I started cycling like many. Mountain biking, then a road bike, then a real road bike, then a real road bike, upgrades, wheels, saddles… ah, road bikes. Or, as I like to refer to them, toys. For adults.
My entrée into road cycling was like akin to Christian Bale’s Ken Miles at the Dearborn test track after the engineers cram “the beast” into a GT40 prototype in Ford Vs. Ferrari… That was me, cycling in a group the first time. “Oh! I’ll have some more of that my girl!”
I felt like I was in the Tour de France. For all of eight miles, when I was promptly dropped as the group surged beyond 28-mph. I wasn’t the first to drop that night and I definitely wasn’t the last, so I chased a guy down who dropped a quarter-mile after I did. Being lost as lost gets, he helped my get back to the parking lot. We rode together every week after that and ended up becoming a very good friend.
I’ve learned a lot since that night.
So that leads to my first tip, a favorite from that little blast from my past:
Don’t be the first to drop in a club ride. Especially if you don’t know where you are!
All kidding aside, getting into group cycling isn’t easy, especially when the group you run into is fast. Everything happens so quickly, one little mistake can be disastrous. So here are a few advanced tips to work for as you progress:
- Don’t ever be late. 10 minutes early is on time. Most groups will leave without you if you make it a habit of being late.
- When we first start out, we tend to concentrate a lot on the wheel ahead of us. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, at first, but the focus is too narrow. The goal should be to become spatially aware of your surroundings so you can look beyond the front of the group to see what’s coming long before it gets there. See, concentrating on the wheel in front of you at 40 feet per second is too late for you to react. You want to expand that range of vision so you can also see what the front of the group is doing. You’ll want to learn to know exactly where the wheel in front of you is while you’re looking up the road. It’s not easy and don’t force it, just make it a goal to get to that point.
- Get low when the going gets windy. Sitting upright in anything but a dead-on headwind will have you working almost as hard as the person driving the group if you don’t have enough space for an echelon. You can cheat this a little by riding in the drops and getting a little lower to fit in the draft.
- If you’re a “masher”, learn how to spin, too. Mashing the pedals takes a lot of effort, maybe 20% more than spinning. You have to work a lot harder to be a masher, so take a winter on the trainer and learn how to spin. It’ll help when you’re in a group that’s a little stronger than you are. Look at the difference this way; how many one-arm curls can you do with a 30 pound weight? 10? 20? That’s mashing. How many curls can you do with a 2 pound weight? You can go all day. That’s spinning – and at the same time, you’ll be able to accelerate a lot quicker when you’re spinning – to an extent.
- Don’t overlap wheels, even in an echelon, until you know how to overlap wheels. If your front wheel touches or rubs the wheel in front of you, someone’s rear wheel, you’re the one who goes down – and usually very quickly. The theory is simple. A rear wheel is fixed and has most of the rider’s weight on it. A front wheel is not fixed and doesn’t have as much weight on it. It’s much less stable. The front wheel twists, and bam. You’re down.
- Look at me now. This is important. Don’t ever stop pedaling when you’re at the front of the group unless you signal a slowdown first. With your hand down, make a stop signal and say loudly, “Slowing”. Don’t EVER stop pedaling when you’re at the front.
- Smooth and predictable is the order of the day when you’re in a group. This is not easy at 30-mph (50-km/h), but it is what you must be at all times. When you’re hurtling down the road at that speed, you’re in the same space the person in front was just at in less than two-tenths of a second. Blink. That fast. You must, except when you’re the last bike in the line, be smooth and predictable.
- DO NOT ACCELERATE OFF THE FRONT OF THE GROUP after the person in front of you flicks off. The others behind you are not thinking, “Wow, that fella is strong!” No, they’re thinking, “Where does that twatwaffle think he’s/she’s going?” Don’t be a twatwaffle. See also, smooth and predictable. If you can go faster, accelerate smoothly and predictably over the course of a quarter-mile.
- Don’t take someone explaining ground rules to you personally. Group cycling is all about self-preservation. If you’re new to a group, they want to make sure they can trust you… and if you make a mistake, they’ll have a desire for you to not make that mistake again.
- No aero bars in the bunch. You’re not good enough to use them in a group. Stop. You’re not. Those who actually are good enough to use them in the pack know nobody is good enough to use them in the pack. At the front, meaning first bike, or off the back and to the side only. You’re too far from the brakes and your arms are too narrow for decent control of the handlebar. If you truly believe you’re good enough, it’s likely because you’re a boob. And you’re wrong. And colossally arrogant.
- Start with a slower group for your first rides until you learn the ropes and how they feel when your back is up against them. Put your ego aside for a few weeks, there will be plenty of time to show everyone else how strong you are… after you know what you’re doing. For a better workout with a slower group, pull at the front longer.
- We have five different classes of rider on our big club ride. Find out where you fit by talking with others. We gladly help noobs find the right group to ride with before the big ride. We want for you to be happy with the group you’re with. It’s in our best interest for you to come back and ride again. Groups rely on new blood to remain viable.
- Always remain teachable. Those who know everything tend to be a bore.