the pace high, which is why this technique is often used in breakaways during races.
The most important action takes place at the front of the double pace line. As the rider in the fast line draws level with the rider in the slow line, the slow rider should ease off the pedals slightly to allow the fast rider to move over and slot in front of them.
The rider who was behind the fast line rider will then do the same, pulling through then easing off once in the slow line. While the turns in front may be hard, they are also brief, lasting between 5 and 10 seconds depending on the speed of rotation.
Riders in the slow line will begin to drift backwards with relation to the fast line. From an individual rider perspective, once the last rider in the fast line has gone past your front wheel, it’s a matter of getting back on the gas, moving across and accelerating back into the fast line.
Usually you’ll be expected to call ‘last rider’ when you rejoin the fast line, which allows the next person in the slow line know that it’s safe to pull into the fast line once you are clear.
It’s worth noting that smoothness is key to keeping this safe and efficient. The changes in pace are subtle; slight increases or reductions in effort. The slow lane rider shouldn't ease off completely and the fast lane rider should not accelerate hard.
This technique allows a brief moment of recovery for each rider as they take the slow line, before increasing their efforts again in the fast line.
Rotation can be clockwise or anti-clockwise, which will usually be determined by the prevailing wind direction. For example, if the wind is coming from the left, the group will rotate anti-clockwise, and vice versa.
‘Through and off’ is a technique that needs practice and effective communication to get right, but pays dividends in terms of a real sense of collaborative effort and speed gains.
The single pace line
The single pace line is the ideal technique for groups with six riders or fewer, or on roads where riding two-abreast isn’t suitable.
Turns on the front are usually longer than with the ‘through and off’ technique, which allows a greater recovery time. The exact amount of time spent on the front can vary depending on the skill and stamina of the individual rider, but the most important thing is to keep the speed and effort level consistent. A stronger rider may do 60 seconds; a weaker rider may do 20 seconds.
As before, the front rider is driving the pace along in a smooth and consistent style. Once a rider is finished on the front they will pull out of the pace line and begin to drop back down the line, without easing off the pedals completely. Once the former lead rider has dropped back level with the rear of the group, the back-marker will call ‘last rider’ and they can the slot in behind them, taking care not to overlap wheels.
In the line, each rider stays on the wheel of the rider in front until they peel off. At this point, the rider will need to increase their effort in a smooth and consistent manner, concentrating on maintaining the speed of the previous rider.
Both of these techniques require excellent team work, trust and cooperation. Once mastered, each rider becomes a valued cog in a high-speed, mile swallowing machine.