When riding with a group of recreational cyclists, there are some important practices to follow that will keep us and our fellow cyclists safe and happy together. These practices can also improve your performance on the bike – and help your popularity as a member of the group!
Have you noticed that when riding with a group, there is often someone who is either at the front of the pack (usually off the front by a small margin) or at or near the back of the pack? If you watch them, you may notice that they are kind of “all over the place.” Most of us would rather not follow such a rider’s wheel, because the unpredictability can be tough to react to – so other riders give unpredictable cyclists a wider berth. This article covers the reasons to ride in a steady and predictable manner in a recreational group. In a follow-up article, I will also touch on those occasions when it makes sense to use other approaches.
When riding in a group, your most important job is to stay safe and help enhance the safety of the group. Irregular riding behaviors waste energy and can present great risks to the rest of the group. This is especially true when the pressure is on and the pace is the hardest. What does it mean to be a steady and predictable rider?
- Ride at a steady and stable pace.
- Focus on remaining physically relaxed and comfortable; tension on the bike quickly translates into unpredictability.
- When accelerating, do so in a gradual manner.
- Hold your line; avoid changing places in the pack frequently; when you do change places, be smooth and quick.
- When moving past people, stay out of their way, and call out “passing.”
- When re-entering the pack, look first for an opening, call out “entering” and move smoothly into your “slot.”
- Avoid braking suddenly unless there is an emergency situation, in which case brake and call out loudly “stopping.” When emergency braking, if possible, move away from the pack (and preferably towards the curb rather than into traffic).
- When scrubbing speed in a group (non-emergency braking), be gentle on the brakes, or just sit up and take a bit more wind to help you slow down.
By following these practices, you will become known as a solid rider with more of your friends willing to work with you, giving you space when needed to return to the pack, and gain respect for your skills.
In addition to being a safer rider, riding in a steady and predictable manner also generally helps to enhance your own physical performance and fitness over time:
Remaining physically relaxed on the bike allows you to be a better bike handler. Keeping a loose and relaxed upper body (arms, shoulders and upper torso) allows you to react more quickly to changes in road surface, be less jolted by bumps and potholes, and to follow a line around a corner more smoothly. It also allows you to put more energy into your legs which is what propels you forward (rather than putting muscular energy into your upper body, which does nothing for your output).
Most of the training that is needed to improve your bike fitness is “steady state”, meaning that you are not changing the pace of that portion of your workout. For example, if I assign my athletes a 10 minute hill repeat, most of the time, I will want them to ride that 10 minutes at a steady (and fairly hard) pace, with no changes in output. If I do assign a change of intensity, then it is almost always done in a gradual manner. For example, I have a workout that calls for 10 minutes of medium exertion (steady) riding with the final 30 seconds done as a slow ramp up to maximum exertion. The key here is that when changing pace or intensity, the vast majority of the time, you want to do it in a (relatively) gradual manner.
Following on from point 2, we’ve all heard of “burning matches.” This refers to the concept that we have a certain amount of energy for each ride, and that energy spent during a ride needs to be “dosed out” carefully to avoid burning out. By riding steady, we are able to dose out the energy in a gradual enough manner that we will likely have enough energy to complete the ride (or workout) successfully. When riding steady, we avoid a lot of spikes of lactate into our muscle fibers that occur when we have many sudden increases in acceleration. If you have enough of these lactate spikes (burned matches), you will fade and not be able to complete the ride successfully. As a side note: a tired rider is a less safe rider. Avoiding burning a lot of matches keeps you fresher for a longer period of time and thus keeps you (and your fellow riders) safer.
This article was written with the serious recreational cyclist in mind, someone who both trains alone and occasionally rides with a group. For you, smooth and steady riding should be 99% of what you do when on your bike. For those racing, or preparing to race, rules about personal and pack safety still pertain, however, if you do not initiate or are unable to hang with the inevitable serious change (increase) in pace, you will not be able to contend with a racing environment.
Coach Matt is a lifelong cyclist, 10-year experienced coach and bike fitter. Further info about Matt can be found at: www.propelbikecoaching.com
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