One thing you may not know about when signing up for your first sportive is the fact you’ll be group riding some, if not all of the event within a group of cyclists – big or small. But if you’ve never followed a cyclist closely before, or done any group riding, then fear not. Now is a great time to learn this skill which I can almost guarantee will take your cycling to new levels.
All it takes is a few rides with friends, or with your local club to get used to what it feels like to ride in a relaxed fashion when riders start to enclose around you.
Like everything in cycling, it’s trial and error – the more you do, the easier it becomes, no matter how scary it first seems. Nevertheless, if you can master the skill of group riding, or follow the person in front quite closely then your cyclosportive ride can benefit in these key ways:
Where You'll Need Group Riding During A Cyclosportive
Usually, you’ll need your group riding skills at the beginning of an event. The first few miles can sometimes be fast and erratic; you may find cyclists going at all paces around you, ‘en-mass’.
You may also get bottlenecked around the first few turns of the course as the event gets going. Again, you need to be able to safely follow a wheel, stop-and-start without colliding with people stopped ahead of you, or blocking riders behind you if you’re slow to get going again.
The first hill of an event is usually where any group you’re riding in will start to break up into smaller sized groups. This normally marks the end of the settling out phase where riders settle into a group of similar riding ability.
You no doubt will be wanting to save energy by drafting, so teaming up with some riders around you makes a lot of sense. When I say teaming up, I just mean following behind someone’s wheel and seeing if the cyclists around you reciprocate a little.
7 Easy-Peasy Steps To Following A Wheel...
1. Approach a cyclist who is riding in front of you and leave about a meter gap between him and you.
2. Now, let two other cyclists ride either side of you.
3. Relax as this happens – just focus on following the rider in front like you might say on a cycle path/track.
4. Do not try to react to the two riders either side. Disregard them as much as you can – relax.
Key: focus your gaze ‘through’ the rider’s backside to a point ahead of him/her i.e: do NOT look down at the wheel you’re following – it’s like driving a car and only looking just beyond the bonnet! You’ll constantly be second guessing every move, then jumping on the brakes in anticipation.
5. As you feel more comfortable, start closing that gap between yourself and the rider in front.
6. Try to get just a few inches off the wheel in front. You won’t have to ride this close in a cyclosportive, but it will give you confidence you can handle most situations.
7. Hold this formation for as long as you can. After a while you’ll start to get the hang of it and then you’ll think it’s ace fun when you realise how fast you’re going with less effort!
How to Follow A Wheel Round A Turn - yeah you can do this 🙂
So, once you can follow a wheel on a straight road, it's time to learn how to follow a wheel around a turn! This time get your friends to ride round a turn, with you in the middle of the group.
Do exactly, as above 1-7, but remember not to jump on the brakes when you start to feel ‘out of your comfort zone’ tipping round the turn – think, “go with the flow”…just “follow-and-trust” and you’ll soon find it a breeze.
Sound scary? It is scary doing this the first few times, so expect to repeatedly keep dropping back from the wheel in front of you as you build confidence. As I’ve previously mentioned, the key is in where you’re looking: look ‘through’ the cyclist in front and all will be steady!
The real key to following a wheel? Give up control where you're going: TRUST the rider in front, RELAX & be LED!
In cycling there’s a code of conduct which says that the cyclist in front is the leader and it’s he/she who has to take responsibility for leading the group safely along – so be led!
Let go of trying to ‘see and control where you’re going’ – you can’t. Just go with the flow, relax and follow and you’ll soon be enjoying the banter....but remember to:
Concentrate When Following a Wheel!
Do ‘concentrate’ or should I say, “have your eye on the ball” when following a wheel. If you start looking around, or get distracted – that’s when you’ll clip the wheel in front and end up with a broken collarbone!
Accidents can happen at any time and to any level of rider, but more often than not when you are dog-tired at the end of a long day in the saddle.
The Importance of Wind Direction When Drafting
For example, if the wind is coming from the right of you, think about sheltering “drafting” on the left side of the cyclist’s back wheel, in front of you. With a bit of adjustment with your bike road positioning you’ll "feel" the shelter... This can save you a huge amount of energy in a windy event.
Clear Communication in Group Cycling Is Key To Group Safety!
Don’t be scared to go through to the front of the group to take your turn. The first time you do this, you’ll feel self concious, but this soon disappears. What’s important is you are riding safely and in a relaxed manner out on the course.
Gesture for hazards when leading any rider(s) - clear communication is KEY to group safety
Use hand gestures if you see a pothole coming up, or a car you need to pull out from. These you’ll learn as you gain more group riding experience, but are crucial to safe group riding in general.
Here's a great video below I highly recommend you quickly watch, by Global Cycling Network on crucial group riding hand signals: How To Communicate With Signals In A Bunch | Racesmart
Learn to cycle in a group for cyclosportives and you not only become a safer more relaxed cyclist, but you’ll know how to conserve your energies and ride faster.
Like everything, it takes a bit of practice to get used to group riding, but once this crucial cycling skill is mastered, it will take your cycling to that next level.
Are you new to group cycling? Is this something that has crossed your mind since signing up to a cyclosportive or charity event? I’d love to hear your views – and if you found this article useful DO share with your friends on Facebook and/or Tweet the tweetables
Image: Courtesy Dreamstime.com