The art of group riding

There is an art form in cycling to gets the best out of a group of riders to perform almost at the peak of their upper limit (not quite on the rivet) and sustain this for lengthy periods of time and distance. The art form is having the group ride in a manner that reduces the stress of the mind as well as rest and recovery for the body. Stress is reduced when there is group unity, working in harmony keeping the group together as one. The rest for the body can be sustained, creating opportunity for a good sit in the draft of the working riders, whether it be for speed or endurance.

There are numerous things that need to be considered as to what strategy is adopted to make best use of the group’s ability and strength (being that of the weakest rider). The wind is one of the biggest factors and the strategy changes for the bang head on, or head cross wind or side wind and the dream wind of all cyclist’s a tail wind or cross tail. Head and tail winds are the best of the winds riders encounter as there is safety in road use for the resting members of the group having greater draft opportunities. Cross winds of nay kind means more riders have less draft protection.

Other factors to be seriously taken into account is the amount of road that can safely be used and allow other shared road users to not feel disenfranchised or intimidated. Visibility for oncoming and cars approaching from behind such as blind corners or hill and rises and dips that can momentarily hide the car or group alike.  The group’s size dictate what method will operate best for what is called the pace line or echelon.  The speed limit of the road and volume of traffic will make for well chosen riding styles for the group.

Some layman’s terms that can be used are “rolling road turns” or “track turns” and these if required can be adopted into an echelon for the cross wind encountered. The essential key is riding and sharing the road safely as well as be effective in the pace line choice. Pace lines are either single or double. In a single pace line (Track Turns), riders lines up behind the first rider, who maintains a constant speed. The rotation occurs when the front rider pulls off to the side (usually the draft side of the wind to get recovery) and drifts to the back of the line. The next rider then sets the pace. Riders stay on the front from a few seconds to several minutes. This type of pace line has the advantage of requiring less road space.  The double pace line has two sides (Rolling Road Turns); the side where the pace is sustained and the resting side where the pace is lessened and the riders are moving backwards against the group moving forward.

Illustration showing four modes of group riding

Four types of pace lines. The two at the left are relatively easy, but the two at the right require a well-coordinated group of expert riders. Image take from: http://www.bikexprt.com/streetsmarts/usa/chapter7a.htm

The rotations (where the riders change over to protect the other riders line of riding) at the front and rear of the group is where the efficiencies are either maintained or lost and when done well it is an art form to watch and a buzz to be part of. Some have been known to call this the Selley’s group because that are together sticking tight like glue. Confidence in each rider’s own ability and trust in others is essential as close riding shoulder to shoulder is required as the less gaps the greater reduction in wind resistance.

Overlapping wheels in any riding group can be dangerous and a pace line it is even more so as the group is constantly in a state of flux. In strong crosswinds, riders become offset like geese flying south for the winter, forming what is known as an echelon. There is also a greater tendency to overlap wheels, which means a mistake in which wheels touch can take down the whole bunch. Pace line style riding requires smooth and predictable riding with no acceleration or braking quickly. If you are running up on the wheel in front, using the wind to reduce the speed by moving slightly out of the draft.

Not all riders have these strategies in the riding repertoire or have the leadership skill or knowledge of what works best. When you find a mature rider that can marshal a group they are like gold, a precious metal worth their weight look listen and learn from them.

See you on the road soon God willing.

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