Riding in a group on a road bike can be anywhere from a relaxed session of spinning with a few friends to a full-on race-paced frenzy for the line. This article will explain the basics of etiquette (and survival) on the road group ride. Knowing how to properly ride in a group is critical when you’re navigating traffic in a group of riders. Just like traffic laws, these rules are designed to keep everyone predictable and safe. Even if you’re an experienced road rider, you might learn some new things.
If you’ve never ridden a given group ride before, become as acquainted with the route as possible beforehand. Most organized group rides have a specific route mapped out somewhere that you can check out, and sometimes an average pace listed. Determine whether you’ll be able to keep up. If you think you’ll be dropped, be prepared just in case. GPS devices and phones are a great resource to have in this regard.
Print a cue sheet - Keep it in your pocket in a ziplock bag or tape it on your top tube. Keep in mind that paper might break down if you sweat on it.
Make sure your bike is in good working order - You don’t want things flying off or breaking while you’re alone, let alone in a group!
Have the equipment, food and water you’ll need to get through the ride - Don’t expect someone else to have a spare tube or pump ready for you if you get a flat!
Group options - If you don’t know how difficult a ride is, ask someone who rides regularly in the group ride if possible. Sometimes there are A/B/C groups that fit into different skill levels and pace; A group is the fastest group, C is the slowest, and so on.
Show up early - Sometimes, rides leave a little early, or you might need to sign a waiver. Always best to be there early in case something happens, and it helps to be on time no matter what.
Follow the law - Obviously, follow your local road laws and know your place on the road. Granted, there are many different types of road rides. On the faster ones, honestly many do run stop signs and you should be prepared for any consequences that result. Obviously, running stop signs and lights is never recommended (not to mention illegal), but above all you should always flow with the group to avoid causing a crash. If other riders are going full speed into a stop sign, intending to run it and you brake in front of them, that could easily cause a collision. Similarly, if a light changes moments before you enter an intersection, roll the intersection if it’s safe. Sudden braking does not belong in group rides.
Keep your eyes open - Be aware of what’s going on around you. There may be a line of riders moving up on one side of you, and there may be a tight turn up ahead. Keep an eye on what’s ahead, as well as what’s behind you.
Flow - Flow is key with group rides. Flow with the group. Don’t try to surge, turn or brake suddenly unless you know you have clear space. When you’re close behind another rider while drafting, watch over their left shoulder to keep an eye on what’s coming up ahead. Give yourself reaction time in case someone slows down ahead of you.
Signal - Use your hands and verbal cues to indicate your actions and obstacles ahead. Generally you’ll use hand signals to signal turns as well as braking. Verbal signals are important as well. Firmly and audibly announce your actions so that others can hear: “slowing”, “stopping”, “rolling” and “car up / back / left / right” are common verbal signals used by the peloton. It’s also good to call out road obstacles such as bumps, or gravel and glass. If you wish other riders to pass around a side of you to avoid an obstacle, wave them over with your hand behind you to indicate an upcoming obstacle. Be sure it’s safe to use hand signals, as roads may be bumpy. Use hand signals early and not while executing a turn; you could lose balance and crash
Communicate - If you happen to get a mechanical or a flat, shout “mechanical” or “flat” so that other riders can get around you, and to notify others of the mechanical. Sometimes it’s best to simply stay on your line when you have a mechanical. When you’re clear, move over to the side of the road for a fix. If you have to pull off the ride early, announce to someone in the group so they don’t end up looking for you.
Ride two-by-two - Many jurisdictions in the US require cyclists to ride a maximum of two riders abreast, as far to the right as safe. Keep in mind that while many group rides don’t follow this protocol, however it is the standard as far as riding on roads with additional live traffic (cars).
Don’t cross wheels - If you are riding around another rider, make sure your wheels don’t overlap; which means, your wheel and their wheels shouldn’t be able to touch if either of you veered to either side. This is critical for safe riding.
Hold your line - Find your line and love that line! Keep your cool when surrounded by other riders in a pack. You want to follow the line of the riders ahead of you as smoothly as possible without jerking around erratically. If you wish to change lines, make sure you have adequate space and signal your move over.
Paceline - It’s important that you understand the concept of pacelining and be able to execute it, as it is a key ingredient in a group road ride. While it’s too much detail for the scope of this article, look up a video and learn how to do it. You’d be amazed at how fast a good paceline can go.
Don’t let gaps open up - If you’re in a paceline, you’re expected to pace all the way through. If you feel your power fading while drafting in a pace line, safely ride off the line and wave the others through as soon as possible without letting a gap open up. Other riders behind you want to stay on that draft, and if you aren’t strong enough to stay in the line, get off without letting a gap open up. You’ll save yourself from getting some annoyed remarks.
Follow these simple steps and you’ll be on your way to being an expert road group rider. Remember to stay safe and sane out there on the roads!