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What you need to know before

you go on your first bike ride with a group!

So, you’ve been riding your bike alone for all these years or maybe occasionally with another person and you’re deciding that maybe you’d like to join a group. Maybe you just bought a fancy new bike and you’d like to do the same. Riding with a group of cyclists for the first time can be an intimidating undertaking even without all the tight spandex…


Will I be able to keep up? Will my bike be good enough? Will I know anybody? Will they wait for me if I get behind? What if I cause a crash? What if I can’t get up that hill? How do you use all those gears? What if I have a flat? What should I wear? How far do they go? How fast do they go? Will I make any new friends?...and there’s probably lots more going through a rookie group rider’s mind.


The best things that happen when you ride with a group of people, are that you make new friends, you gain self-confidence, you learn new cycling skills, you get to reduce the effect of the wind by getting behind another cyclist and a fringe benefit is that through improving your fitness you also improve your quality of life in a variety of ways. Cycling, in any of its forms is one of the best ways of improving heart health while being easy on your joints.


What we like to tell people who are joining our group for the first time is that above all else, the way you operate your bike, needs to be predictable. That means that you ride in a very straight line, that you signal when you are slowing down or making any kind of maneuver to change your position in the pack. When we ride in groups we normally ride two abreast and will be following the bicycles in front of us within anywhere from 10 cm to a metre in order to gain any kind of advantage from a headwind.


Let’s look at how exactly you can become a safe rider. You are responsible for how you follow another vehicle just as you would be in a car. A safe rider rides in a predictable straight line ( no sudden swerves). A safe rider will always have a right hand on the rear brake ready to “tap” on it if necessary. Note that bicycles do not have brake lights to signal slowing like cars do, so the only signal that the trailing rider may get that the bicycle ahead is slowing is that the back wheel of the bike ahead is suddenly closer.


For beginning riders and all but the most experienced, we suggest never overlapping your front wheel with the back wheel of the bike in front of you. Overlapping means coming closely up behind the bike in front on either side of the wheel so that if the rider in front swerved slightly to your side, your front wheel would get touched. Ouch! Torn spandex and road rash.


As a group rider, you have a responsibility to keep other riders in the pack, particularly the one beside you and right behind you, safe. Your changes of speed and direction should be subtle, predictable and communicated in advance. As you ride along realize that if you find yourself needing to brake suddenly, that effect will go right down the line. As you follow the bike in front, focus more ahead of that bike for anything unusual while maintaining a safe distance behind the wheel. If you find that you are losing ground on the wheel in front, accelerate slowly until you catch up and decrease pressure on your pedals as you regain position. Using brakes even lightly should be a last resort. You can also sit more upright to allow the wind to catch your upper body to slow you down ever so slightly. If for some reason you do need to brake more than just a slight tap call out “slowing” or give the slowing signal with your left hand to the riders behind you.


What about things like cracks in the pavement, potholes and other road hazards? Remember that we want to be predictable. In groups it is the responsibility of the lead riders to call out or signal road hazards like cracks or holes so the whole group can negotiate the obstacles subtly and safely.


When we teach group skills to people new to the activity we suggest that a great goal to aspire to when becoming a group rider is to be “that rider” that everyone else wants to follow because they know that you will follow a predictable line, avoid hard braking and accelerating because you are always conscious of the person behind while taking care not to touch a wheel yourself.


And by the way; we have rides for all ability and experience levels that cover different distances at pre-set average speeds. You will make many new friends and nobody gets left behind.


If you made it this far…thanks for reading…and stay safe


John Verbakel

Vice President, Silver Spokes Cycling Club

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