Cycling in a pack has its benefits and whenever cyclists come together, either in a race or on a social ride, working as a pack is always the fastest option.
Riders sitting in the bunch use significantly less energy – saving their efforts for when they reach the front. As a result, everyone moves more quickly, as the front rider always has fresh legs.
Riding in close proximity means that everyone needs to keep their wits about them, and a few simple guidelines will ensure harmony in the group.
There are a few different formations you and your buddies can choose to adopt, but it is important you all know what to expect.
In training, discuss the formation you’ve opted for before you set off, and make sure everyone is clear on how it works.
If you’re racing, keep an eye out for riders who aren’t sticking to the format – you can either tell them what they need to do or steer clear, depending upon the stage of the race and how able you are to speak at the time.
When riding in a pack, a Paceline formation is the simplest option. The entire group rides on one long line – the rider on the front takes a ‘turn’ of perhaps 10-30 seconds, before flicking their elbow, looking behind, then pulling out to the inside of the line.
Once out of the line, the rider soft-pedals to join the back of the group and the second rider begins their turn.
In a paceline of riders working together, the strongest riders will spend longer on the front. Riders behind should be recovering.
If the group is generally fitter than you, it is acceptable to spend only a couple of seconds on the front – just tell them that’s what you are doing and make sure everyone is comfortable with that. Doing so, of course, will generally not work in a race.
Chain gang; ‘bit and bit’ or ‘through and off’
This formation is a little trickier to grasp, but once you get it you’ll be flying. A chain gang is helpful in the wind and also shortens the length of the group, which is an asset on the road. This video provides a good visual example.
The riders begin in two constantly revolving rows. The faster moving ride will depend upon the direction of the wind, but we’ll assume for now that the inside line is moving faster.
Riders on the inside (faster moving) line reach the front, then look to the side, and move onto the front of the outside (slower moving) line. We’ll call the rider that just moved over ‘Marianne’.
Having moved to the slower line, Marianne takes it a little easier, and eventually her friend, Lizzie, who was behind her, and is now on the front of the fast line, checks behind her and moves in front.
This continues, and Marianne gets closer to the back of the pack. When the last rider behind her moves to take her place on the faster moving line, they shout ‘Last Rider!’ and Marianne knows that it is soon time for her to rejoin the faster line. She does so and works her way to the front, where the pattern starts all over again.
An Echelon is used specifically when crosswinds threaten riders, as opposed to headwinds. In this case, the riders form a diagonal line – if the wind is coming from the left, the line will extend to the right, and vice versa.
The echelon will be more pronounced in a closed road situation, and they're a common sight at high profile races. When riding on the road, you wouldn’t be able to safely ride in an echelon with more than a few riders and it’s a less common formation.
The Etiquette to Keep it All Together
All of the formations we’ve discussed will help the group move more quickly – this is great if you’re after a QOM, if you’re racing, and if you just want to get home with an awesome average speed.
Fast riding is fun, and we’re sure you’ll enjoy the feeling of drafting away from the wind - but it’s really important that riders stay alert, communicate with one another, and stick to a few simple rules that will keep everyone safe.
Don’t overlap wheels
Accidents do not need to happen – but sadly they do take place when one rider overlaps the wheel of another. The overlapped rider then moves out, and the two collide – not good. Keep an eye on the position of your front wheel, and always look around before making a move whenever possible.
Maintain a constant pace
For drafting to work, the group needs to stay together. If, when you come to the front of the group, you pull off super hard, and no one can keep up, you’ll be on your own.
When you get to the front of the group, you will need to put in extra effort as you won’t have anyone to draft off, but don’t go so hard you increase the speed.
Outside of a race, if you’re a weaker rider, and struggling to keep up, make that fact known, and spend less time on the front, this will give you more recovery and will ensure you don’t lose contact with the group. Try not to let gaps form, as these will force you to work harder as you lose the benefit of drafting.
Always look before you move
Sudden movements in a close-knit group aren’t helpful – so before you make any movements, look around you, and communicate your intentions if you can. For example, if you plan to pull out of the group, and go to the front, look around, and shout: “On your right (or left)" to the rider you are overtaking.
Hold your line
Cries of “hold your line!" are usually heard in pack races, but the order applies just as much on a Saturday club run (where the utterance might be more like “ahem, excuse me" and “wooooahhhh there..").
When you are riding in a group, you need to be predictable. If you are riding in a straight line, stick to it. If you are coming up to a corner, ride the corner in your allocated spot around the bend. The rider behind you will anticipate this. If you suddenly change your mind and decide to take the bend on the inside of other riders, you can expect to cause chaos behind you.
Sometimes your voice just isn’t enough to tell other riders in the group what’s going on – and you might need to use hand signals instead. We’ve got an in-depth guide to road cycling group hand signals and calls here, so read up before heading out to ensure a safe and enjoyable ride.
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