Riding in an organised group is not only more sociable, it can help increase your fitness and save you energy compared with riding solo. Here’s our expert guide to the important aspects of group riding that will help you get the most out of it and enjoy it safely.
Firstly, don’t let the amount of information here put you off joining a group ride which you should find has a relaxed and supportive atmosphere to newcomers. We organise our own Ribble Ride Outs that have a ‘no drop’ policy and are welcoming to new riders (see foot of article).
We have attempted to give you a fully comprehensive guide to group riding here, but much of it is commonsense. If you are new to group riding familiarise yourself with the hand signals (below) and keep these three key points in mind.
LOOK, CONCENTRATE AND COMMUNICATE.
PASS WARNINGS AND SIGNALS ON.
RELAX AND RIDE WITH CONFIDENCE.
A riding group will ideally ride in as close a formation as possible because riders following closely behind others benefit from the slipstream they create which saves them energy (often referred to as drafting). Pay particular attention to the ride leader(s) who will often ride near the front (and ideally at the rear) of a group. Their task is to make the ride as safe and enjoyable as possible and they made need to encourage any slower riders whilst also ‘containing’ any who are riding too fast for the group.
LOOK, CONCENTRATE & COMMUNICATE.
Good communication and consideration for everyone is essential to ensure that everyone stays safe in a group riding on the open road. It’s important to look ahead, be aware of everything around you and listen for any warnings that may be given (see signals and warnings below).
Please note: If you feel uncomfortable riding in very close proximity to other riders then it might be best to stay at the rear of a group until you are more confident.
SOME GENERAL BASIC GROUP RIDE GUIDELINES.
It’s important to be aware and follow a few basic guidelines so that the ride is safe and enjoyable for all.
Do not stop suddenly. If you need to slow, brake smoothly and as safely as you can. Putting your arm up in the air will indicate to other riders in the group that you need to slow down and stop (for example if you suffer a puncture).
Ride in a predictable and steady fashion. Do not make any sudden movements off your riding line. Keep pedalling consistently even on a descent otherwise riders behind you will have to brake.
Stop at red traffic signals. It’s not only illegal but also dangerous to run red lights. A group will follow the Highway Code at all times obeying road signs and traffic signals.
Watch out and listen for any signals from riders ahead (see signals and warnings below) and communicate them to the riders behind you.
Don’t overlap wheels. Ride side-by-side or in single file one behind the other. Don’t overlap your front wheel with the rear wheel of a rider in front – always be a bike length behind (unless you are moving up or down the group) so that the rider(s) ahead have space to manoeuvre.
Don’t ‘half wheel’. Do not ride faster or slightly ahead of the rider beside you. Ride as a parallel pair at the same speed. The problems with half wheeling are that you will be overlapping wheels and it’s likely to increase the pace of the group as your ‘pair’ continually tries to draw level with you.
Make room. If you are the outside rider of a side-by-side pair make sure your partner on the inside has enough room to avoid parked cars and any potholes.
Cover your brakes by keeping your hands ready over the levers at all times.
Take care when getting out of your saddle to pedal standing up. If you don’t do this smoothly your bikes will shift back towards the riders behind you as you shift position.
Don’t forget you will still need to drink (and possible eat depending on the length) during a group ride. It’s safest to take a drink when you are at the back of a group.
Don’t forget to carry spare inner tubes, tyre levers and a pump in case you suffer a puncture.
Wear appropriate clothing for the weather and if you’re new to a group carrying ID and an emergency contact number is advisable.
RIDING IN A STEADY GROUP
The ideal and normal practice in a large group is to ride steadily side-by-side in pairs (two abreast). When the pace is steady you should be able to chat to the rider beside you which is what makes a group ride more sociable than solo riding. It also makes the group shorter and generally easier for vehicles to pass.
On narrower lanes or on particularly fast or busy sections of roads the group will usually need to go into single file riding and perhaps on narrow roads if a vehicle is approaching from ahead or behind. The verbal instruction usually given when this needs to happen is “Single out” (see signals and warnings below).
The UK Highway Code allows cyclists to ride two abreast, but no more than that, and that’s why a cycling group will often rotate in the particular ways described. Essentially, we need to use our common sense when riding in a group and always be aware of other road users. A group should almost naturally go single file when it needs to and then reform as pairs when it’s suitable to do so.
Sharing the wind: Of course, the front pair of riders won’t necessarily want to do the entire ride at the front of the group so the group will usually rotate so that everyone does their turn at leading. This process should be carried out smoothly and with no substantial increase in pace (one leading rider will move aside and the rider behind them should move forward to alongside the leading rider).
Remember that group riding is fluid and some groups can be more ‘disciplined’ than others. There will be times where the group may break up, usually on a climb or at traffic lights, although most group rides have a ‘no drop policy’ so the leaders will slow or wait for riders to regroup when it’s convenient.
UNDERSTANDING GROUP RIDING SIGNALS
These are the main hand signals you’ll see and use whilst group riding.
When riding in a group it’s important for the safety of everyone to give clear hand signals and verbal warnings in order to warn all riders within in a group. Watch out and listen for any signals from riders ahead and communicate them to the riders behind you.
ARM EXTENDED MOVING UP AND DOWN = SLOW DOWN.
If the group needs to slow down such as when approaching a junction or red traffic lights, or even a dangerous corner, this is indicated with an outstretched arm and moving the hand up and down in a ‘patting’ motion.
ARM EXTENDED WITH PALM FACING BEHIND = STOPPING.
The group may need to stop at junctions or traffic lights and this signal (an arm extended out at 45 degrees with the palm facing behind) is ideally given as early as possible so that the group can slow gradually before coming to a halt. Used in conjunction with the verbal warning, “STOP.” Some riders may also raise an arm.
HAND BEHIND BACK POINTING = MOVE OUT.
The group may need to make a change to its riding line(s) and move out to avoid a hazard such as a parked car. A manoeuvre like this is signalled with an arm across the back with the hand pointing in the direction riders need to move. Usually this is away from the kerb and towards the centre of the road. It’s less common but on a narrow road a hand may be pointed to the nearside of the road if there is an obstruction on the opposite side of the road.
POINTING DOWN AT A DANGER ON THE ROAD SURFACE = BEWARE DANGER.
If you see a pothole or other debris in the road ahead you should literally point it out to for the safety of the riders behind you and shout “HOLE”. As the danger is pointed out it allows riders to adjust their riding line slightly to avoid the hazard and for those behind to do the same.
The main verbal warning or instructions you’ll hear and use whilst group riding are as follows.
STOP – Usually heard before a junction it means the road is busy and be prepared to stop and wait. Used in conjunction with the ‘ARM EXTENDED WITH PALM FACING BEHIND’ signal (see above).
CLEAR – If you are approaching a junction and the riders ahead of you shout “CLEAR” then you are safe to proceed and then reassess the situation for the riders behind you. Depending on traffic you should shout “CLEAR” or “STOP” to the riders behind you.
HOLE – there is a pothole or debris on the road which riders ahead will point at. This signal should be passed to riders behind.
CAR (or OIL) – is a general warning that there is a vehicle approaching the group from ahead or behind. If the call is passed from the head of a large group the vehicle will be ahead and if the call is from the back the car is usually approaching from behind the group.
CAR UP – a vehicle is approaching the group from behind. (NB. confusingly some groups also use ‘CAR UP’ to mean a car is approaching from the front.
CAR DOWN – a vehicle is approaching the group from ahead. (NB. confusingly some groups also use ‘CAR DOWN’ to mean a car is approaching from behind).
SINGLE OUT – This instruction is used when a group has been riding two abreast but it’s decided to change to single file for example to allow a vehicle past the group from behind on a narrow road.
CAR BACK – generally means there is a vehicle following the behind the group and waiting to pass.
STOPPING – used when the group is slowing to a more gradual stop. This signal should be passed to riders behind.
SLOW UP or KNOCK IT BACK – you may hear this instruction given to the lead riders if the pace is a bit too fast for everyone and the group needs to slow down.
Communicating a problem: You should make sure that ride leaders are aware of a rider with a problem (being dropped or suffering a puncture etc) so that no one gets left at the stranded at the side of the road.
How to join a Ribble group ride
Details of all Ribble rides can be found in the Events listings on our Ribble Cycles Facebook page. If you have signed up to Strava, why not join the Team Ribble club where we will also post details of Ribble rides.
Enjoy your group riding and remember…
LOOK, CONCENTRATE AND COMMUNICATE.
PASS WARNINGS AND SIGNALS ON.
RELAX AND RIDE WITH CONFIDENCE.