Group Riding Basics: Part One

Get with a group.

It’s springtime – group rides are in full swing. Get in on one and watch what happens – you’ll ride faster, further and have more fun than you’ve ever had on a bicycle.

You don’t have to be on a team to ride with a group. Ask your local bike shop if there are any standing rides you can join. Chances are, if they don’t have one of their own, they’ll know where you can find one.

Also check www.orbike.com; the “Events” section has weekly rides starting from locations all over the state. Oregon Cycling Magazine’s calendars page also provides a long list of links: www.oregoncycling.org/calendars.

For newbies
Riding in groups requires a bit of etiquette and some handling skills. Most rides have options for a variety of riding abilities; if you’re new to group riding, check in advance to make sure the organization has a group to accommodate beginners.

What to bring
Be sure you have a good flat kit (including a pump) and at least one spare tube. Carry enough food, energy bars and water to get you through the entire ride in case the group does not stop along the way. Finally, if wet weather sets in (hello, Oregon spring!), be sure that your bike has a full fender — it will keep the rider behind you from getting hit with the spray off your rear tire (and a fender on the front tire will do the same for you).

Around Portland
Hook up with the Portland Velo cycling club on any day of the week for one of many standing rides. The Saturday Series leaves from Hillsboro and offers rides of varying intensities; www.portlandvelo.net.

The Portland Wheelmen Touring Club offers up to two dozen rides on a weekly basis including many in the evening; www.pwtc.com.

Drafting 101

As a runner coming into the world of cycling, the concept of drafting was lost on me. I didn’t get it and, frankly, I didn’t believe it could really make that much difference. It does. If you learn how to do it effectively, you’ll be able to ride farther, faster (and have more fun on big group rides).

How much energy do you save? According to a landmark study by Dr. James Hagberg at the University of Florida, you use as much as 30 to 40 percent less effort than a person riding solo at the same speed. The closer you are to the wheel in front of you and the faster the pace, the greater the benefit.

Getting started: Pick a steady, smooth rider of similar fitness and ask if it’s OK if you practice drafting on his or her wheel. The quality of the wheel you follow is crucial — your drafting guru should have a smooth pedaling cadence and steady pace. Make clear you’re new to this. Ask for help.

Work up to it: Start about three feet back. As you gain confidence, begin to move closer. Once you are able to get within about a wheel’s distance away, you’ll begin to enjoy the benefits. Ideally, you want to ride about a foot (or less) away from the wheel in front of you.

If it makes you feel more comfortable, ride a few inches to one side of the wheel in front of you. But don’t let the front of your wheel creep past the back of the wheel you are following: When you overlap wheels, a swerve by the rider in front could take you out.

Look ahead: Don’t fixate on the wheel in front of you; instead look through the lead rider about 20 feet (or more) up the road.

No brakes: If necessary, modulate your speed by soft-pedaling or sitting up — stay away from your brakes. Better yet, find a steady cadence so you don’t need to slow down or speed up.

Smooth it out: Don’t make sudden movements or let your bike wobble. Being squirrelly puts everyone in danger.

Take your turn in the wind: The fastest way to alienate your riding buddies is to sit on the back for the entire ride. Even if you can’t pull for as long as your riding partners, your effort will be appreciated.

Being on the front means that you’re responsible for calling out hazards or debris in the road. Point at and announce these hazards (“gravel!”). Hand signals for slowing or turning are also crucial when you’re in this position.

Advanced technique: When several cyclists ride in a long line taking turns on the front, it’s called a pace line. Participating in a pace line comes with its own set of skills, etiquette and techniques. When you’re comfortable drafting, find a group of experienced riders and ask them to show you the ropes. We’ll cover pace-linging in a follow up post within the next few weeks.

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6 comments

  1. What would you consider a “good flat kit” to be? That is, what is essiential?

  2. I would advocate first and foremost is SAFETY when riding in a group for Group Basics. There is an increasing number of polarizing and dangerous incidents and confrontations between bikes and motor vehicles on the roads. I would like to emphasize those who ride know the rules-of-the-road, e.g. single file riding, signal lane changes, stopping at stop signals/signs, watching for T-boning/right turns, etc.

  3. I’d say definitely Safety First all the time – group or no!

  4. Tej: Depending on your skill level (some people don’t need tire levers to change flats), minimum would be:
    2 tubes
    2 tire levers
    hand pump (or frame pump, but definitely some kind of “manual” pump)
    patch kit

    Extra would be CO2 pump with extra cartridges for quick fills but I always stress that people should also have a normal pump, in case the CO2 fails or you get more flats than you have cartridges.

    Patch kit for same reason – If you carry two tubes but flat three times, get ready to patch your heart out!

  5. Thanks Heids… I know it’s an obvious question, but I am always curious to see what people carry. I only carry one tube, and often neglect to take a pump. Actually, I often neglect to take anything at all. I know I probably should.

    Been OK so far, which probably means I’m due for multiple failures.

  6. You could be ok with one tube, as long as you have a patch kit. But, dude, pump – always! Or else cell phone with Dedicated Significant Other’s phone number on speed dial and favors left to give. ;)

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