Cycling in a group is easy. You throw your leg over your bike and off you go. It’s just like Five Go Mad in Dorset.
Well, no. There are many unwritten rules, techniques and traditions associated with cycling in a group. And for good reason. Like everything else, it’s an art that must be learned.
And the place to do that? A cycling club. That’s why you’ve turned up at Long Rock on a Sunday morning.
You learn proper bunch riding in two ways: by listening to more experienced members and by watching what happens during the club run. The necessary skills will be acquired through many miles of riding in a group.
As a weekly event, the club run is the centre of club activity. It’s a group ride, and taking part obliges you to conform to the group ethic. Here are some of the key things you need to know:
Sitting on a wheel
This is where you get the most protection from the wind. Do not allow a gap to open between you and the rider in front of you.
Turns on the front
You are expected to ride through and do your turn at the front (unless it’s wet and you have no mudguards – of which, more later). Sitting on at the back will gain you no respect from other riders. Always ride through and help with the pacemaking. It is an offence to save yourself on a club run.
Shouts and signals
We use language and hand signals to ensure the safety of the group. Riders at the front should shout back information to the bunch regarding obstacles and dangers. These include potholes, dangerous surfaces, tight bends, animals, pedestrians, oncoming traffic, and so on.
You are responsible for the safety of everyone in the group and not just yourself. Be aware that your actions affect the riders around you.
Riders at the back should shout a warning when traffic approaches from the rear. 'Car up' means a car coming from behind; 'car down' means a car coming from in front.
Courtesy to other road users
When conditions allow we normally ride two abreast. However, if the road is narrow and traffic is approaching from behind we usually switch to riding single file until the vehicle (or vehicles) have passed. If you hear the shout 'car up' or 'line out' it's time to do do just that (even if you are in mid conversation with the rider next to you). If you are the rider on the outside make sure there is space before moving in.
Most drivers are considerate to cyclists but there will always be exceptions. In the event of an altercation, remember that you represent the club - all the more so when wearing club kit - so don't act offensively.
Horses and their riders require special consideration. Make your presence known and slow right down before passing.
When you come through to do a turn at the front, maintain a consistent speed. Riding that results in splits forming is not tolerated. Leave your ego behind. The opportunity to show everyone how fit you are comes in a race, not on a club run.
On a hill, keep your effort, rather than your speed, consistent.
Match your pace to the rider alongside you and do not stick your wheel in front of his/her front wheel. Your hubs should be level. You’re a Penzance Wheeler, not a half-wheeler.
You are part of a group and must maintain the general pace. Give others a helping hand if they are struggling and accept one graciously if you’re not feeling so good yourself.
It is the responsibility of every rider to ensure individuals are not dropped. This means slowing at the top of hills so that the group can reform. Check around, look behind, keep your eyes open.
If you have to stop, because of mechanical difficulty or any other reason, shout out. The others will then stop to make sure you’re OK and to help you out.
What to carry
Bring drink, at least one energy bar and some bonk money (translation - to 'bonk'; to run out of energy, like a car running out of fuel). This is for food and drink in case of emergency. Make sure you carry spare tubes and a pump plus a waterproof top if the weather looks 'iffy'. You should always carry some ID and emergency contact details.
Wear one. Simple as.
Cover your legs and arms up. Bare legs and shorts may be okay for runners but are a complete no-no for cyclists when it’s cold.
It rains a lot in Cornwall. The lanes we frequent on club runs are often wet and filthy. Fitting mudguards will help to keep you warm, dry and clean. Fitting a long mud flap on the rear guard will help to keep those behind you warm, dry and clean. Be warned, some older club members can get very grumpy if subjected to a cold shower from your back wheel!
Help with knowing what guards to fit to your bike is readily available from other club members or your local bike shop. We even have free mud flaps available for you to fit – just ask.
Accept constructive criticism and learn from it. If you feel the need to advise somebody, do so constructively and politely. Remind yourself that Sunday is when the club is on show. It’s in our interest that we ride skillfully as a group. None of us is above improvement no matter how long we’ve been a cyclist.
Enjoy your riding.