The group settles into formation meters after leaving the café. Like the table manners learned as children the formation is innate to us. Two abreast, tight against the curb we form two lines. Cars pass us with ease as we pedal out of town and into the countryside. The pair on the front increases the tempo as soon as we are out of traffic and onto the rural roads.  From experience they quickly find the rhythm of the group. On the rural roads, we’re in synch. Knowing how to ride properly in a group is taught and learned.

I was introduced to cycling as a boy. On my first group rides, I was taught how to ride with others appropriately.  As we pedalled along with our club mates, my father explained ride etiquette to me.  On open roads, the group stays close to the shoulder. To allow cars to pass and to benefit from the riders’ slipstream, the group stays compact. It is often easier for cars to pass a group of cyclists who are riding two abreast near the road’s shoulder than a group, which is single file and much longer. We must be aware we are sharing the road with other traffic.

Each pair pulls off the front sharing the workload with the others. To peel off the rider on the right moves right, the rider on the left moves left, reducing their speed gently to let the others pass. The pair who has been following slice through the pair to take the lead with the rest of the group in their slipstream. The two who have just finished their turn on the front, move back into the slipstream at the back of group rapidly to avoid being in the way of the traffic for long.

Within the group riders should always be paired up. Two abreast is acceptable, three is not.  In an odd numbered group, the single rider sits at the back. Each rider has his or her turn being alone at the tail-end. In a group, everything is shared.

A group is concerned with others’ well being. We point out obstacles in the road, we signal directions and we take care of each other. A rider who is struggling is sheltered from the wind and given food and drink. We wait for those who have punctured and help them repair the flat. Every cyclist has a bad day. A group will get you through the bad moments.

Like bragging at a dinner party about wealth, nobody appreciates a rider who constantly forces the pace to prove his strength.  Half-wheeling, the term used to describe a rider who is constantly pushing the pace half a wheel in front of the others, is an insult not a compliment. Group rides are not races. Good riders are in tune with each others’ abilities and the groups’ objective. At the right moment, when everybody is ready, the tempo will increase, the group will splinter, the strongest will surge ahead, and then only to regroup again at a designated spot.

A group ride should be challenging but also pleasant. Experiencing an achievement is often richer when shared.  On the bike, each pair of riders converses as if they’re across from each other at a dinner table but in the fresh air the conversation is often more animated. On the roads, societal hierarchies are muted. A CEO is just another wheel to follow. A professional cyclist is just another face glistening sweat.

Together, a group of eight eats through the hours. In nearly six hours, we’ve seamlessly devoured mountains, cut through valleys and popped through towns. Even our stop at a café failed to break our rhythm. On the terrace, everything continued to flow.

39 thoughts on “The Group Ride

  1. Lovely post. Poetic. Beautiful. Makes me wish I were faster and able to climb anything more than a low train overpass.

  2. So true, the hours and kilometers go by so much smoother. It’s a world of difference, to ride with a well disciplined group, than with a bunch of people that are all over the road.
    Wish it was obligatory to train people how to ride.
    Let them read your postings!
    Thank you.

  3. Well said, Michael,,
    I am sure even the old and hardened Zoo Crew guys will appreciate this fine bit of writing about group road riding.
    Cheers. B.

  4. Bravo! Beautifully written! I felt as though I was along for the ride, enjoying every moment Thank you for explaining proper group ride etiquette.

  5. Very true. There isn’t much that looks better than a well drilled club run trotting through the country lanes. A few weeks ago We had a guy leap out of his car with a camera and start snapping away as rolled past!

  6. Sounds like the Donut Run! Great writing as always Michael, also great to see you have signed with Sky for another year to keep the Canadian presence in the European peloton alive.

  7. Bravo! Le Métier is such a beautiful read. You have successfully captured this beautiful sport.

  8. Thank you Michael… Your writing reminds me of these now fall rides with sun shining past the spaces left by fallen leaves and blocked by the yellow fading leaves still waiting to.

  9. Great piece. Makes me want to drop what I’m doing an go ride. Although I ride solo more often than not, the camaraderie and feeling that everything is “right” in a well tuned group ride is always so rewarding.

  10. Michael, good read ~ do you mind if I copy it across ( with all credits to you and Sky ) to our club magazine Seamons CC?

    1. Hi Richard: Yes, you can copy it to your club site. Thanks for asking and pleased you enjoyed it. Best, Michael

  11. Thanks for the reply Michael ~ your story greatly appreciated and hopefully included in the next club mag. Ride safe, Richard

  12. Great post! Sums up everything that’s both immediate and transcendent about riding in a Group. Can’t wait for the morning Ride. Best of luck next season!

  13. Excellent piece as always.
    Lot’s can be learn’t from the article. Hope all my club mates will read this and take something from it.
    Shame I have to wait till tomorrow morning until our training ride 🙁

    1. Hi Matt: Thanks. Good idea–it is fine with me if you print it off and hand it out. All the best, Michael

  14. thanks mike barry jnr for agreat story on group riding reminds me of the QCBC and the randonneurs in toronto during the 80/s and 90/s thank you mike barry snr for those events and a special thank you from all the riders who rode in those yrs yours truly Geoff Gadd .

  15. Micheal,

    Lovely ride, great route, isn’t Catalunya one of the best places in the world for cycling. If you ever want to discover new terrain a little further afield,( a day trip to Barcelona with a ride included) then I’d be more than happy to show you the trails and tracks around here. Stay safe and happy winter training.

  16. Very informative on how to properly do a group ride. I like the emphasis on the group rather than the individual. Riding two abreast consistenly gives it a sense of order and each rider taking their turn pulling ensures all are contributing to the ride.

  17. I’ve been enjoying both your and your father’s posts. Geoff Gadd taught me how to ride in a pace line and I am grateful for that skill, it seems anyone who came out of your fathers group can slide into any group that they have the fitness to stay on and be accepted. If you have a minute could you bounce Geoff Gadd my e mail address I would like to find out how he is doing.

  18. I am hoping to copy your ‘group ride’ article to our club website. We just got rolling a few ago and have crested 100 plus members! Thanks for all the great articles. Cheers, PJ Kings

  19. The only ‘problem’ with this style of group riding is when the front two peel off to the sides, the group effectively becomes 4 riders wide at that particular point, and as they roll to the back of the group, which can be an issue on some narrower or busier roads. We have recently changed the group riding etiquette of our club in Singapore to that of a slower rolling echelon, whereby the rider on the front right rolls over to infront of the rider on the left, then the right ‘lane’ of riders rolls up and the second in line takes to the front – this way the workload is still shared, but the group is never more than 2 riders wide on the road – just another option of group riding style for thought!

  20. Excellent write up, Michael. I appreciate you sharing this valuable information of which every cyclist can benefit from in addition to getting the most out of group rides which ultimately makes a group ride safer and that much more enjoyable.

  21. very well written – makes me want to get out and ride (then I see the snow still on the ground).
    I agree with Kevin (from Singapore). I had the opportunity to ride with an advanced group in Squamish BC last summer and they had a similar approach to the group ride – in their case the curb line was the slower line. We were never more than 2 wide and the left line effectively carried the pace as they rode “through” the right line until the first rider on the left pulled across to the front of the right line.

  22. Just finished Shadows on the Road. Best cycling book I’ve read and I’ve read most of ’em. Thanks for reminding me why I love to ride

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