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Home » Cycling » Advanced Pace Line Cycling and Club Rides for Noob’s: What You Need to Know Before You Go

Advanced Pace Line Cycling and Club Rides for Noob’s: What You Need to Know Before You Go

October 2014
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Generally speaking with adults, there is a progression for getting into cycling when it comes to the cycling enthusiast but how one takes up cycling isn’t all that important.  What one does after one discovers cycling is way better than sliced bread is what matters.

If you’re anything like me, I started riding a bike at 40 years old, found out I loved it and then went all-in from there.  I went from a mountain bike to a road bike in less than a year (I like the speed and geared out on my mountain bike) and after a few months of training, was invited to ride with the advanced group with the local club.  I didn’t jump right in though, I put it off to get better at cycling, at least to a point where I could go in with a little confidence.  It was almost a full year before I went on my first club ride…  And I was surreptitiously dropped after something like eight miles.

Over the last two years I’ve picked up quite a bit and thought I’d share some of the finer intricacies that I’ve picked up, things that have to do more with group dynamics because cycling groups are exceptionally cliquey.  Also, if you’re looking for a list of “How To” bullet points, I’ve written a fairly extensive post on that, here.
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As far as group dynamics go, I’ve seen people come and go from our little rabble, I’ve seen cyclists dropped purposely (and have done that a few times myself) while, on the same ride even, I’ve also seen others go back to help a straggler claw back (I’ve done that more than a few times myself and had it done for me as well).  Who survives and who rides alone doesn’t always depend on luck.  Sometimes it depends on how the group takes to you. Knowing that, you might want to check the jerk bag before boarding.

First, if you’re riding in a racing, or advanced group, there are rules for being helped back.  They vary from group to group but ours is as follows:  You get two pull backs, if you drop after that, you’re on your own.

Second, disregard that first one if you’re a jerk or you ride poorly (can’t keep a straight line, pull too long causing erratic behavior, etc.).  Be cool.
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Dude (and/or dudette as the case may be), nothing is better than cycling with competent cyclists. Be a competent cyclist.  Consider, just for a moment, that you’ll be cruising at anywhere from 23-28 mph with only a few inches separating each cyclist, there isn’t a lot of room for “oops, sorry about that”.

Know what you’re getting into. I had it easy, I was invited to participate with the group I ride with but the fella that invited me knew I could already hold a 20 mph average on my own for more than 20 miles… If you consider a 16 mph average “hard” and you’re not riding in the mountains, chances are the local “A” ride is going to be about two grades over your ability. Check with your local bike shop or the club website to make sure you’re not getting in too far over your head.  The idea here is that you want to ride with people faster than you are (because that will make you faster), but not so much that you get dropped in the second mile of the ride which can be demoralizing after a while.

The final, single best point you’ll ever read on this blog is this: Don’t look for what you can get out of riding with your club, look for ways to contribute. If you do this one simple thing, you will come to enjoy cycling with a club more than you can possibly hope to on your own.

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10 Comments

  1. my1sttrirace says:

    Great message. The best way to get good at riding with a group is to ride with a group. The group I normally ride with has been together for years, and we have very few incidents. The main reason is we know how each other rides. When you start riding with a new group, even as an advanced cyclist, you really need to pay close attention to get the feel of the group.

    • bgddyjim says:

      You make an excellent point. You’ve gotta know who to hide behind, who to watch out for, who will get you dropped… The dynamics of the whole thing, while fun and exciting to figure out, are quite intricate. Thanks man.

    • MJ Ray says:

      Yes, good point. Advanced cycling isn’t the same as fast pace line riding, just like the Institute of Advanced Motorists isn’t a racing drivers’ club. Also, other types of club are available if you want to try another sort of riding: MTB, touring, easy riding, audax/randonné… and I don’t think most of them are “exceptionally cliquey” but your experience may vary.

  2. I’m lucky, I go out with 3 different groups, all good in their own way. One of the Sunday bunches I go out with are very accommodating. For the first half, they stick together, waiting for folk at strategic places. Then they split into fast & slow groups. If we’ve climbed a bit & I know there’s a lot of fast downhill, then it’s off with the quick group, otherwise it’ said more sedate ride. The other two have almost compulsory coffee stops so they make for great social rides. Horse for courses?

  3. dagowop says:

    Quick question as it’s been a long while (8 or so years)since I’ve done a club ride and expect to go on one this next Sunday – how straight is straight?

    I can hold a line well (within a 3 inch line at best 5 inches at worst) depending on being on the drops vs hoods as well as how much power im outputting. At what point is straight not straight enough?

    • bgddyjim says:

      That’s straight enough. I used to practice riding on the white line or between the white line at the side of the road but I took that a little too far methinks.

      Also, when you’re in line, don’t fixate on the rear wheel in front of you (unless you have to for comfort’s sake). Instead, as you become more comfortable doing so, look one or two cyclists ahead – that’ll make straight and consistent easier. Good luck my friend, enjoy!

      • dagowop says:

        Thanks, bud!

        I remember and still do look ahead when riding. I think looking that close to your front wheel is dangerous regardless of the presence of another bike.

        I’ll let you know how the ride goes on Sunday!

      • bgddyjim says:

        Awesome man, looking forward to it. I figured you might know that tip but better to chance it… That one helpled me a ton.

  4. Riding in a fast paceline is a great experience and will make you a much better cyclist (and a much faster one if some of the others are speed demons). You do have to be confident – but not cocky – in your abilities and respect the group otherwise the bunch may decide to purposely drop/lose you!

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