Here are a few things that good riders just know and new riders need to be aware of in the group. They involve varying levels of consequences for not heeding; burning a match too soon, getting dropped, or causing a dangerous situation. They’re in no particular order:
1. Don’t sit at the back too long – It tends to be either too squirrely or you’ll start…
2. Yo-Yo-ing – This is the accordion effect as the front of the group speeds up – each successive rider must push a little bit harder to hold the wheel in front. Don’t know why it’s not simply called the accordion effect…probably because yo-yo is easier to say when you go anaerobic. By the time the acceleration reaches the back of the pack, even a small surge at the front often takes twice as much energy to match at the back. Riders who sit at the back regularly have to sprint then sit up, sprint then sit up, burning matches over and over again til they pop or just get really frustrated. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the newcomer’s conundrum: it’s harder at the back but you gotta have the legs to be up front…wadya do? Any answer typically involves suffering.
3. No Sudden Movement – When you’re cruising downhill on a bike at 35mph inches from 50 other riders in basically colorful chamois-lined underwear, anything sudden is not your friend. Movements should be smooth and deliberate. Only Jens gets to rock back and forth a bit when riding hard cause he can singlehandedly pull the entire break at 50k an hour for 120k. You and I aren’t the Voightmonster so keep it steady. Additionally, if you’re shoulder to shoulder and some knucklehead doesn’t point out a rock or a stick and you’re about to hit it, don’t swerve as long as it’s not big enough to take you down. Bite the bullet. Your frame might get scratched, you might puncture or break a spoke but that’s way better than taking people out cause you panicked and swung wide. Above all, remember that slow is smooth and smooth is fast.
4. Be Predictable and Decisive – Surprises are dangerous for obvious reasons. The only time you should ever surprise your group is when you thrown down a vicious attack from 5 riders back with a clean line to the front. Otherwise, signal when you need to, use your voice, and keep your head up. Also, see #3.
5. Don’t Overlap Wheels – Meaning, your front wheel with the rear wheel of the rider in front of you. Goes without saying. It’s the first thing you hear when you start riding a bike with others and it never goes away. Crashes happen in social rides, Junior races, and Grand Tours because of it. It’s one of the few, truly universal principles in cycling and it’s still shocking how much of this goes on in group rides.
6. Always Wear Bibs – Bibs prevent that lower-back exposure between the bottom of your jersey and top of your “cycling shorts.” If you’re a lady, I’m assuming you don’t want that weird, perverted dude sitting on your wheel for 2 hours. If you’re male, don’t be that guy. It’s gross. Just don’t do it. No one wants to get stuck sitting on a wheel following hairy-lower-back around. If you don’t currently wear bibs, do yourself and your fellow riders a favor: buy bibs. They’re more comfortable anyway and you’ll wonder why you didn’t go bib right away.