The following is a guide to the basic techniques and traditions associated with cycling in a group. They apply to the most experienced of cyclists as much as they do to complete beginners so we should all have a quick read to make sure we are employing best practice. The more experienced riders in the club should always try to lend a hand to new club members and beginners and lead by example. Adherence to these tips and guidelines will ensure that we all get the most out of our time spent on the bike.
You MUST wear a helmet on all club spins; NO HELMET = NO SPIN; You will not be allowed/invited to ride in the group if you don’t have your helmet. Also, make sure your bike is in good working order and that you have the necessary lights, spare tubes, etc. You are responsible for the safety of everyone in the group and not just your own so be aware that your actions effect all the cyclists in the group. Adhere to the rules of the road, they’re there to protect you and other road users.
2. RIDING IN FORMATION
Keep to the left-hand side of the road and avoid drifting out to the white line/centre. Don’t overlap wheels as a slight direction change by the rider in front could easily catch you out; If you ‘touch wheels’ with the rider in front it’s tough to keep upright. In terms of the space between you and the rider next to you, this should be no more than 12-18 inches; this will make sure the group is not obstructing traffic from overtaking. Don’t panic if you brush shoulders, hands or bars with another rider; Try to stay relaxed in your upper body to absorb any bumps. If the group needs to ‘single out’, which is a command from either the front or back of the bunch due to the passing of a vehicle, then the rider on the front right will cycle in front of the rider on his left and then pull in to the left in front of the rider. This will be the same the whole way down the bunch.
Up and Over: The group rides in two abreast formation and will maintain a steady straight line. As it is about 20-30% harder to be on the front as a wind breaker, then it is good etiquette to take turns at the front. The simplest way to do this is ‘up and over’. The rider on the front right will cycle in front of the rider on his left and then pull in to the left, taking over the lead at the front. This way all riders on the right are ‘moving up’ through the group as those on the left ‘move down’. The amount of time spent on the front will vary according to conditions and the intensity of the spin but a time of about 5 mins is sufficient on winter spins. If you are feeling very tired, you should reduce the time you spend on the front but try to take your turn as your efforts will be appreciated by all in the group. ‘Sitting on the wheel’ is where you get the most protection from the wind so avoid allowing a gap to open between you and the rider in front as this saves a huge amount of energy through following in their slipstream. Keep looking well ahead to spot hazards and terrain changes.
Lead riders should use hand and vocal signals to indicate stopping or turning and should shout back information through the group regarding obstacles and dangers. These include potholes, dangerous surfaces, tight bends, animals, pedestrians and oncoming traffic. The location of these are referred to as being on the ‘Left’, ‘Right’ or down the ‘Centre’ where the obstacle will be down the middle of the group. Riders at the back should shout a warning on traffic approaching from the rear, particularly on narrow roads. ‘Car down’ means car travelling towards you or ‘down your throat’. “Car Up” means car approaching from the rear of the group and now overtaking. In general, point out and call out any road hazards ahead.
4. SIGNALS TO CARS
If any communication with motorists should result in an accident (i.e. indicating to a driver that it is ok to overtake the group) then the cyclist can be liable so, please let drivers make their own decisions. Likewise, when cycling please remember that aggression or foul language towards drivers, especially when you are wearing club gear, will always come back to haunt you, the Club and our sponsors. Remember we share the road.
5. CLIMBING AND DESCENDING
On club runs, keep the pace steady on hills and regroup at the top. Stronger riders may choose to spin back down to the last cyclist and join in at the back and encourage others up. When climbing hills, avoid following a wheel too closely. Many riders often lose their momentum when rising out of the saddle on a hill which can cause a sudden deceleration. This can often catch a rider who is following too closely, resulting in a fall from a wheel touch.
If you are on the front of a bunch, going downhill, do not freewheel, but keep turning the gear and often put it in the big ring. The reason for this is that the riders behind you in your slip stream will be travelling faster than you and hence have to keep braking, which disturbs the natural rhythm of the bunch.
The planned pace of the club spin will depend on a number of factors; time of year, abilities of the group, the planned route, etc. Therefore, before departure, the Leader will outline the planned pace and will identify where the stops will be, if any. Also, if required, a landmark will be identified from where people can branch off to go ‘for a burn’ towards the end. In general, all riders should stick to the agreed plan for that day’s spin.
When you come through for your turn at the front maintain a consistent speed. When you pull over, keep close to the rider you are replacing. When climbing hills, keep your effort consistent rather than your speed; try to match your pace to the rider alongside you and do not stick your wheel ahead of theirs; He/she will have to speed up to maintain the two-by-two formation and the speed will escalate unnecessarily. Be smooth with your turns at the front of the group and avoid surges.
Don’t sprint up to take your turn at the front. Move up smoothly with a small increase in pace and ease that pace ever so slightly when you move alongside. Do not ride extra hard when you feel good. You are part of a group and must maintain the general pace. Give others a helping push when they are struggling and accept one graciously if offered. We all have bad days!
Brakes should be used sparingly and both brakes should be pulled progressively, not slammed on. Try to avoid obstacles whilst still moving and shout a warning. Riders behind cannot see what you see and jamming on your brakes is a sure way to cause a collision. Avoid sudden movements and try to be predictable with all your actions. Don’t get out of the saddle abruptly as to do so could cause the rider behind to hit you.
8. HYGIENE AND LITTER
Throwing your litter whilst out and about is a huge no-no; It’s ok for the Pros on TV as there is an army of cleaners out to pick up their rubbish once the race moves on. Keep your used packets/wrappers in your back pocket or tucked under the hem of your shorts until you get the chance to dispose of them properly. Some sportives will feature ‘Waste Zones’ which are clearly marked; these are provided so that you can dump your rubbish as you cycle but only do so within the designated zones. Whilst banana skins and other items of food waste are biodegradable, please dispose of them properly or bring them home.
With regard to personal hygiene, please avoid coughing/sneezing/spitting in a manner that will cause it to spray over those following behind. Try to wait until you are at the rear of the group before spitting, etc.; where this cannot be helped, do so under your arm, directly at the road so as to avoid hitting those behind. When at coffee stops, etc., remove your gloves and helmet and keep them away from food and off tables. Wash your hands thoroughly before and after eating.
9. BE PREPARED AND KNOW YOUR OWN LIMITS
Always check the weather and err on the side of caution when choosing your gear in advance of a spin. As we all know, Irish weather can be volatile so make sure you have a rain mac/poncho that you can roll up and tuck into a back pocket. Arm/leg warmers are a worthwhile investment also that can be easily removed/put on as the need arises.
If you are tired or unable to ride relatively comfortably on the front, go to the back as over extending yourself can lead to being dropped and the group having to wait and look after you. Always leave for a spin well prepared and bring sufficient food and drinks for the length of the spin. Also, remember to take a small bit of cash to buy some food & drink in case of emergency. Start eating after about an hour with the golden rule being to eat ‘little and often’. Finally, make sure your phone is fully charged up in case you need to make any calls and always let somebody know your planned route when going for a solo spin.
If you puncture, put your hand in the air. This is the universal sign that something is wrong and that you are going to stop. Wait until everybody goes past you before coming to a stop on the extreme left hand side of the road. If for some reason, like you get a front wheel puncture on a fast downhill section, shout loudly “puncture” so that as many people as possible hear you before coming to a stop on the left of the road.
If somebody punctures, one “well equipped” person should stay back with them to fix it whilst the rest of the group keeps riding on at normal pace. The group will then turn around further down the road, usually at a junction, and ride back to pick up the pair left to mend the puncture. Once the two parties meet on the road, the larger group will turn at a safe place in the road and catch up with the two lone riders. As a minimum, make sure you have the following with you on all spins, whether you are with the group or out alone:
- Two spare tubes
- Tyre levers
- Pump or CO2 canisters
- Multi tool and/or Allen keys
- Phone and cash
Everyone wants a good training session when they’re out cycling but we must always seek to look out for more inexperienced club members; our main aim is to ensure that nobody gets lost or dropped from the pack, or injured. And remember to acknowledge fellow cyclists as you meet them on the road; it’s the polite thing to do and reflects well on you and your Club.