group riding technique

by Ben   June 14, 2009  

i'm quite a fast rider but have very little experience of group riding. On the recent northern rock cyclone i found i was making two main mistakes with group riding:

one was 'making a break', either purposefully or accidentally: a couple of times i thought i might just find another peleton further ahead and latch onto that one, so i deliberately did it, but that never happens - what happened instead is that the one i'd got in front of caught up again and as i'd unwittingly used more energy in staying ahead I had to work a bit harder to keep up with the one that had just overtook again (or was TRYING to overtake - see next paragraph...)
But on the climbs my natural pace seemed to be faster than the peleton so i naturally moved to the front of it - so what's some good tips for then adopting a position at about number 2, 3, or 4 in that peleton, i.e. at the front bit of it but not right at the front?

also possibly linked to the above, but i often found myself in the following position: (me being the blue)

where a peleton is trying to overtake, but it's not actually going any faster than I am - I'm effectively "boxed in"!
this situation possibly arose when i'd got a bit too far in front of a peleton on a plateau section at the top of a hill, it had caught up and was trying to overtake, but was only going faster previously due to it being a group...
so when a peleton starts to overtake, what's the best way of being effectively enveloped by it and not getting boxed in by it...
I didn't like getting boxed in by it partly because if half of it tires and half of it doesn't, i want to be able to stay with the front half, but mainly because i need space on the road to be able to negotiate hazards, bends etc. safely.

8 user comments

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I would say firstly as far as moving to the front of the peleton on climbs, why take up a position 2 or 3 back from the front? It is supposed to be a co-op, so if you find yourself at the front, do a turn, pull the group for a while and then swing off when you've done your bit.

You should be able to identify the part of the group that looks like it is hanging on, so as you drift back down the pack, slot onto the last wheel that looks comfortable in the group. You will not usually have to ask someone twice to allow you to slot in, in front of them as it means they have longer before they reach the front!

Same applies if the group is rolling past and you want to get back into it, look for the wheel that looks like he is on the edge, and ask to slot in in front.

Mostly though, learn to identify the pace you can sustain individualy, and know that if you are in a group travelling faster than that, just stick with it. If you want to go faster, move to the front and do your turn on the front, if the group find your pace too hot, they can let you go, but you will no doubt find that being on the front for a while will dull your desire to fly off!

Complicating matters since 1965

DaSy's picture

posted by DaSy [649 posts]
15th June 2009 - 9:36

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DaSy: you've got your etiquette spot on as far as groups of experienced riders is concerned. My experience of sportive riding though is that groups tend to form that are pulled by two or three faster riders, with a bunch of wheelsuckers hanging off the back. I find this setup makes it harder to co-operate because it's difficult to slot back in to the front section when you've had your turn on the front, especially since most people in the line (including myself!) aren't experienced at group riding. Anyone else find that?

As to getting bunched in by a group like your picture shows, it's just a case of being friendly and asking to get in the line, but also being assertive if help isn't forthcoming.

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7501 posts]
15th June 2009 - 10:41

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Regarding the highclere ride, I found rattling along at the front fine but I also felt a bit of pressure to keep the pace up from the guys behind.

not all carbon is the same.

Jon Burrage's picture

posted by Jon Burrage [1081 posts]
15th June 2009 - 10:59

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Does seem pretty harsh that a group gets towed for miles by a couple of riders only to have someone fly off the front, without pulling for them, only to drop back in again a mile or so up the road. That energy could have been used for the good of the group.

Group riding is a pretty hazardous thing anyway, and having a load of people around you who don't know what they are doing sounds terrifying! For that reason I've never fancied the sportive format much, I tend to go and do the route solo or with a group of friends sometime later.

Jon - There is definitely a pressure to keep the wheel of the guy in front, from the riders behind. If you let go of that wheel, they are unlikely to be able to bridge the gap up to the front, so they get dropped too.

Riding pacelines at the track, that was always the worst bit; the point at which you know you cannot hold the wheel in front is the point you have to accelerate up the side of the guy in front to pull the bloke behind onto his wheel, before you can swing out...

Complicating matters since 1965

DaSy's picture

posted by DaSy [649 posts]
15th June 2009 - 11:50

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DaSy - the only reason I wanted to get in 2 or 3 from the front rather than right at the front, is that when i was at the front i was unintentionally leaving the group behind!
I think they might have viewed it as unsociable, but it was merely not knowing what the pace of the group was.
Not because i didn't want to be at the front.
Is it best to look behind every now and again and ease off if there's too much of a gap?

posted by Ben [2 posts]
15th June 2009 - 14:08

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Ben, sorry, I think I came across a bit stroppy in my previous posts.

As Dave said, there is a lot of etiquette when riding as a bunch, that is often unsaid and can get experienced group riders quite uppity. I only really ride in either a group of riders who are used to group riding or alone. So I'm not the best person to answer regarding a group that isn't riding as a unit.

On hills it's often pretty hard to keep a bunch together as everyone has a different pace, and drafting at lower speeds like that is much less beneficial. Best to climb at your own pace and let the group reform at the top.

Complicating matters since 1965

DaSy's picture

posted by DaSy [649 posts]
15th June 2009 - 15:49

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Interestingly, my first exposure to group riding was doing sportives a couple of years ago. Up to that point, I always rode alone.

Even then, it became pretty apparent that the groups in sportives aren't real collectives in the way that they could be, as plenty of riders do just use them as stepping stones to make progress. That's fine, so long as you do bridge between groups. Sitting in and then taking off when you can go harder (say climbing) isn't going to be that well received if you haven't or aren't going to do a turn when most beneficial to the group.

That said, though I am now rather more versed in group riding etiqutte, and am happy to do my share (unless it's uphill, when I'm out of the back usually), when it comes to this summer's Étape I shall wheelsuck/eat wool shamelessly..!

posted by ourmaninthenorth [93 posts]
17th June 2009 - 10:59

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Yeah, I get the impression that quite a few riders sit in on groups without ever working their turn in order to get a better time overall.

Seems quite odd, as the ethos of a sportive is the personal challenge rather than race tactics.

I think I am always too keen to do my turn, and probably accounts for why I will never be a very good racer, I really do lack the ruthless edge required to to capitalise on another riders hard work. I like the challenge of achieving something by merit of my own hard work, so tend to do sportive routes, later on and on my own.

Complicating matters since 1965

DaSy's picture

posted by DaSy [649 posts]
17th June 2009 - 12:08

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