How to ride a bike in a group

Group riding - also known as drafting or paceline cycling - refers to several cyclists riding together, one behind the other.

The cyclists each take it in turns to lead, than after leading the group for a while the leader drops away and joins the end of the line. This has great benefits because it is much less strenuous cycling close behind another cyclist than it is cycling alone - because of protection from wind and reduced air resistance.

The key elements involved relate to:

  • maintaining a constant predictable speed;
  • avoiding sudden movements (especially braking);
  • being able to cycle confidently at speed with other cyclists.

These are equally important, because otherwise crashes are likely to occur! All these skills need practice, and improve with experience. The key to successful group riding is also to be relaxed and calm when cycling.

Maintaining a constant speed

Well, a consistent speed rather than a constant speed. You can practice this easily enough yourself choose a speed you are happy with and cycly constantly at the same rhythm for a few minutes. Climbs and descents will change the speed, but the change should be predictable and handled smoothly.

Constant speed changing is more hard work for the rest of the group who are constantly trying to catch up, or having to break.

Avoiding sudden movements

Sudden changes in direction, swerving, or unexpected braking (worst of all) must be avoided, for obvious reasons. If you suddenly brake and someone else is 25 centimetres behind you they will have to act very quickly. Perhaps impossibly quickly.

Sometimes there are potholes and obstacles that need to be avoided, that you will hopefully have seen coming. If not try to act smoothly and quickly, shouting a warning and indicating the problem with your hand.

Cycle confidently in a group

Cycling smoothly and efficiently takes time and practice.

Nothing disrupts a group more than a chaotic cyclist.  While you are learning, make sure that others know you are not familiar with group riding.

Cycle calmly, staying behind the cyclist in front - your front wheel should not overlap with their back wheel. Also try and stay a few centimetres to one side, because that gives much more scope to avoid problems in an emergency.

Don't try and be a star when you get to the front - the challenge is not to go as fast as possible, but to maintain a steady speed. Make sure you know what speed the group was already travelling, and aim for the same speed.

If you find it too difficult to maintain the speed at the head of the group, move to the side, and let the group past before joining the end (as each member of the group has been doing before you). No one will be offended if you can only lead the group for a couple of minutes, but might be if you bring the group to a virtual standstill!

When you pull off to the side, keep cycling at almost the same speed - don't brake. You want a smooth transition from the front to the back of the bike group.