"Practice makes progress."
by David Newcomer / Customer Service Manager
Riding in a pack can be intimidating, and even dangerous at times, but it’s an essential skill for racing and participating in large rides and events. There are good reasons for cyclists to ride in a peloton – efficiency chief among them. And if you’re racing, it’s a skill that is simply not optional.
- Be Confident and Try to Relax – A tall order, I know. But a tight grip and stiff, abrupt, or jerky movements on your part is not going to help you or anyone else in the ride or race.
- Keep Your Head Up – This is a skill that is true for almost all riding conditions and situations, but in a group, keeping your head up and anticipating changes in speed, upcoming turns, or opportunities to move up are only possible with awareness. And starring at the wheel in front of you is not going to get you anywhere. Get comfortable with the position that the riders near you (the ones in front and those beside you) occupy and use that to judge your distance.
- Watch the Brakes – This goes together with the first tip (relax), but be cautious and progressive with your brake use. Over-braking causes decelerations that are dangerous to you and those behind you. Apply them sparingly and with grace when required.
- Don’t Overlap Wheels – Following closely is great for drafting and efficiency as a group. But as soon as your front wheel crosses the line and overlaps the width of the tire of the rider you (and those behind you) are in trouble. Any sudden shift of position or unexpected movement from the bike in front of you can take you down in a heartbeat. They’re likely (but not always) going to be okay as the rear wheel tends to be more stable.
- Know Your Company – You can spot erratic riders quickly. You can hear a bad rider sometimes. Uneven cadence, bad shifting, excessive braking, and labored breathing (if you can hear it over your own), can all be clues to find a new spot in the group to keep your distance. (Have you ever seen someone get speed wobbles on a descent in a race? Oh boy.)
- Stay Up Front – Okay. Now that we’ve got some of the basics out of the way, let’s use our heads a bit, too. Staying near the front (maybe not at the nose, though) is one of the best ways to ensure you’re not caught in a spill, miss a break, or feel the accordion-like compression that can occur in a group with tight turns, sudden changes in terrain, or points of course constriction. It takes a lot of energy to keep up with a group if you’re having to sprint to catch on again.
- Make Some Friends – We’re all out to do our best, have a good time and maybe even win a few. Over time, when you show your willingness to put in some work (don’t overdo it) and contribute to the effort of the group as well as your own. You’ll earn some respect and find movement within the group a lot easier when the people your racing or riding with recognize your contributions.
Practice makes progress. Get out with the group when you can and let others know you’re working on these skills. And like any skill, it’s best learned slowly and brought up to speed. While I’m all for jumping into the zest of life, this is one of those where you might want to walk before you run.
About the Author
A lifelong commuter and amateur racer in road, CX and MTB, David Newcomer has experience with just about every aspect of our sport. A former race director of the Bob Cook Memorial Mt. Evans Hill Climb, and Executive Director of one of the largest cycling clubs in Colorado, he brings a wide range of experience to share with others. David is the Customer Service Manager at Pactimo and host of our podcast "On the Road with Pactimo." You can reach him directly at email@example.com