New Riders Start Here
You don't have to look hard to find dozens of "How to ride in a group" videos and commentaries across the cycling internet.
They tend to be fairly similar, dealing with taking turns, signals, formations and so on; all good advice.
But they also seem aimed at "ideal" group riding, assuming you're all of similar ability, know what everyone else is doing and are riding along on a nice flat, clear road with not much else to worry about.
I often ride out with the Ride Club 'Steady' group on Saturday mornings. It's a very mixed ability ride. For me it's an easy recovery, for others it's a real challenge of distance and fitness, and not just about riding in a group.
So with that in mind I have a few suggestions for people who perhaps aren't as strong or experienced and are just trying to get around as best they can. I think it also applies better to our conditions. I first posted this on Facebook and have included some of the excellent feedback.
1. Look for the wind and get sheltered.
If it's two abreast make sure you're on the side away from the wind. If you're on the windy side ask a stronger rider to swap, or come out of the line, go back and swap over.
2. Hold on to the wheels.
It makes so much difference. In races we talk about every rider having a number of matches to burn. Losing the wheel means creating a gap, and that decreases the benefit you get from drafting. When you have to catch up or cross a gap, even a small one, you are burning a match you could have kept. This includes anticipating corners or turns - it always stretches out so keep close, try not to brake more than necessary and be ready to accelerate a little coming out.
3. Keep it comfortable.
It's great if you can come through and take a turn on the front but unless you're piloting Marcel Kittel into the final sprint a turn shouldn't be something that puts you into the red. I see many people struggle through stages of discomfort and losing speed, forcing themselves to stay on the front until they slump off exhausted. Another match gone.
4. If you can't take a turn that's fine.
It's a good indicator to the ride captain that people are getting tired. But it's best to get out of the line and go to the back well in advance. Don't go past third wheel if you aren't planning to keep moving up. If you do get to the front but don't want to be there just keep your speed, come through and straight off so the group doesn't slow.
5. Hit the hills.
Not the big ones, that's another story, but the little rises, motorway bridges and so on. There's no need to fall back. As you approach them try to pick up a bit of speed so you have momentum. Look for some space - if the person in front slows down you don't want them to check your speed. Come a little out of the line if you have to, even move up so the bunch is coming past you rather than dropping you. With luck you can hold on enough to keep with the pack as you crest the rise. That's why you saved those matches.
All the other stuff about being predictable, ride smooth, hydrate properly, have snacks etc applies of course. I just thought these were some useful extra things that might help newer riders get up to the level where they can actually use some of the advice in those Group Tips articles.