As it might have been a while since you rode with a group – or with another cyclist or even outside, we thought a quick reminder of basic group skills and etiquette might be useful. Similarly, if you discovered cycling and Hotchillee during lockdown, you’ll definitely find these tips helpful.
If you’re joining a Hotchillee ride for the first time, introduce yourself. You’ll easily be able to identify the Ride Captains by their distinctive kit. If you’re new to group riding or a bit rusty, be honest about this and let other riders know. Similarly, if you are an experienced rider, introduce yourself to new riders, help them out, give them pointers in a friendly way and make them feel welcome.
Don’t forget, social distancing measures are still in place so no hugs or handshakes quite yet.
Before heading off make sure you understand what sort of group ride it is and what’s expected. There’s a big difference between a no-drop ride where no rider is left behind and a chain-gang where the opposite is true. If you’re unsure about anything, ask.
There are no stupid questions, we were all novices once. A good tip is to set off near the back of the group behind a reliable wheel. It’ll give you confidence and a chance to see how the group works and rotates. Alternatively, you can reach out to the Hotchillee Ride Captains for advice or information on the Hotchillee app.
The key thing to remember is that any deviations you make in direction or pace will be magnified back through the group. Keep it smooth, hold your line and don’t be grabby with your brakes. Also, if you stand up out of the saddle, don’t allow your rear wheel to kick back.
Don’t fixate on the backside of the rider in front or their rear wheel. Look through the bunch to the front and ahead down the road. This will allow you to anticipate how the bunch is going to move, give you much more time to react to any changes of direction and give you a heads up for shifting and braking.
Don’t turn up for a group ride with your own training agenda. That’s not to say that you can’t bank some valuable kilometres on a group ride but it’s not the time for trying to stick to heart rate or power zones. If you’ve got a set workout to do, either ride solo or get your intervals done before or after the group ride.
It’s fine to ride to the side of the rear wheel of the rider in-front, especially if you’re building your confidence in following a wheel. However, never allow your wheel to overlap their’s. If they have to move to avoid something, there’s a good chance that they will clip your front wheel and possibly bring you down.
A tightly grouped bunch of well drilled riders is a beautiful thing to behold but don’t feel pressured to stick limpet like to the wheel ahead. Ride as close as you feel comfortable with and, as you build confidence in your own ability and in the riders around you, close the gap a bit at a time.
Cycling in a group is all about good communication up and down the bunch. You’ll soon find out that there are a number of signal and shouts which you should learn the meaning of and always pass on. There are some subtle regional variations and each group will have their own quirks so, if in doubt, just ask.
A group will make the best progress if the effort is kept consistent. When you get on the front, you’ll need to up your effort slightly as you’ll be out of the shelter and in the wind but avoid dropping the hammer. Similarly, if you’re struggling, don’t get on the front and back your effort off to slow the group. Put in a shorter turn, miss it completely and maybe ask if the pace can be eased a bit.
When you peel off the front and allow the group to pass you, stay aware and be ready to put in a little dig to get back on the rear of the bunch. Don’t switch off and slow up too much or you might find yourself dropped and having to chase back on
Half wheeling is where, if you’re riding as a pair on the front, you constantly edge ahead of the rider next to you and, in doing some, ramp the pace up. It can cause splits and chaos in the group behind you and is really bad for group cohesion.
Or ideally, be 5 minutes early for the meet-up. Don’t be that rider who arrives just at or after the planned roll-off time and then has to faff around with pumping tyres up, getting the route on their computer or fiddling about adjusting their saddle height. Especially if the weather’s poor, holding up setting off isn’t going to make you very popular.
Even though you’re in a group, you should still carry the same kit and spares as you would if you were riding on your own. The same applies to hydration and fuelling. Make sure you keep on top of it and don’t be reliant on a café stop. Try to stay aware of roughly where you are and if the route has been shared beforehand, make sure you’ve downloaded it onto your GPS.
One of the few downsides of group rides is that, with a greater number of riders, the chance of punctures or mechanicals increases. This is inevitable but, by making sure that your bike is well maintained, you can improve the group’s odds. Every group seems to have a rider who’s more plagued by mechanical woes and, although luck may play a part, you can almost guarantee they’re neglecting basic maintenance.
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Glen is usually behind the scenes making sure that the Hotchillee Ride Captains and event participants have fully functioning bicycles to ride but he occasionally makes an appearance in front of the camera to share his wisdom. If he’s not fixing or building bikes he’ll be out riding in #SweetSussex. If you want to know anything about Cyclocross, Glen is the man to ask.