How to ride safely in a peloton

If you watch the tours, the peloton seems like a lively, sociable place to spend several hours. If you ride with a club, the peloton is that plus the opportunity to save energy, provide predictable behaviours for other road users and safety in numbers.

An experienced peloton can also warn each other of dangers, share wind breaking duties and boost distance covered while saving significant amounts of energy in the process.

However, it takes practice to ride safely in a peloton. It also takes a bit of knowledge, which I am going to share with you here. So without further ado, here are my top tips for riding safely in a peloton.

Check your kit

Nothing spoils a club ride like a mechanical. While punctures can never be predicted, ensuring your tyres are in good condition and properly inflated will lower that risk significantly.

Check for splits and flints in your tyres, check your brakes work and you have plenty of life left in the blocks. Check cables, lubrication, chain, wheel true and saddle. Do this before you leave home to ensure the least time possible is spent getting ready while people are waiting.

Take spares

The discussion about what to take on a ride, what to carry it in and where is a topic of discussion that could least for years. However you carry your spares, make sure you carry some. At the least you need a spare tube, patches, levers, a pump or CO2 and a multitool.

Be predictable

Being predictable on the road is the single best advice I can ever give. This applies to other road users, but especially when riding in a group. Get your head in gear quickly and get into the mindset that what you do on the road will directly affect others.

When you’re riding wheel to wheel, smooth riding and predictable manoeuvres will ensure you remain popular. Keep unexpected manoeuvres to the absolute minimum. If you’re concentrating, you should be warned long in advance of potholes, road furniture or other hazards. Pay attention and follow the lead.

Ride behind not beside

Even if you’re riding two abreast, the wheel you’re concentrating on is the one in front. That’s your wheel and the one that receives all your attention. Look at it, while also watching a rider or two in front so you don’t get caught by surprise.

Once you’re used to riding in a group, you want to keep around half a metre between you and the wheel in front. Ride with fingers around the brakes but not on them. If you have to brake suddenly, hit them and go to the side if it’s safe.

If you’re new to group riding, most responsible clubs will take you out on beginner runs to get you used to riding in a group. Even if you have been riding for years on your own, join these groups. The skills you need to ride in peloton is different and you will need to know both.

Ride in formation

A general club ride will involve riding two abreast while it’s safe to do so. So as well as riding approximately half a metre behind the wheel in front, you need to keep abreast of the rider beside you. This makes it easier for those behind you to maintain position so is important to get right.

Here are some quick pointers for formation riding.

  • Don’t overlap wheels
  • Don’t ride too close to the rider beside you
  • Keep things as smooth as possible
  • Make your own calls at junctions and roundabouts
  • Never blindly follow the group through a hazard without first making sure it’s safe
  • If you need to take off a gilet or arm warmers, head to the back of the group before letting go of the bars.
  • If you need to drink, have the bottle sideways so you can still see ahead and keep one hand on the bar at all times. Cover the brake while you’re doing it
  • Maintain constant cadence even when cresting hills
  • If you have to stand, do it while maintaining cadence and speed

Braking safely

Any unexpected manoeuvre while riding in a group will cause a chain reaction down the line. We have all seen the tours on TV where one mistake takes out a dozen riders. While it cannot always be helped, it doesn’t do your popularity much good if you do it too often.

So keep braking smooth and predictable. Don’t snatch them and ride with a couple of fingers covering the brakes at all times. If you need to shed speed, consider sitting upright to create drag or moving slightly outside the group to catch the wind. Do it slowly and steadily and only when you have to.

Communication is key

Letting everyone else know if you see a hazard or when you’re going to do something is always a good idea. Speak clearly, in unambiguous terms and loud enough that the riders around you can hear. Different clubs have different terms, so learn yours and use only those.

Pointing out hazards well in advance is also a good idea. Use hand signals if it helps and you can do so safely. Otherwise keep your hands on the bars and say “left” or “right.”

Taking your turn

Nobody likes a wheel sucker, so once you’re up to speed with group riding, expect to have to take your turn up front. If it’s your first group ride out of beginner groups, let everyone know and they can either be aware when you’re up front or excuse you from leading. This is usually only a one-time thing, you’re going to have to lead out sometime!

When it’s your turn, maintain the speed you have been riding at and keep aligned with the rider to the side of you. Start planning ahead right away and be aware of potential obstacles. Warn the others in good time and avoid said hazard.

Different clubs have different ideas about how long one should lead. Some measure it in distance, others in time. Distance is fine if you have a computer, otherwise time is easiest. Watch how long the others stay out front and aim for leading for the same period of time.

Once your turn is up, separate and peel off to the back. Be aware of traffic and the road conditions while you do it though and stay in place if you need to until it’s safe.

The rules of the road apply to you too

Most cycling clubs will instil good road manners in their riders, but not all behave that way. It’s important to know that the rules of the road apply to motorists and cyclist equally.

Not only do we all need to remain safe, we also need to retain respect between cars and bikes. Nothing annoys a driver more than cyclists who ride two abreast when the road isn’t suitable, blowing red lights, not stopping for pedestrians on a crossing and all those things some cyclists do without thinking.

No road user has the right to unimpeded progress, but everyone does have the right to be able to use it safely.

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