To some cyclists who have not ridden their first club ride or sportif yet, the prospect of riding within a group of fellow cyclists can initially seem intimidating. Meeting new people can be daunting enough at the best of times without the added concerns of following group etiquette and a new language of hand signals. So we’ve put together an overview to de-mystify it all for anyone who is thinking of joining us on the road and for motorists who may have wondered what the signals mean.
What if the group are going too fast for me?
The first step is to select a group ride that’s a similar pace to your solo rides. At East Grinstead Cycling Club we typically run rides ranging from the steady, social focused ‘Group 1’ at 13-14mph / 21-22kph, to the challenging efforts of ‘Group 5’ at 16mph and above. Groups 1-3 run on a ‘no drop’ policy to make sure everyone gets back safely. You will need to have basic competence riding a bike as a minimum.
For your first ride of two, we would suggest picking one that was slightly easier pace than you’d typically ride at, and that you consider the total distance and elevation in relation to current fitness. This frees you from any anxiety about keeping up and allows you to enjoy meeting new people. Once confident you can try faster or longer rides on future weeks.
Is it safe to ride in a group close to each other?
Cycling as a sport is obviously not without risk but riding in a group can be absolutely safe. In fact being part of a larger group can even be safer than riding solo as you will be far more visible to motorists.
It’s important that riders only get as close as they are comfortable with to each other though in order to avoid touching wheels.
When riding behind someone, always leave yourself reaction time and space to pull on the brakes. It’s also helpful to ride slightly to one side of the rider in front, giving you the option to go past the side of them should they emergency brake.
Never overlap your front wheel with the rear wheel of the rider ahead, as if they change direction to avoid a pothole you will not have time to react.
There are significant aerodynamic gains to riding close to the rider in front, which is very useful for world tour professionals, but where Geraint Thomas gets a new bike from his sponsor after a crash, we are not so lucky. So for us amateurs; keeping safe distances in line with your comfort zones, as well as the comfort zones of your fellow riders, is best practice.
As your skills develop with experience riding in groups you’ll find these distances reduce over time as you gain confidence.
How should I ride in a group to stay safe?
Firstly it’s important not to fixate on the wheel directly in front of you. You want to be aware of it, to keep your comfortable distance but you need to look up the road to be aware of what’s coming. You will need to change gears depending on the upcoming gradients as well as look out for the signals of riders in front.
It’s advisable to keep your hands on the hoods or drops so you have full control of the brakes and gears while in the group. Riding with your hands on the tops will mean your reaction times are reduced significantly.
When reaching for a bottle or food, fall back from the group slightly to give you extra reaction time. Also reaching with your rear brake hand gives you slightly more control as the front brake is still accessible immediately, as well as gear changing to the rear cassette.
It’s important to ride in a consistent and predictable way so that your fellow riders have the best opportunity of anticipating your movements. Sudden braking, accelerations or swerving increase the risk of contact.
With riders in front, how will I know about hazards ahead?
As a group of cyclists it’s absolutely essential to communicate any hazards in the road ahead to riders through the group. Your vision ahead will be reduced when riding within the group and it’s the responsibility of those ahead to signal and call all hazards. Likewise, when you are on the front you will need to ensure those behind are warned so the group can manoeuvre round potholes, broken glass and oil.
We communicate these issues through hand signals and calls. The more significant the risk, the more pronounced the calls will be. Any call should be passed back through the group so all riders are aware and can act on the information.
What are the calls to know?
Potholes are the biggest concern to cyclists and with the state of British roads presently, these are the most commonly communicated! A shout of “hole” as well as a pointed hand towards the pothole is all that is needed. The louder the call, the bigger and more problematic is could potentially be. Plenty of notice is always best to avoid the group taking late, erratic movements to avoid a hole. It’s much better if the whole group can smoothly swing out and round the offending piece of missing tarmac. It’s essential to pass this message, as with most other messages all the way back through the group.
Gravel is a similar potential risk, particularly in turns as loss of traction whilst leaning the bike can cause wheels to skid or completely wash out under a rider. A shout of “Gravel” gives the group a chance to manage speed into a corner and pick a safe line with the best traction. This is often accompanied by a hand to the side indicating where the hazard is. The hand is palm down, fingers cupped and wrist rotating back and forth.
Broken Glass on roads is also a significant inconvenience for us on two wheels as the shards can imbed themselves into tyres and cause a puncture not just immediately but also many miles down the road. A simple call of “Glass” and a pointed hand warn of this.
Hazard ahead. This is a more generic signal, used to warn of a variety of things such as a parked vehicle, roadworks or road furniture such as bollards which are potentially in the groups path. Even a significant broken road surface ahead prior to the ‘hole’ call. Again, this should be employed well in advance of the hazard.
The hand on the side of the obstacle is placed behind the back pointing in the direction the group need to move.
Turn indications are essential for cycling in groups as not all members will know the route being taken and other traffic needs to be aware of our intended movement. These are simply an outstretched arm, either to the left or right as required, accompanied by a call of “Turning Left”.
Despite what some motorists might think, us cyclists are not actually out on the roads just to get in their way and slow them down. We try to be considerate and when a car approaches the group from behind a shout of “Car back” is given by the rider at the rear and passed forward. This allows the group to form a straight line on a straight road for ease of overtaking safely.
Many motorists don’t realise riding in a group side by side with other cyclists actually takes up a much shorter length of road, so where the road ahead has more bends this actually allows a car to overtake the whole group over that shorter distance when a safe opportunity arises. The ride leader will tell the group what formation to take.
On steeper climbs or where traffic is building up behind one of our groups as safe overtaking perhaps isn’t possible, we also make an effort to pull over and let congestion pass.
When passing Horses we also will call out “Horse” to alert our own group so as to slow down and wait for a safe passing opportunity, as well as “Riders Back” when approaching the horse and rider from behind. This is not only for the benefit of the Horse Rider but also so that the horse itself is aware of our presence to avoid spooking them. When passing, we do so slow and wide when clear to do so. It’s also a good idea to soft pedal so loud freehubs don’t make noise when passing. Saying ‘good morning’ never hurts either.
Whenever the group needs to reduce speed and or come to a stop for a junction or slowing traffic, a call of “slowing” is essential to warn the group of the change of speed. “Stopping” is used when this is either to come to complete stop or the slowing is more urgent, and a complete stop is likely.
We try to keep our groups together on our club rides, so if you hear “rider dropped” or “ease off” the group must reduce the speed to allow the dropped rider to rejoin. Likewise if you are aware a rider is being dropped, notify the group with this call. It’s best practice not to ride ahead of the ride leader as you may miss a turn ahead and if the pace changes for a dropped rider you will not know and continue off into the distance. This causes the group to split. If you find the club ride you are on is too easy and you are regularly off the front, this is a sign you should step up to a faster pace group.
What equipment will I need to Join a group ride?
Any road worthy Bike is fine. Your bike must be in good working order and safe to ride in public, for your safety and those around you.
Mountain Bikes and gravel bikes with smooth tyres may be suitable, but you will need to work much harder to keep up on one than your fellow riders. Road bikes are the perfect tool for the job! Time Trial and Triathlon bikes are allowed but do not use the aero ski bars within the group on a group ride as you need to be in reach of the brakes as mentioned earlier.
E-bikes are allowed too. We welcome the use of them as they get people out on bikes more. Just don’t go taking our strava KOMs!!
We wear cycling kit on club rides because that’s the exactly the job it was designed for. You can wear anything you like, but you may struggle for comfort in jeans, as well as being the odd one out. If you are new to the sport, we’ve all been there and our members will always to happy to advise you on what kit to get first.
Helmets are not required by UK law but they are vital pieces of equipment that we really think you should wear on the road at all times, especially riding in a group.
Whilst riding with EGCC or riding in club kit we are all representing the club, as well as the sport itself. As such we insist all rules of the road are followed. Jumping red lights is not acceptable and only tarnishes the perception of cyclists with other road users.
Spitting is also unpleasant at the best of times, on a moving bike it’s even worse. Doing so in a group will not make you popular!
We refrain from engaging in road rage exchanges too. Thankfully these are few and far between. We’d much rather have positive interactions with other road users.
Do I need insurance?
We do recommend that all cyclists join British Cycling and their annual membership package comes with liability cover as one of its many benefits. It is however not essential and whilst on a Club ride with EGCC our own liability insurance will cover registered riders.
How do I join an EGCC group ride?
We list all our weekly group rides on our website and publish them on the WhatsApp group a few days in advance, listing the route map link on strava and the intended pace.
Contact us to be added to these groups to keep informed of upcoming rides. When one appeals to you, follow the link and register your details. The ride leader then has a list of all participants of that ride on the day. If you are unable to attend a ride you signed up for you can cancel a ride using the same link.
We welcome riders to join us for 3 rides to see how they find it before asking you to join as an official member. Although this is only £25 a year.
Please contact us on our social media or firstname.lastname@example.org to say hello or if you have any questions at all.