Road Cycling

How to Help a Rider Who is Struggling on a Long Ride

Afterall, there's no 'i' in team!

We’ve all been on the other side. Your legs are burning, it feels like the wind is pushing you backwards and every swear word known to man is flicking through your head. You’re having a terrible cycle and it seems everyone around you somehow has the leg strength and the lung capacity of a pro. As such, we can all sympathise with the rider whose taken a wrong turn down Struggle Street.

Road Cycling Hand Signals for Group Rides

However, there are things you can do to help your cycling buddy out of their tight spot. Cycling has fantastic team etiquette and no more is it displayed than when one member of the group is struggling. Rather than bombing off up a hill and dropping them like a hot potato, displays of camaraderie and sporting, team spirit are certainly more customary among cyclists. Here are a few things you can do to help a struggling team mate.

9 Ways to Ensure a Harmonious Group Ride

Check their bike

Without causing alarm, subtly make sure there is nothing mechanical causing their fatigue. Have a quick look to see that they aren’t on the big cog whilst trying to tackle a hill. Quietly check their brake pads aren’t rubbing on their wheel. If you spot anything awry, pull over and help them rectify it. Even if it makes very little difference, the placebo effect of fixing their bike might have an effect on their outlook.

Make sure those brake pads aren’t rubbing. Image: Matt Austin for On The Rivet

Allow them a spot on  your back wheel

If you are on a group ride and spot someone struggling, try and organise the stronger riders to protect them by letting them sit snuggly towards the back of the peloton for as long as it takes for them to recover.

Beware, however, of putting them right at the back – this is where riders find they have to make the most effort coming out of corners and the like. Ideally, put them around the start of the rear third – for example in sixth place if there are nine riders.

Not only will this ease the workload for the struggling rider (by shielding them behind the weight of the pack) it will also improve the momentum of the group, keeping a safe tight-knit bunch without leaving anyone behind.

If it’s just you and the struggling rider, tell them to sit closely on your wheel and to shout if your pace becomes too hard to stick with.

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Image: Matt Austin for On The Rivet

Pass them a snack

Running out of fuel might be contributing to a struggling rider’s plight. Passing them a Shot Blok, jelly bean or a piece of your flap-jack, might just be the sugar boost they need. If they’ve run out of water, pass them your bidon to make sure they stay hydrated. This display of generosity will really stay with them afterwards too.

Energy Bites Recipe for Long Rides

Help them visualise the end

One of the most motivational things anyone ever did for me was to remind me that there was a cold beer at the end of the ride with my name on it. It’s such a small thing but singling out an incentive that comes with completing the distance can really resonate. Sometimes they glory of the finish line alone doesn’t quite hack it when you are deep in the pain locker. Figure out what makes them tick when they aren’t on two wheels and start talking about the abundance of booze, cake, sleep, loved ones, that are waiting for them at the end.

Find what makes them tick. Image: EPA

Lift their spirits

A bit of banter, light song or rousing statements like “come on, you’ve got this” can also add a little psychological fuel. Some really respond to being encouraged and reminded of their strength and ability. If you know this rider needs a bit of positivity give them a gentle nudge and tell them that they’ve got it in the bag.

Motivational statements can have a positive effect

Respect their silence

Whilst the above advice is true in many cases, be mindful that some riders might be in that state of pain where their emotions are taking over. They might be feeling irritable and frustrated and just in need of a bit of quiet contemplation. I remember on one ride that was going particularly badly, all I could do to stay upright was enter a very internal place and just grind it out.

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All statements of encouragement and light banter that came my way from other riders were met with a severe case of ‘resting bitch face’ from me and the message was soon received that I just needed to mentally power through. If this is the case, keep them in view and let them get on with it. Their humour will return at the end!

No, just no

For more road cycling tips, check out these articles:

How to Manage Your Hydration Levels on the Bike

All the Kit you Need for Your First Sportive

Road Cycling Hand Signals for Group Riding


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