September 11, 2015 3:02 pm

When I first began riding, I started by doing solo long distance rides or rides with just a couple of friends. I felt extremely comfortable with my riding before I even attempted to ride with a larger group and even then I wasn’t as safe a rider as I am now. Cycling used to be a mostly male dominated sport, but that has changed and it’s great that this has changed because everyone should get to experience the benefits and joys of this wonderful sport. More women and men are riding today than ever before, and this is amazing.

Important: Please new riders, do not be offended by any of the following. We all have to start somewhere. The cycling community always welcomes new riders, but please read and be aware of the risks that new riders bring to group rides. Be understanding and use what you learn here to lessen the chance you will accidentally cause harm to yourself and others.

Cycling saw a huge boom in awareness when that guy, you know who I’m talking about, won a bunch of tours. Then they took away his wins when it became apparent that he had used performance enhancing drugs… If this is how you became aware of the sport, forget all that! You shouldn’t be riding your bike because some other guy won some races, you should be riding your bike because you enjoy it and it makes you a happier, healthier person.

FCC Cycling Club Rest Stop

With the cycling boom came organizations that would teach new riders how to ride in larger groups. Some of these organizations raise money for worthwhile charities while others just provide a less threatening environment for beginning riders. Previous to this the only cycling “clubs” were either racing clubs that didn’t see large inflows of inexperienced riders or cycling clubs that did not provide coaching, but rather just provided a nice group of people to share your rides with.

The first few years of these new “coaching clubs” was a bit rough. Large groups of inexperienced riders would get thrown together to ride in a way that they weren’t totally prepared to ride. Other riders in my area even pointed out to me that they could feel a rise in road rage during this time period. Much has improved with these organizations as they’ve learned how to better cope with large numbers of inexperienced riders, however I think there might be a few useful techniques that may not be taught at every one of these clubs that have saved me countless times.

  1. If you are riding with a large club, eventually you are going to be taught how to draft. Drafting requires you to get right behind another cyclists wheel so close that your wheel almost touches their wheel. You’ll be told not to make sudden speed changes and you’ll learn how to use hand signals. One thing that you will not be told though is to expect something bad to happen. It’s not going to happen 99.9% of the time, but you want to be ready. Constantly be thinking about an escape route. If the rider in front of you suddenly slows down, are you going to go left or right? You don’t have time to make this decision once the bad thing happens so make it beforehand.
  2. Avoid unnecessary conversations at first.  If you are new rider, it’s enough to process the information to keep your bike upright. Don’t roll your eyes at me! You just read that line and rolled your eyes, didn’t you. If you did just roll your eyes, what you may be failing to consider is that keeping your bike upright in a group ride is not just about pedaling, steering, and balancing. You now have to be ultra-aware of your surroundings like you never had to before. You may have learned to ride years ago but riding in a pack is something entirely new. If you are socializing, you are not picking escape routes, you are not watching the wheel in front of you close enough, you are not watching the road for possible hazards, and you are not paying enough attention to other riders hand signals. As you become more familiar with this style of riding, responding to hand signals and monitoring the situation will become almost reflex and some chit-chat will be acceptable, especially on slower paced rides. There will always be conditions though when you should just hold off on the conversation. If road conditions are bad or the pace of the ride is fast, it’s better to save conversations for after the ride.
  3. If you go to watch some bicycle races, what you might notice is that riders will sometimes crash in straight away sections. In the beginner level races this often happens more than crashes in the turns, even though the riders competing have to be pretty good riders just to compete in an event like this. What usually causes this is that the rider is literally pedaling their brains out. They start to go into oxygen debt and make a mistake they would not normally make. As you become more tired, there comes a point at which you should probably just let the group pull away from you. Remember, these are your first training rides and it’s not a big deal to get dropped on your first few rides. Getting “dropped” in cycling is not as bad as it sounds. It sounds like you’re hitting pavement, but this is just the term most cyclists use to indicate a cyclist was not able to keep up with the group.
  4. Descending is best done from the drops, especially rougher descents. Your bar has to be fit properly for this to work as it should. Check out one of my previous posts, Step Up to the Bar to find out more about this. If you can not ride in your drops comfortably, you do not have access to a more secure riding position that is not only easier to maintain a grip on in the event of rough roads, but also protects your bars from being hooked by another rider in close riding situations.
  5. A good riding practice that is important for even more experienced riders is what I call “scanning for the noob.” If you are a new rider, this is probably you. Once you get more experienced, you will want to scan through the group of people you are riding with, especially the ones in close proximity and assess their riding abilities. You then use this information to make decisions including how close to draft and whether you should be drafting that rider or moving out somewhere in front instead. Less experienced riders will not ride in as straight a line, will change their riding speed erratically, and may have equipment not suitable for this type of riding. Beware the rider carrying their store bought bottled water in a school backpack. If you feel you have been identified as the noob, don’t feel bad about this. It may seem that you are not as welcomed by the group, but they just don’t want to crash. They don’t want you to get hurt either. This has led many beginner riders to think that experienced cyclists are snobs. In some cases this may be true, but mostly cyclists just want to ride safely and have bad memories of cyclists showing up ill prepared and causing a disaster. The way you prove yourself is through your riding. If you have been mis-identified as a possible crash risk, a few rides with the group will correct that.
  6. Ride defensively. This not only includes group rides, but when you are riding alone in traffic. Assume cars passing you will turn in front of you at the first available opportunity. Drivers on occasion will speed up to pass you so they can turn without realizing this gives you no stopping distance as they turn in front of you. Make eye contact with drivers whenever possible. This is the best way to determine if the driver is paying attention to you.

Don’t be a squirrel

On those first rides I did in the L.A. area years ago, one of the first things I noticed is that other cyclists always wave to you. Complete strangers who aren’t even doing the same style of riding you are doing behave as your instant friends. Mosts cyclists have an attitude of “the more the merrier” but we all want to ride safely. There is a whole language to cycling involving hand signals. Special terminology helps to describe different aspects of the sport as well as the parts and equipment we use. There is much to learn to become a safe cyclist, so don’t feel offended if the more advanced riders give you a little extra free space to ride.

Explaining the bicycle safety concerns of of new inexperienced riders can be a touchy subject. I hope if you are new cyclist reading this, I have taught you something that makes you a better and safer rider. ?

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This post was written by Tom

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