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Are you a Groupie? By: Scott Sherman

Groupie: n. 1.  a fan of a popular musical group,  2. a cyclist who sometimes rides in a group.

This article deals with the second definition. Most of us ride sometimes alone and sometimes with others. Of course the experience is much different when there are other riders in close proximity and going in the same direction.

Groups of road cyclists are often called a “pack” or “peleton” if you’re into the Euro scene. Whatever the name, the group can ride faster and further than a lone cyclist. The group also fosters a sense of cooperation and belonging. So when you see a group fly down the road do you wonder “How can I get in on that”? Well, it’s easier than you might think.

First, have confidence in your own abilities. You should be able to maintain a consistent pace, whatever that might be. There will be groups at all levels.

Second, be able to ride steadily in a straight line without weaving from side to side. This is important as there will be riders behind you, and in many cases, beside you.

Third, have a sense of your surroundings. Riding alone you need be concerned only with yourself. In a group, you must be aware of what is going on around you.

Many organized group rides are broken up by speed and distance. It’s important to join the group most appropriate for your current fitness level. Riding with the “fast”, “long” group if you are neither fast nor have many miles in your legs will only frustrate you and the rest of the group. You can always change groups on the next ride as your fitness level changes.

Small groups of fifteen or less will often ride in a paceline format. A small, “paceline” group tends to be more focused and is intent on speed and training, whether for racing or fast recreational riding. Although there are several types of pacelines, the most common is the “single” where there are several riders in a straight line, each “drafting” (think NASCAR) the rider in front of him. The lead rider “pulls”, or stays on the front, for a short period and then moves off to the side and drifts to the back of the line with the next rider taking over. The group of riders continues to rotate in this way for the duration of the ride.  Weaker riders may never spend any time at the front while stronger riders may spend a disproportionate amount of time there. The group rides from Grace Bicycles are usually this type.

Larger groups rarely organize completely into a paceline because of differing rider abilities. Riders will tend to cluster together based on ability or for social reasons. More experienced riders in larger group rides may even form their own separate paceline. Most charity rides are often like this.  Each group type has its own personality. There is something to be said for each type of ride and you’ll find that you may enjoy them both.

Always remember that you have a responsibility to yourself as well as the other riders in the group. Remember the following points and you will add a new level of enjoyment to your riding:

  1. Be predictable (remember straight line, steady speed)
  2. Let other know your intentions – point & shout out road hazards you will be avoiding so other will as well. This should be done as soon as the hazard is detected to avoid sudden swerves and the resulting foul language.
  3. Don’t overlap wheels with the rider in front of you (critical if in a paceline).
  4. Signal any turns – for other riders and traffic
  5. Let others know when a car is approaching from the rear by shouting “car back”. On narrow, winding roads a “car up” shout is also appropriate for cars heading toward the group.
  6. Maintain your awareness of others – avoid staring at the wheel in front and look further down the road.
  7. Stay off aero bars if your bike has them – it’s harder to hold that straight line and you tend to have less overall control of the bike. Save the aero tuck for your solo rides.
  8. Climbing and descending – any group organization will likely deteriorate on hills, either up or down. The riders should make a conscious effort to regroup when the hill is completed.
  9. Stay relaxed – mistakes get made when riders are nervous and uncomfortable with their surroundings
  10. Lastly, when riding alongside another rider, it’s customary to stay aligned with that rider, not half a bike length ahead. This is called “half-wheeling” and is considered “poor etiquette”.

Now, since this article is about road riding, let’s discuss traffic. The laws vary slightly by state regarding who has the right of way and who is required to yield to whom. Regardless of the law, common sense says that the cyclist loses in any encounter with a motor vehicle. Always stay to the right side of the road, as far as is practicable (that’s the legal term – basically means “possible” and “safe”). Riders in all states are required to obey the same traffic laws as other vehicles. That means stopping at Stop signs, yielding at Yield signs, yielding to rotary traffic, etc. Riders are required to use hand signals when turning and move to the appropriate traffic lane depending on which direction they are turning. Remember that the bike is a vehicle and has the same right to the road, and the same responsibilities, as other traffic.

Massachusetts Bicycle Laws are available at http://massbike.org/bikelaw/. I also highly recommend reading “Bicycling and the Law” by Bob Mionske.

Check out the Grace Bicycles forum for rides from the shop. They will start up again in the spring. So the next time you see that group flying down the road you’ll say to yourself, “I can do that!”

Scott often leads our Wednesday and Sunday rides.

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