Found on Ironman.com and written by Charisa Wernick
How group rides, inclement weather, and technical know-how can challenge you and make you a better rider.
Most people learn to ride a bicycle as a kid. Then, usually the bike is set aside for team sports or used simply as transportation, only to be picked back up again as an adult hobby. This leads to weekend group rides, cycling races, and as many of us know, sometimes even triathlon.
The quote “You never forget how to ride a bike” is true. However, there are a handful of advanced road cycling skills that can only make you safer—and yes, even faster—when you hit the road.
Riding in groups can be challenging, exhilarating and a fun way to boost fitness. Racing friends on the weekend ride can make a cyclist feel as if they have conquered the world. But groups also bring with them more risk. Keep in mind that everyone’s goal when riding together should be everyone’s safety. Here are a few pointers to keep everyone rolling along smoothly and safely.
Defensive driving: It’s typically safest to ride with cyclists you know. Knowing their ability and their riding style takes away the element of surprise. If you are riding with a group of cyclists you don’t know, assume they are not as experienced and use caution when riding with them. Don’t hang out at the back of a large pack of cyclists you don’t know since if someone goes down in that group, you are more likely to go down with them.
Line up: Never overlap wheels with the rider in front of you. Should that cyclist change direction, if your wheel is right next to them and they move into your wheel, you will be the one to go down.
Hand signals: Always point out obstacles to those riding behind you. This includes pedestrians, road construction signs, debris on the road, and even major cracks in the pavement. You are the eyes for the cyclist riding behind you (“on your wheel”), and failure to point out obstacles can cause crashes. Likewise, if you ride up behind a group of cyclists you don’t know, ask them if it is ok to hang onto their wheel before you do so. Not only is it polite, but it will also keep you safe.
Gear right: When riding in a group be aware of your gearing and upcoming terrain that might require shifting. Make sure your chain isn’t crossed over or in a position to drop as soon as you hit the hill and shift. A dropped chain in the middle of a peloton is avoidable with forward thinking and this will keep those behind you from crashing into you if you drop your chain and can’t pedal.
Hold your line: When riding beside other cyclists in a peloton (big group), it’s important not to swerve suddenly out of your line of travel. This is especially important on corners. If you find your bars coming in contact with the cyclist next to you, move your body rather than the bike—do not swerve quickly. Any quick swerving of the bike in another direction will typically result in a crash.
Be prepared: If you typically ride with the same friends each weekend, consider putting their significant other’s contact info in your phone. Chances are you will never need it, but should a friend crash, it’s much easier to contact their loved ones when you have their number handy. Additionally, consider stashing a few first aid supplies in your saddle bag.
Rain or shine
When you’re preparing for a ride in inclement weather such as rain, don’t inflate your tires to quite as high a pressure as you typically do. This will give the tires a bit more surface area on the slick roads.
When riding in the rain, remember that it takes longer to stop. Also, keep in mind that paint becomes slicker when wet than asphalt, so take caution when riding on painted lines.
When racing in windy conditions, leave the race wheels at home, as strong cross-winds may leave you fighting against the wind as you are being blown sideways across the road.
Descending and climbing
When descending, especially on winding roads, the lower your center of gravity is, the easier it will be to corner. When riding a road bike you won’t need to brake as much if you descend in your drops than up on your hoods.
Going back to group riding, when riding with others and heading into rolling terrain, know your strengths and when to power up a hill and when to downshift and spin up the hill. Rollers are the easiest place to get dropped when riding in a group, and once you fall behind the rider ahead of you, it will require extra effort to work your way back onto their wheel. When you reach the top of the hill don’t relax just yet—make sure you pedal over the top of the hill and into the downhill.
Keep in mind when climbing in a group that over the entirety of the ride, keeping a steady heart rate will help you keep from burning out as the ride progresses. Think of each hill as an opportunity to spin up the hill conservatively, while still keeping contact with the group. Standing up and sprinting up hills requires a lot more energy. Think of each sprint as burning a match—at the end of the day you only have so many matches to burn. If your goal on the group ride is to feel strong at the end of the day rather than completely destroyed, choose which hills to burn your matches on conservatively. The ego can be a powerful motivator when cycling in a group and sometimes keeping your ego in check is one of the best cards played all day.
Charisa Wernick is a professional triathlete and online marketing specialist. Visit her blog at charisawernick.com.