The biggest issue most newcomers, and, to be fair, a lot of experienced riders have, is riding in a pack.
Everyone will tell you what not to do and what you're doing wrong,
but few will tell you how to do it right. Hopefully we'll address as
much as we can here, without getting verbose, evangelical or (too)
On the front is good, if you can find a big motorbike to shelter from the crosswinds, even better!
me, front right ~ Marc Gomez Neutralized Section
Whether its with ten of your mates on a chain gang, a couple of hundred riders at a regional European sportive, the 6,000 of a Grand Sportive, or the ultimate 15,000 riders that take on the Tour of Flanders each year, riding in a pack can (but doesn't have to be) a nerve racking experience.
Here, I'll try to break down the fear, the terminology and the etiquette of why we do what we do, when we do it.
should help take some of the mystery out of the black art of pack riding
for those that are about to venture out in to the emotional cauldron
that is ~ the local club run. So before we start, lets just make sure
what ride we're doing, I'm referring to one of the following.
Club Run; a ride of like minded individuals
usually from the same team, with the same objective and the same
outcome. A "social ride" with an element of training.
Training Ride: a "performance ride" with an
element of socialising. Not everyone understands the difference and
many have turned up for a club run only to find themselves on a training
Make sure you now which ride you're on before you set off.
You'll notice that at no point in the above, is there a mention of a
race. Weekend winter rides (unless you're doing Cross) are not races. So
keep away from weak-minded individuals that turn them in to one?
should be no attacks, no half-wheeling, no going off the front. If you
want a race, go and start a winter series somewhere. You're not
impressing anyone if you turn up for a club run and race like an ar$e!
You see, can't help myself; got all judgemental there. Okay, to the subject in hand.
one; hold your line. Your safety and the safety of others is in your
hands and yours alone. At all times pay attention to everything in front
of you and be aware of everything around you. Spatial awareness is a
key ingredient for a safe rider.
Ride in an arrow straight line, no sudden movements and know who or
what is behind you at all times. That doesn't mean looking back. If
there's one thing that upsets me more than anything, it's riders that
are constantly looking behind them. If you want to see what's happening
behind you, go to the back and look forward.
Leave the looking behind to the experienced cyclists that know how to
do it, when to do it and why they're doing it. They always use another
cyclist for balance assistance. If you don't know how to do that, you're
not ready for it. So don't ever, ever, ever, ever, turn to look behind
you when you're in a bunch.
Because you'll cut across someone's wheel and do this to them...
Dianne, front wheel taken out at the Het Neiuwsblad
collar bone broken by someone else not paying attention.
She's smiling because the drugs have yet to wear off!
Now I've got that off my chest. stay relaxed. You don't need a
death-grip on the bars. Hold them like you'd hold a day old chick. A
relaxed bike is a straight running bike. Straight is good, especially in
a bunch. You're all heading in the same direction, all at the same
speed, so there's no need to white-knuckle the bars.
Also, don't stare at the wheel in front trying to gauge your distance
from it. Look over the shoulders of the rider ahead of you and learn to
trust your peripheral vision to give you the clearance you need. There
shouldn't be more than a foot or so between their back and your front
wheel. Once you relax you will automatically find this position and
everything else just falls in to place.
In my experience, 100%
of potholes are to be found in the road. Your objective, especially if
you're on the front, is to spot them and point them out to others. You
do this by keeping your head up, and looking up the road, not at the
When you see a hole, obstacle, glass, etc, a gentle "hup!" so people
spark up, is all you need. Point at the object with the relevant hand,
and gently drift out so you're heading around the obstacle at least 10
metres before you get there.
That lets those behind see the obstacle. Don't leave it to the last
second to swerve or even worse, try to bunny hop it. Hup, Point, Drift;
all one action.
Some people point at the object, then wave their hand to show the
direction that the other cyclists should move to avoid the obstacle. To
be honest if they can't work that out for themselves they shouldn't be
out on their own, let alone on a pack ride!
The only person that has to hear you, is the person behind the person
behind you! Don't SCREAM! at the top of your voice HOLE! All that does
is make us look like screaming imbeciles to the general public. It also
makes nervous riders grab their brakes and cause chaos, confusion and
crash potential. Head up, voice down.
For the protection
of yourselves, and the "controlling" of other road users, you should
generally be in a two by two formation. Which means riding side by side,
shoulder to shoulder. With around six to eight inches and definitely no
more than a foot between you and the rider next to you.
Magnus Backstedt & Dave Povall
UK Youth join the Gunsite Grupetto for ark formation training
This is the bit that (needlessly) spooks most newcomers. If you're
relaxed on your bike, riding in a straight line and not looking around
to see where your mates are, then the bike will track in a perfect
straight line. It's safer than a safe thing in a safe haven.
If you do stray slightly, or get clipped by a cross wind, the worst
that can happen is that you brush shoulders with your line partner.
Having said that, when a new person comes on the ride don't just squash
them in to the kerb. Gently encourage them and get them used to the
intimacy that is a well drilled grupetto.
Half-wheeling, or staggered riding, leads to overlapping wheels, bars
and shoulders. The potential for danger, to yourself and others, has
needlessly been increased due to an inability to be comfortable with the
closeness of your companions. So if you are new to this, let the
experienced riders guide you and trust their skill and ability.
Ride close, ride level, ride straight, ride steady; ride safe.
The reason we ride in
pace lines is to give those behind the benefit of a draft and a recovery
from when it was their turn to head the line.
Pace lines are all about control, no sudden movements, no increases
in speed and definitely no sudden decreases in speed. A good, fast,
silent paceline is a beauty to behold; especially on a warm, sunny,
windless day when everyone's fit.
The leaders control the speed. If they're good and have an
understanding of the group dynamic they ride at a pace that works for
all. They'll be working hard on the front while those behind work less
so. At some point a changeover will occur.
This sometimes seems to be made more complicated than it should and
is potentially one of the most challenging of moves for those new to the
For a short time you're four abreast. If your on a road with cars,
the potential for their frustration, while you are "all over the road"
is increased. Do it well, do it quickly and do it safely. Here's how...
the two riders at the front have agreed they've been there long enough,
and it's safe to do so, they act in unison and with clarity. There
should be no ambiguity about what's happening next.
They signal to those directly behind by both pointing to the gap
between them at the same time and "waving" the second riders through. No
shout, no "hup", no drama, no fuss. No one else needs to know.
They then pick up their speed for a few pedal strokes and move forward out of the line. The second row riders without increasing their pace enter the gap as the departees freewheel, without looking behind, until they pick up the back of the bunch.
As the last two riders go through, they take their place at the tail
of the group to grub up, take a drink and bask in the magnificence of a
good job well done.