Solitude is one of the primary the reasons why I cycle. Sometimes a man just needs to escape. No talking, no thinking, just pedalling and maybe the odd bit of singing at the top of your voice on an empty country lane (you know you do too). Rest assured there is no tandem in my shed. On a bike I am anonymous, I am the wind in the trees, I am free.
Follow the leader
It is with such a mindset that I approach group riding. The mini peloton. It is work. You have to be somewhere at a certain time to meet. You exchange small talk and pleasantries. There’s an order, a structure, a speed to maintain, rules and roads and wheels to follow. Anything with its own etiquette is to be avoided.
The senses are bludgeoned within the bunch. Noise. Somebody has neglected their bottom bracket. Wheezing. Poor gear changes. Noisy freehubs. Smell. I cannot smell the fields because somebody has overindulged in Lynx Africa before leaving the house or worse still forgot to wash last week’s jersey. And I hope you enjoyed your curry last night more than I’m enjoying it right now. Vision. Fluorescent and loud jerseys, bike bling. My eyes hurt.
Excuse the pun but group riding sucks. Bah humbug!
Not everyone is a miser
Why ride in a group? Headwind. This to me is the only logical answer. Maybe it’s me and not the group, or maybe I just need to find the right group. For others, cycling is a social affair. Coffee and cake at the local café. A chance to catch-up on what has happened since last Sunday. A challenge. One-upmanship. A chance to out that inner-gorilla. Watch me climb, I will drop you for I am the alpha-male. Your calves will get bigger, your diction too as you come to understand what pulling through and peeling off mean.
Benefits of a group ride
- You will cycle faster…
- …most likely with less effort
- You are windproof for much of the ride
- You can chat shit if that’s your thing
- Enjoy a coffee at the obligatory cafe communion
- There’s someone on hand should you total it into the nearest ditch
- You will become a better rider cycling with quicker riders
- You might make friends (assuming you do a turn on the front!)
- A shared pace, usually too slow or too fast
- Yo-yoing as the elastic stretches with short sharp bursts of acceleration for no apparent reason
- Waiting around at the meeting point for you know who, the one who woke up late. Again.
- Chatting shit
- Eating dirt when it rains
- Poor group riders who put you in danger
- Other people
Secrets of group riding
Pace. You want a group that is not too slow and not too fast. Ideally the group will be a little quicker than you’re comfortable with so you can challenge yourself. Watch out for yo-yoing. Groups can, and often do, suddenly surge forwards particularly after a sharp bend or hill climb. Such spurts will do wonders for your fitness but for me this fast-slow anti-rhythm ruins a good ride. Still want to ride in a group? Try these tips.
How to ride in a group – a beginner’s guide
- Learn lots of funny hand gestures in addition to those you reserve for poor drivers
- Hold your line around corners
- Take it easy on the brakes
- Relax and ride predictably, no wobbling
- Keep the same tempo
- Do a turn on the front and shield the bunch
- Signal when slowing down, you do not have brake lights
- Don’t speed up and don’t slow when on the front
- Remember it’s not a race
- Shouting – let the leader call out the obstructions
- Stick close to the wheel in front
- Ride no more than two abreast, you’re not actually in a peloton
- Maintain effort not speed when the terrain goes up
- Be nice
- Welcome newbies
- Respect cyclists not part of your chain gang, car drivers too
- Take it easy on the aftershave
- No sneering
- No emergency stops
- No half-wheeling
- No crashing
- No emptying your nose unless at the back
- No spitting
- No holding hands
- No farting
Still fancy a group ride?
The above is a long list of things I don’t need to think about when I ride, especially that last point. That said, riding in a group can seem intimidating to the outsider but it really isn’t that difficult.
Give it a go, I’m told it can be rather good if you’re into that sort of thing and are not a misanthrope. Find the right group and you’ll be in for a treat. It’s a beautiful feeling when you’re a part of a many-legged machine flying through the countryside at speeds unattainable on your lonesome. And don’t forget to say hello when you pass the lone wolf riding in a group of one, his growl is just a sign of his effort.
Main image courtesy of Christopher Brown, Peloton, 2011