Group Riding Tips

by Ernie Sanchez

Basic Training

When you are riding in a group of cyclists, it is important to remember that you are no longer alone. Anything that you do may have some affect on your fellow riders. The more radical your maneuver, the more the likelihood of an adverse effect. We cannot emphasize enough the importance of riding smoothly and predictably when with other riders.

Maintaining proper spacing between bicycles is very important. When following another cyclist, leave at least one foot of clearance between wheels. On slower, less intense rides, you may want to leave somewhat larger gaps. On faster rides where drafting effects are being used, do not let a gap of more than three feet form between wheels.

Side-to-side placement is also very important. Even if you are not following directly behind the cyclist ahead, do not allow your front wheel to overlap the rear wheel of the cyclist forward of you. Should the cyclist ahead need to move over suddenly, you will have little chance to avoid a quick trip to the pavement. In a double pace line, you should always strive to keep your handlebars even with the rider who is next to you; this requires the cooperation of both riders.

As much as is possible, it is safer for the group when you to stay in line. An odd cyclist riding out in the road causes problems for passing cars as well as for riders dropping back to the back of the line after giving up the lead. In a double pace line (which advanced groups use out in the countryside), pair up and maintain your pairing.

When riding in a pace line, riders gradually move to the front of the line as others pull off the front. If you are struggling to maintain the pace, keep your place in the line unless you need to drop off the back of the ride. When you get to the front, immediately pull off and drop to the back. We are more interested in you being able to finish the ride with us than in you being a “hero” and pulling when you are fried.

There are a lot of additional riding tips below. Learn how to pull off the front, how to signal, how to avoid crashes, and much more.


The most common causes of bicycling accidents are the rider falling down and bicycle-on-bicycle collisions.

Falls are caused by hitting something in your path and by equipment failure. To avoid falls, learn to keep a close eye on the condition of the roadway ahead of your bicycle; a large stick, a pothole, a curb, a sewer grate-all can put you on the ground. Also, regularly inspect your bicycle for loose nuts and bolts, make sure your drive train (crank, pedals, chain, cogs, derailleurs, shifters, shift cables) is in good shape, and be very sure your brakes and brake cables are functional and not rusted.

Bike-on-bike collisions commonly occur when one bicycle runs into the rear of another or when one bicycle turns in front of another. If your front wheel touches the rear wheel of a bicycle travelling in front of you, you will probably be on the ground in about a half second; when riding close behind another rider you must always watch what they are doing and what is happening in front of them-all clues about what is about to happen are vital to your continued good health. Turning accidents usually happen when a group approaches an intersection; always maintain a straight line through the intersection, or signal your turn; be especially observant of other cyclists in the intersection ahead of you.


While you are riding your bicycle, you are constantly (without realizing it) making minute corrections with your steering to maintain your center of gravity directly over your bicycle (we call this “keeping your balance”). Anything that prevents you from doing this will lead to an instant fall.

The most common thing that will prevent you from steering is getting your front tire up against the tire of the bicycle in front of you. This won’t affect the rider in front, but you will eat gravel.

Railroad tracks that cross the roadway at an angle are a classic problem. As you approach such tracks, check for traffic (and stop if necessary until there is a break). Then approach the tracks so that you cross them as near to perpendicular as possible. If you cross too close to parallel, your front wheel may be sucked into the gap next to the rail, resulting in an immediate over-the-bars stop.

A more insidious problem is parallel cracks and ridges in the roadway. If your tire gets up against a ridge or into a crack for just a moment, that will be all it takes to get your center of gravity off to one side, at which time you will get a dramatic demonstration of the effectiveness of gravity. A ridge of as little as a half inch can do it. In particular, look out for these ridges on Antelope Road as we travel over the new pavement surround the new Loma Linda Medical Center.

Basic Pace Line Rules

Pace lines from time to time get a bit sloppy, eventually resulting in pavement eating exercises. To avoid that type of consequence, learn and follow the basics.

  1. Ride in a straight line and maintain a constant speed.
  2. Follow the rider in front of you by no less than one foot and no more than three feet.
  3. When yielding the lead, do not slow down until you have moved over and cleared the line of riders. Before yielding, give the signal used by your group.
  4. When taking the lead, apply a little more effort to the pedals to maintain the current speed. Do not accelerate.
  5. Point out obstacles, and give them as wide a berth as possible.
  6. In a double pace line, always keep your handlebars even with the your partner, especially during lead changes.

Continue reading to learn more about these points, and other important pace line techniques.


A pace line is a group of riders riding in a line very close together, usually with from three feet to as little as six inches separating wheels. A lot of skill and trust is necessary in these formations to avoid collisions.

Single Pace Line

The most basic formation is the single pace line. The riders are in single file. When the lead rider tires, he will signal, and while maintaining his speed move off the front of the line to the left. Then he will slow down and move to the back of the line. If you do not signal, the rider behind you may be too close when you pull off, either causing a collision or forcing him to pull off with you. If you do not maintain your speed while pulling off, you may back into the rider behind you creating the same problems as not signaling.

Double Pace Line

A variant of the single pace line is the double pace line. The riders ride in pairs, forming two lines. The lead pair will mutually determine when to pull off the front. When pulling off, the rider on the right side moves to the right and the rider on the left side to the left. In tight conditions it will help if they drop back at different paces (the left rider should drop back faster).

The new lead pair should stay next to each other throughout the changeover process. As they encounter the wind they will need to increase their pedalling effort a bit to maintain the speed of the line (slowing down causes all kinds of problems in the back, especially during a lead change). After the lead change is completed and the prior leaders have had time to settle in at the rear, the new leaders may adjust their speed.

As the yielding leaders move back along the paceline, each pair of riders in the line will need to move over to make room on the right. While doing this they must maintain speed and stay next to each other. Staying next to each other requires some skill and trust as there will not be much clearance between handlebars when there are three or four riders abreast. However, failing to ride together introduces the nightmare of riders moving sideways with lapped wheels!

We use double pace lines a lot because they allow you to ride next to someone else and carry on a conversation. Also, when there are a large number of riders they take up less room on the road. Because they are shorter than a single pace line with the same number of riders, the reaction time problems that occur during deceleration are not as great. Once you’ve learned to be comfortable in a double pace line, it will be your preferred group riding style!

Rotating Pace Line

A variant of the double paceline is the rotating paceline. The line most sheltered from the wind will move faster than the other line. When the lead rider in the faster line clears the lead rider in the slower line he will move over to become the lead rider in the slower line and slow to the slower pace. As the last rider in the slower line drops behind the last rider in the faster line, the slower line rider will move over to become the last rider in the faster line.

Pulling off the front of the fast line is tricky. You must clear the fast line and slow immediately to the slow line speed in order to not leave a gap in the slow line. Start your move before the lead slow rider has completely dropped behind you, and begin slowing as soon as you have started the move over; once you learn the timing you will arrive on the front of the slow line at the slow line speed. The most common error made by newcomers to rotating pace lines is to continue pedaling hard for a few revolutions after leaving the fast line. Since the slow line is going slower, this rockets the rider several bike lengths in front of the slow line, leaving a gap, depriving the slow line of your draft, and forcing the slow line to accelerate to catch you.

Ideally, the difference in speed between the fast line and the slow line should be 1 to 2 mph. Since we have a wide ability spread on our rides, this difference can grow to 3 to 4 mph as stronger riders pull harder in the fast line and weaker riders try to recover in the slow line. Rotating pace lines are not very efficient when there is a big speed gap.

If you must sit on in back of a rotating pace line, do so in back of the slow line, preferably even a bit to the left of the slow line. As the last person in the slow line comes back, he should not see another cyclist over his right shoulder; if he does he may continue backing up expecting the rider to be in the rotation. While sitting on, you will constantly be catching up to the last person in the slow line, with a one bike length gap forming as each rotator moves to the fast line.


In strong crosswind conditions, an echelon paceline may be used. The lead rider will be on the side of the road the wind is coming from, and the other riders will be next to and partially behind him. When riding an echelon it is very important to remember to pull off the front by dropping straight back. When the wind is from the right this means you will be dropping back on the right side of the formation. Echelons frequently form while riding single pacelines. Make sure that the leader knows that an echelon has formed behind him; if the wind is from the right he will need to pull off differently; if the wind is from the left he will need to move to the center of the road to lead the echelon.


  1. Always strive to maintain a constant speed and predictable path as you ride in a pace line. Sudden changes in speed or direction, even though they may seem minor to you, can disrupt the pace for other riders, and could lead to a collision.
  2. Never stop pedalling unless you must slow down. When you stop pedalling, you do slow down (except on a downhill). Practice such things as getting your water bottle and adjusting your shorts while continuing to pedal.
  3. When leading a pace line on a downhill increase your pedalling effort. Those behind have the combined advantage of drafting you and gravity, and will probably have to brake even if you pedal your hardest. Don’t be surprised if a heavyset rider whooshes by.
  4. In a double pace line, ride next to the rider next to you. Otherwise you will create dangerous overlapping wheel situations.
  5. When you stand up on your bike, do so smoothly and slowly. When you stand up, your center of gravity with respect to the bike shifts significantly. Since you weigh much more than the bike, it is the bike that moves as a result of this shift. If you stand up suddenly, this will result in the bike moving back about 6 inches almost instantaneously. If the person behind you is riding 6 inches from your wheel….. This effect can be even greater if you do not continue pedalling during the standing up process.
  6. When you take the lead in a pace line, maintain the same speed (do not immediately increase speed; attempt to not slow down). After the yielding leader has time to get back on the end of the line you may gradually adjust your speed. When you pull off the front of a pace line, decrease speed to allow the line to pass, but only after you are clear of the line!
  7. Glass, trash, road kill, potholes, and other impediments. All things we do NOT want to run over. In a pace line, only the lead rider has a clear view of these things as the line approaches them, and it is his responsibility to notify everyone else of their presence. There are three ways to do this, presented in decreasing order of effectiveness:
    1. Guide the pace line well away from (around) the obstruction. This is easiest done for obstructions that can be seen from a distance away. Traffic is also a consideration. You may need to gesture to distinguish your guiding move from a pull-off move. If you are not going around an obstruction, someone in a long line is almost certain to hit it.
    2. Yell loudly. Such as GLASS or ROCK!!! Then do the following…
    3. Point at the obstruction.
    4. When you are the recipient of one of these notifications, pass it back. Those in the back of long pace lines often do not get the word, which is one reason we have so many flats getting out of Gainesville.


One part of the extensive safety pledge that you must sign before starting the Bicycle Ride Across Georgia (BRAG) is that you will not announce “CLEAR” as you pass through an intersection. This is a common practice on the club rides of most clubs, including ours. But it is dangerous for more than one reason.
In the noise and wind conditions on a bike ride, it is easy to mistake the call of “CAR” for the call of “CLEAR.” The implications of this error should be intuitively obvious.

When YOU go through the intersection, it may be clear. But by the time the next rider gets there it may not be. By announcing that it was clear, you may even have some legal liability if something bad happens.

When proceeding through an intersection and seeing an approaching vehicle, you should definitely call out “CAR” and the direction from which it is coming, “RIGHT” or “LEFT.” If another person going through the intersection at the same time fails to see the vehicle, and calls out “CLEAR,” they may drown out your warning, or at the very least confuse the situation.

The bottom line is that you should always look before entering an intersection, whether or not a call has been made. After all, it is your skin that is on the line.

Sprinting is an important part of bicycle racing, and a generally fun thing to do on a bike. Sooner or later, as you become a stronger rider and join in on group rides, you will find yourself taking off to be the first one to the mythical finish line, probably a city limits sign.

When you sprint in a bicycle race, it is either at a designated point that everyone knows about, or as a tactic to break away from the rest of the riders or otherwise break up the group. With the possible exception of the A Rides, this latter type of sprinting is not done on group touring and training rides. So this leaves the sprint to a designated point.

In a race, the sprint is conducted on a race course that is closed to other traffic. Even still, if you’ve ever watched sprint finishes at the Tour de France you’ve probably seen some very spectacular crashes. When you sprint, the probability that you will be involved in a crash goes way up. On the open roads where touring and training rides are, the danger is much higher because of the possibility of melding with a car.

One problem we have with sprints on touring and training rides is that in many cases they are spontaneous. Whereas in a race, everyone knows that the points sprint is at mile 35, on one of our rides many of the riders will not know what is going on, and as a result may perform maneuvers that are dangerous to the sprinters. It may seem like fun to get the jump on someone, but surprises and resulting erratic maneuvers are dangerous.

Once upon a time, one of these spontaneous sprints broke out at the end of a long training ride, and the result for one rider was an expensive wheel that looked more like a taco, and for the other a cracked helmet, collarbone, and shoulder blade, and of course, liberal abrasions for both.

If after reading this you still want to do sprints on your ride, please use the following guidelines:

  1. DO NOT sprint unless everyone on the ride knows where the sprint is to occur, preferably agreed to before the ride starts.
  2. If there is motor vehicle traffic on the road when you reach the sprint location, DO NOT sprint.
  3. Those doing the sprint should move away from those not doing the sprint, and those not doing the sprint should back off as the location approaches. If you are behind someone who is not in the sprint, DO NOT sprint. After the sprint, ease up and let the group reform.

Follow The Leader?

There are some things that birds do that we should not emulate, but frequently do. On occasion I have witnessed flocks of birds that will swoop low across a highway, each bird blindly following the one before it, oblivious to any approaching danger. Not infrequently, the last bird in such a formation will wind up firmly implanted in the grill of a motor vehicle. If you have ever watched a pack of bicyclists at an intersection, you will be familiar with this behavior pattern. Even when “Car Left” has been called, riders will continue to stream into the intersection, sometimes to the point of making the motor vehicle driver slam on the brakes.

There are two things we can do to break this behavior pattern:

  1. When you are the first to the intersection and there is oncoming traffic, even if there is time for one or two cyclists to get across, WAIT until there is room for everyone to cross.
  2. When you are crossing a traffic lane, remember that you are responsible for your own safety. If five or six riders have already crossed, don’t assume that you can also without looking.

Another thing to remember: When there is oncoming traffic, always assume the rider in front of you will stop, even though you may believe there is room to get through. Though less deadly than the car, the biggest crash risk in this situation is running into another rider-too often you will be concentrating on the motor vehicle traffic and fail to see what your fellow riders are doing.


If you overhear your name and the term “squirrel” used in the same sentence, then here are few tips you need to know.

When riding in a group it is very important to ride smoothly. To be smooth, avoid sharp braking, quick maneuvers, and quick accelerations or decelerations. Granted that these are necessary in emergencies, but squirrels do them as a matter of course.

When riding in a group be predictable. No one wants a surprise from the rider six inches in front of them while traveling at over 20 mph. Know what to do and when to do it. When in a double pace line, always ride so that your handlebars are next to the handlebars of the rider alongside you. Stay in line and don’t leave gaps. When you pull off the front of a pace line, keep up your speed until you are sure that you are clear of the rider behind you. In a double pace line, pull off the front from the right line to the right. If you’ve never been in a rotating pace line before, ask loudly what you’re supposed to do.

Ride within your capabilities. Many riders who are “squirrely” are having to ride so hard that they cannot properly control their bike. If this occurs while you are holding on to the back of the pack, you are on the wrong ride; build up your strength on slower rides and try again in a month or two. Often a new rider will try to stay at the front too long, or accelerate and pull too hard when at the front. Generally, you should pull at the same speed as the rider before you.

Remember that you will need quite a bit of energy to reattach yourself to the end of the line after your pull; don’t pull until you are completely spent. Don’t worry if you cannot spend as much time at the front as the homeboys; listen to your body and do what you can comfortably do.


*article modified from Riding Tips, Tutorials and How – To’s (Gainesville Cycling Club)