TeamCBC Cycling Tip – Group Rides: The Hows and How Nots by Kurt Ehlert (Part 1 of 2)

For those of you who have or want to ride in groups, here is an article submitted by one of our teammates, Kurt Ehlert. Since it is rather long, I am posting it in two parts. Next week I will post the second half which is on Group Etiquette.

Group rides, and veteran group riders, can be very intimidating to the newbie cyclist. In spite of how great the can be, and important in your social and fitness life, getting started with a group of established cyclists can seem like a threatening, foreign world.

There are 2 basic parts of Group Rides we need to cover. First, we’ll look at the technical aspects of how a group ride works. Then, we’ll explore the “Rules of the Road”, the etiquette that makes a group ride safe, fun and, hopefully, fast.

Group Ride Mechanics

When riding in a group, we ride very close to one another. Why? Well, first because it looks cool! The “real” reason is that it is much more energy efficient for the trailing riders – 27-50% by some estimates. Optimal distance between wheels isn’t certain, but it seems around 10 cm. or just under 4 inches might be optimal.

Obviously, riding this close requires a fair amount of trust and good riding ability for all involved. It is scary the first few times, but as you get used to it, and get to know your group, it all becomes very natural. And you quickly see how much easier it is to ride in the middle of the group than to lead a paceline (see below on how we trade off this responsibility).


When we ride in a group, we ride in a paceline. This can be a single, or a double.

* Single: One long run of cyclists. Used on busier roads where we don’t want to get in even more trouble than usual with speeding drivers.

* Double: 2 abreast, creating a left and right paceline.

It wouldn’t be fair to have only one person lead the whole way. As we noted, that rider would be at a huge disadvantage in energy expenditure. Unless you are a masochist, and much stronger than anyone else on the ride, we need to trade off the paceline lead. How do we do that?

Trading Off the Paceline Lead

For a single paceline, the lead rider rotates off the front to the left. There is more open space there. The paceline maintains its speed while the former lead rider slows down and moves in at the back. When the leader decides it is time for him to get off the front, he signals so the cyclists behind him know. Around Raleigh, we tend to slap our backside or thigh with our hand or fist on the side we want the next rider in line to move up (right hand to right thigh/butt), then we move to the left and the paceline passes us.

In a double paceline, both lead riders need to communicate to each other that they are going off the lead. Sometimes, a stronger rider will stay in front while the other moves off, but usually, both paceline’s leaders will move off in synchrony. There are multiple ways of rotating off the front in a double paceline:

“To the left, To the left” (as practiced in Raleigh by TeamCBC on their group rides)

* Here, both leading riders on the left and right lines will go to the left and allow #2 riders to become #1’s.

* The #1 on the right speeds up to go in front of the left line and then off to the left of the whole group.

* #1 on the left follows the #1 right sider off to the left of the group.

* These 2 riders slow down and allow the group to continue at current pace. They then drop into the end of the group with original #1 left (behind #1 right, remember) going to the back of the right sided line and #1 right old going to the end of the left line.

* Advantage: Both cyclists are shifting to the more open side of the road as they get out.

* Disadvantage: #1 on the right has to step on the gas to get out in front of everyone just when he has finished working hard on a pull

Banana Split (done smoothly by the cyclists of Gyros Cycling Club on their rides)

* #1 on the right, instead of cutting across the group, moves to the right.

* #1 left, similarly to above, moves off to the left.

* Both #1’s slow and the group paces between them. * They then drop in at the end

* Advantage: No one has to cross 2 pacelines to get out in front.

* Disadvantage: The right sided cyclist who is dropping back is trapped between the group and whatever is on the side of the road. If a pothole, curb, or ditch comes up suddenly, they have nowhere to go.

Rotating (haven’t seen this done in NC in group rides, but I’m sure it is used)

* The riders move either clockwise or counterclockwise.

* For example, #1 left moves over to become #1 right

* Entire right side paceline moves back, while entire left side moves up

* Last rider on right moves over to become last rider on the left.

* This is done beautifully amongst pro cycling teams on a team time trial. The whole group seems to constantly be rotating through every position and absolutely flying.

Continued next week…