As you begin to do faster group rides with more challenging terrain and conditions, you will also find yourself riding in closer quarters to other riders. Some additional skills will be helpful to keep you safe and with the group. Developing these skills can be a lot of fun. Think of these as the E-ticket rides for roadies.
Joe Parkin is a former professional cyclist who spent four years racing in Europe. He holds the distinction of being the only American to contest the World Championships on the road, mountain bike, and cyclocross. Descending
Descending uses the same countersteering technique you use to corner. It adds to this an extra dimension in speed. To control your bike at speed, you need a position that blends great control and aerodynamics. The ideal position is a tuck with your head low, your rear in the saddle, your hands in the drops, and your cranks level.
As your speed increases, so does the minimum radius of any turn you make. Put another way, the faster you go, the bigger the arc. For this reason you need to choose your position in the lane before entering a turn. For a right-hand turn, set up as close to the center yellow lines as possible before entering the turn. Once you enter the turn, aim for the apex, the actual corner to your right; as you pass the apex, gradually allow yourself to swing back out to the yellow lines, thus giving you the gentlest line through the corner and allowing you to carry maximum speed. For left hand turns, the process works just the opposite; set up as close to the edge of the road as possible and then apex at the center yellow lines followed by a swing back to the right edge.
Joe Parkin says, “I like to keep my elbows bent and actually bend them more as I get closer to the apex. As I come out of the corner, I allow myself to sit up just a bit more. Using your inside leg as an outrigger of sorts helps get your bike and body set up for S-turns too—tossing the knee toward the corner really helps re-weight everything before entering into the turn.”
Make your turn as smooth as possible, because sudden turns or adjustments to your course can cause you to lose traction. You can use these same apexing techniques for corners you take above 20 mph.Echelons
An echelon is a paceline for crosswinds. Think of it as a paceline blown sideways. The goal of any paceline is to keep the rider in front of you between you and the wind. The front rider stays in the same position as with a paceline, but the rest of the paceline shifts to hide from the blowing wind.
To perform an echelon, start with a rotating paceline. If the wind is from the right, riders will overlap wheels with the rider ahead of them to the left. Rather than a static response, an echelon is an on-the-fly response to the wind. As you feel the wind on your right side, you move left and up. In an extreme crosswind, where the wind is at almost 90 degrees to you, riders may be lined up almost side-by-side.
“It is important to keep yourself in the rotation,” Parkin says, “even if you’re not feeling up to it.” As soon as you’re back at the tail of the echelon, you’re done for. Rotate to the front as smoothly as possible. In other words, don’t up the pace—just keep it steady. If you speed up, the rider behind you will (or should) let you keep your nose out in the wind longer than you want. Similarly, as you’re coming off your turn at the front, slow your pace just enough to let you fall back into the rotation as quickly as possible. Most importantly, if you find a hole in the echelon big enough to stick your front wheel into, do it. Do not wait for an invitation. Remember, the tail of the echelon is hell.
In a standard paceline, the direction of rotation doesn’t matter much; either line of riders can be the line moving up. In an echelon, the idea is to rotate into the wind. The “front” line of riders moves in the direction of the wind, while the “rear” line of riders is moving away from the wind.
Because an echelon usually involves riding three—or more—abreast, it is illegal to perform on most roads. On closed courses such as can be found at organized events and races, it is legal. On country roads with little traffic it can often be performed safely, but riders should keep an eye on approaching traffic.
On a closed course, echelons can have as many riders as the road’s width can accommodate. For most amateur riders though, an echelon usually starts to break down once it tries to accommodate more than six riders in width (about 12 riders total).Touching
Strictly speaking, cycling is a contact-free sport. There are times, however, when riding in close quarters that riders may touch. Just as on dates, some touching may be welcome, while other touching isn’t.Tapping
There are times in the peloton when you may overlap wheels slightly. Should a rider begin to move toward your wheel, it’s OK to give the rider a warning tap with your hand on their hip. Because calling out may not get the rider’s attention or let the rider know where you are, physical contact makes the point clear. Don’t shove; just a light tap with few fingers from your open hand to the let the rider know you are there is all that is required.Pushing
On hilly rides, experienced riders will sometimes help a struggling newbie and offer to give a push to the top of the hill. If you get such an offer, remain seated, hold your line, maintain a firm grip on the bar and keep pedaling. The acceleration will be a little sudden, but whatever you do, don’t hit the brakes. Little pushes like this can make a huge difference on a long ride and can teach you more about riding in a group than getting dropped will. The first push is sometimes tough on the pride, but almost everyone has been there.
Parkin recalls, “As a domestique, I would often wait and ride with my various sprinter-type teammates, on climbs, if the course profile suggested that the race might end in a big bunch sprint. Even if they were riding well on the climb, I might give them a little push for the last kilometer or so before the summit. Every little rest counts.”Shoving
Cycling, like any sport, gets its share of overly aggressive athletes. In exceedingly rare instances, one rider will give another rider an angry shove. This behavior should never be tolerated by any group or club. Touching a rider anywhere other than the hips or lower back is unacceptable as it can cause a crash, which could bring down many riders. Should you receive a shove, make your first priority to stay upright. Following that, don’t engage; just backslide through the group away from Mr. Aggro.
Parkin knows the feeling well. “I was in the front echelon of a semi-classic in Holland one time, rotating back to join the front line of the thing. A well-known pro, Jelle Nijdam, hesitated a bit too long so I jumped in front of him, causing him to nearly fall out of the rotation. The ensuing shove was followed by a punch that was so hard I think I still have the shape of his hand imprinted on my right butt cheek.”Bumping
Bumping is different from touching in that it isn’t usually deliberate. It usually occurs at the hips and handlebars. Hip-to-hip contact isn’t usually much of a problem unless you receive a bump from a rider much larger than you. Stay loose and try to correct your line as quickly as possible. Handlebar-to-handlebar contact can be more problematic, as bars can become locked, sending both riders down. If you sense that riders are being squeezed together, move your hands to the drops where the presence of your hands and forearms makes it harder to hook bars. Hip-to-handlebar contact is the most dangerous because a good bump from someone’s hip can turn your bar, causing a crash. Should you get bumped in this way, try to keep your weight centered over the bike and steer the bike back under you immediately.
“The biggest mistake people make here is when they try to move away from the rider they have bumped into,” says Parkin. “Try to lean toward the contact until you’re both under control. Bob Roll and I used to ride so close together on training rides that our handlebars were almost always touching.”
In rare instances, riders touch front wheel to rear wheel. The basic rule is that if the two riders are riding at roughly the same speed, the rider in back, whose front wheel has made contact, is the rider who goes down. If the rider in front is moving noticeably slower than the rider in back, they can both wind up on the ground.
Patrick Brady is the author of the forthcoming "The No Drop Zone, Everything You Need to Know About the Peloton, Your Gear and Riding Strong," published by Menasha Ridge Press, which will be released this May. When Patrick started writing about cycling 20 years ago Greg LeMond was still a pro and Lance Armstrong was an amateur hoping to make the Olympic Team. Since then he has served as an editor for Bicycle Guide magazine and publisher of Asphalt Magazine. In addition to his work as a contributing editor to peloton magazine, Patrick publishes his own blog, Red Kite Prayer.