GROUP RIDE SET UP
If you drive - find a central parking spot - change into your kit and put on your heart rate monitor strap.
Place a towel down on the ground outside of your car door - this is home base for changing both before and after the ride.
Invest in ‘slide' sandals for 2 reasons: you can wear your cycling socks in this style sandal and it will save your cleats. I use my sandals for hitting the shop pre-ride and bike set up. Once I am finished walking around, I like to put on my ride shoes and rest in the car before the ride. This gives the shoe warming time and lets me visualize the ride in advance (ride goals, training targets, spinning or just have fun). Yes, I know that this is not super social, but trust me the talkers will still find you.
IF YOU HAVE A HITCH RACK
Once you park:
Undo the rear wheel strap (unlock, loosen but leave the front wheel mount in place)
Install and turn on your bike computer - It should be charged
Install your water bottles
My air pressures are done in advance - not just before the ride
This works well for me as if I am caught off guard or get a late second call and the ride is rolling - I simply get out of the car (lock), undo the front wheel mount and roll as the bike is completely prepped.
ON LONG CLIMBS
We often try to gauge and match the form and speed of others as the group breaks apart on climbs - instead of riding the tempo of others with your head down try this:
Visually target an object (i.e. light post) a quarter of the way to the top of the climb - with your head up focus on steady breathing and efficient pedaling to the object - then select another.
Also, cut the negative talk - no one wants to hear it even IF they smile back at you. If you say you suck at climbing - you will again suck at climbing. Take a pass on this and visualize yourself climbing at a steady pace - a bit faster than last week’s pace.
PACE LINE ETIQUETTE
You are responsible for your own front wheel. Many riders make the mistake of overlapping their front wheel in group lines - this is the same as canceling your health insurance policy as you are taking away the coverage that you have to make mistakes. Anytime a front wheel goes up against a rear-wheel the front wheel will always lose - every time.
Drafting directly behind (or outside shade to the left or right depending on where the wind is coming from) another rider at speed will save you in upwards of 20% of your effort. Especially, if the road is flat and the rider in front of you is bigger than you are…..in group rides this is the norm.
But there is a difference between Drafting and Pulling.
The same dynamics apply and both may require riders to take turns in front of each other, but drafting has a more fun/training element to it. It is also nice to ask strangers if you can sit on their wheel (draft) instead of annoyingly freewheeling behind them - use your words and make a friend.
Pulling, however, is work and is what happens at higher levels of intensity either to get away from or get back to the rider(s). If you are ever the benefactor or drafting in someone else’s effort be sure to acknowledge it and say “Thank you” or “Good Job”.
** Whatever you do please do not simply look at the other rider though your sunglasses once the work is done, the gap is closed or the climb is finished. You do not want to be known as “that” rider - especially if you did not pull or contribute to the workload of the effort. You will only get a few passes at this - the group ride scenes are based on imagery and have looooonnnnng memories.
Sharing the work is best - come to the front and take a pull that is manageable for your fitness level. Even if you pull for less time than others riders will (should) appreciate this.
Keep in mind the rider behind you is resting so do not “pull” beyond your physical limit - or you will likely be riding solo until the regroup.
However, if this happens you still win as getting dropped and / or getting worked over is the best process to improve. It has happened to even the fastest riders you know.
The thing to remember is that the ride’s highest, hardest intensity points will have the shortest durations.
3 Keys: Be Confident, Learn the route and Ride smart - you got this!
WHERE TO LOOK IN A PACE LINE
The first question is - is it a pace line? Many riders do not feel comfortable riding behind another rider as they cannot see so they ride just to the outside of the wheel in front of them. This defeats the purpose of a pace line….if every rider in line were to do this the ride line would space out to the other side of the road.
Instead of riding off to the side of the wheel in front - you could simply ride in the back OR you can try allowing more space to the rider in front of you until you become more comfortable. With a lot of time and practice, I am able and want to ride directly on the wheel (depending again on where the wind is coming from) and as low as possible.
Doing this has my focus point between the knees of the rider in front. At a more relaxed pace, I am positioned at the same following distance but sitting a little higher on the bike - my focus point then is through the hips of the rider in front of me.
Regardless of where you look the goal is to have an idea of upcoming hazards that may not be called out - so you can call them out.
And be leery of the "talking neighbors"…..almost every ride you will have a left and right rider that are excited to see each other and drop into loud, semi-funny conversation. Use caution when this is happening - regardless of the group speed - they will go “their” speed so they can continue to talk. Doing this disrupts both lines. This is not all that bad until you learn that they will also be more prone to neglect to communicate hazards as they are distracted much like drivers and cell phones. The stakes go up even higher when you consider that most accidents are during the slower speed rollouts when the group is complete.
When I see this developing I will drift backward (outside the ride lines) and find another spot allowing more space (insurance) or go to the front outright. Typically, the further to the front you are the safer (and in most cases easier) it is - just to be sure to ride within yourself.
Fix your socks - there are no excuses. Whether you wear Defeet, Pearl, Swiftwick, Shimano or Sock Guy please line up your rearward and side facing icons. This is a quick, easy fix and it makes you look more polished. Besides, no one wants to follow that nauseating crossed eyed look turning at speed. You will be the one to blame when they throw up and cause an accident.
When I’m making really hard, serious suffering efforts, I try to place my water bottle back in the bottle cage exactly the same way each time (using the graphics on the bottle). Doing this lets me tap into both the left and right brain while training and opens up my thought process under duress. For me, learning to do this consistently makes normal thought processes off of the bike much, much easier.
LEARN TO SOFT-PEDAL
This is a great skill to have in your arsenal. If you are a gear head, soft-pedaling is equivalent to double-clutching when driving a fast car.
"While double clutching is not necessary the technique can be advantageous for smoothly downshifting to accelerate, and when done correctly it prevents wear on the "synchros" which normally equalize transmission input and output speeds".
Similarly soft-pedaling offers the rider an easier transition into the next effort as opposed to powering from a motionless or static leg and drivetrain position.
By continually moving your legs in circles yet not applying much force to the pedals you are keeping your system and drivetrain open and more fluid. Soft pedaling is also helpful in flushing lactate from the legs.
Another benefit is that it keeps you (and the group ride if more riders did it) quiet making you a silent assassin. Who wants to hear loud free wheels anyway?
I always smile when riders coast on their super loud race freewheels then yell at the top of their lungs to get over the noise while visiting.
TIRE PRESSURE TIP
Setting your tire pressure: Multiply the total weight of the bike, rider, and accessories (by 1 kilo) then by 0.28psi.
Complete rider / bike total (150lbs)
150lbs. x 2.2 = 330
330 x 0.28 = 92 psi
Keep in mind: tubeless setups and tire width will have an impact on your final psi. The wider the tire - the lower the pressure.
Whether you have Velcro, Laces, Buckles or Boa Dials - it is possible that they can be set too loosely causing heel slippage or overtightened causing foot discomfort…
**Pro Tip: if you are right-handed then your left foot is bigger. If you are left-handed then your right foot is bigger. Be mindful of using equal tension on both shoes.
For me, the best way to tighten your shoes to start is to curl your toes slightly under your foot - this will elevate your foot a little in the shoe. Then tighten your shoes snuggly to feel the pressure above your foot slightly compressing your toes - then lay your toes flat. This allows your shoes to have the right amount of tension above the foot which you can adjust as your foot changes size during the ride.
Shoe Fit - It’s all about the tongue
Almost all (several triathlon shoes do not) Road and MTB shoes have a split upper with a tongue that is padded. The tongue will sit in the position it is tightened. It is important to tighten your shoe with the tongue pulled up and centered on the top of the foot (not down or off to the side). Runners catch this every time - many cyclists do not.
The padding serves a purpose of equalizing the tension on both sides of the upper as the shoe comes together whenfastened. Much like cartilage between your knee bones - the tongue provides a buffer. Taking note and making this adjustment can go a long way in eliminating numbness and potentially hot spots especially on longer rides.
LONG CLIMBS AND HELMET TENSION
Most helmets have a tightening or micro-dial in the rear or on top to adjust for fitting. It is important not to overtighten these fittings. On tense long climbs (especially in the summer heat) I like to reach back and loosen the dial just 1 or 2 clicks. You can feel a quick relief of circulation even if your helmet was adjusted properly. At the top, I will then re-tighten the micro-adjustment. For me, this is a good way to ease some of the pressure (literally) on a hard ride.
When wearing my helmet I like it low above the glasses - I always thought if you can see your entire forehead then the helmet is too far back on your head and not providing the correct protection.
The adjusting trap doors on the side straps should not be on your ear but just below. And finally, I like to cut the buckle fitting strap (**once it is fit properly) and burn the end with a match (carefully) melding the end so the threads will not fray.
For me, I always thought that the 4-5 inch chin buckle 'curb feeling' straps waving in the wind were a bit much : )
Often the bike will drift to where our attention goes - looking back without drifting can be a challenge.
A tip I find to be helpful when you need to go straight yet still look back to merge or turn arises - I will sit up and straighten - almost lock out my left arm while holding on to the bar hoods to the side that I am looking back to. At the same time, I will bend my right arm and slide my hip to the right just a little. Doing this helps you shift and stabilize the bike as you look behind. High speeds, narrow to no shoulders and construction zones may place you in situations with little to no wiggle room. By straightening my arm to the “look” side and bending the other the bike tends to stay on the line instead of drifting offline.
Traffic turning in front of you.
Often you may be moving faster than traffic realizes - especially on descents. The false assumption is that you are on a bike and that the driver is faster so of course there is plenty of time to cross in front of your path.
Imagine you are riding north and a car is facing south waiting to turn left in front of you. Cyclists will often look at the hood of the car or the driver (sunglasses can be misleading). Looking at those visuals is tough for me as they offer little to no warning.
In this situation - assuming everything else is clear - my focal point is the cars drive side (left) front wheel. The car cannot make a turn in front of you unless that specific wheel turns and rolls first. As I approach I focus on the motion of that wheel - if it does move I will have more time to brake or be evasive.
With a rear light - I always tilt my rear light to flash slightly to the left (car lane) just off-center facing into the road. For me, this offers more visibility to the cars coming from behind. As cars typically do not follow directly behind and pass you on the left a high percentage of the time the tilting simply gives them more direct notice. Another benefit is that it’s less distracting to the rider directly behind you - it's nice to give their retinas a break.
JERSEY FUNCTION TIP
Typically road jerseys will have 2 to 3 pockets. I like to use these pockets functionally.
My center pocket:
Will hold the heaviest item normally my small zip pocket ride wallet (cash, CC, ID, 3 small "L" wrenches for the entire bike, business cards).
My right pocket:
Will hold anything that does not need to be touched often: door keys banded together, GU’s, pump or gloves after I have taken them off.
My left pocket:
(I am left-handed) will hold my high rep items: supplements, electrolyte pills, lip balm, single GU pack, etc..
Let’s say my pockets are even and flat across my back but I want to remove my gloves. If everything is pocket perfect - I will flatten the gloves, stack them and place them inside of my bibs, but high on my lower back so they can not slip down. Doing this allows me to save space, add some warmth, some padding and even push out my pockets to reach a bit easier.
Having this system keeps things simple and usable. It also plays to the ergonomics of my being left-handed. Me having (or feeling for) lip balm on the right side does not work for me.
So be sure to balance your jersey and distribute the weight evenly. This will lead to more comfort on the bike. If you were to make an effort or stand up to climb and your jersey is swimming side to side - something may be wrong ; )
MIND THE GAP
Stay off the bumpers - what’s coming out of the tailpipe of a car can kill you yet there you are - just behind the bumper and well within the range of the car exhaust. The light turns green and you roll right into the unhealthy fog of it all.
IF YOU CARRY ONE BE MINDFUL OF THE PUMP
I carry a small lightweight pocket pump which I love. Of course, you can mount these on the bike but I prefer not to. My pump is a mini and always goes to the right side of the center pocket or in the right side pocket depending on the weight distribution across my back on that ride. It goes on the right side because I do not plan on using it ; )
So again be mindful, I always place the pump handle down and pump head up using the head clip to attach it to my jersey like a pen to pocket. The pump head has solid, hard edges - the handle end is smooth and round.
If something were to happen and you make contact I would rather have the smooth handle end at my lower back. To better keep it still, I often use a rubber band to secure it to my ride wallet with the clip as a hook as mentioned.
I like to keep these as simple as possible - my bag is super minimalistic as I only carry what I need.
My minimalistic (tucks high under the saddle) Arundel saddle bag contains:
1 700c tube (in the box)
1 tire lever
1 tire boot (1.5" cut segment of an older tire)
1 chain link
1 threaded C02 with Head
That’s it - it weighs exactly 229 grams, is packed incredibly tight to not allow movement and is hardly ever touched - only transferred to another bike for normal use.
It has not been opened in 2 years (knock on wood : ) and I hope it goes 2 more.
This is also the reason for keeping the tube "in the box" (crush the corners to make it compress) or in the original plastic sleeve to protect it from the abrasion inside the saddlebag over time.
So, no keys, pump, CC or ID - simple and it can also be transferred from bike to bike (700c).
I understand the bull nut swinging 5lbs. AAA, Hazmat bag, but ask yourself; do you really NEED all of those items?
Riding solo I always like to communicate my turns. I do this regardless of the density of traffic. One of the first questions an officer will ask at the scene of an accident is: “was there rider communication?”. I like to be covered here. I also do not assume anything. If a car and I are facing and at a stalemate as we both gesture to go; I will unclip and put my foot down (this always wins as they speed off bent with authority).
Keep in mind I do not use the signs you learned in grade school - I try to keep it kool and simple with my indications : ) However, I am clear - and vehicles know my intentions. It can be hard enough out there so do not make it harder for yourself.
From my experience, how you communicate with drivers is vital. I have learned that many drivers whom I thought were negligent based drivers were not - they were just angry from just dealing with negligent cyclists.
With that said, it’s tough to be positive after being yelled at for no reason or having something thrown at you. But a smile and a positive wave carry enormous power AND you get it back later in the universe.
Communicate well and be smart - pay it forward and positive for the next cyclist they encounter.
A TIP FOR EARLY MORNING AND / OR COLD WEATHER RIDES
In winter (and all seasons) riders tend to open their mouths to breathe easier on big climbs or during big efforts - this can be tough on the lungs as well as your immune system. One thing that was worked for me is to curl your tongue back so the tip of your tongue is touching the roof of your mouth. For me, this still allows for more air intake but my tongue serves as a buffer to warm the air taking away the sharpness of it before it hits the lungs.
KNOW THE DIRECTION OF THE WIND
Flags are often the best way to determine the direction and strength of the wind. This information can be helpful in gauging the effort of your ride.
This is important whether you ride alone on in a group. If you are riding solo cruising with a strong wind at your back later in the day, realize that same wind (maybe stronger) will be pushing against you when you return later. Road traffic could be heavier as well.
If you are in a group and you know the wind is coming from right to left, you may want to reconsider that big effort you were gonna put in at the next right turn. Maybe put the effort in sooner?
You could also do the inverse - sit in the group in the crosswind and come to the front in the headwind to increase your level of training. This is always appreciated in the group setting.
RIDING IN FRONT AND LEADING ARE NOT THE SAME THING
For me, whomever is on the front of the group (big or small) carries the safety responsibility of the group. The calling out of obstacles should be embraced and the hand indications need to be as clear as possible - even decisive. If you are pointing long (with one hand on the bar) at an obstacle already passed at 50ft behind you the group will think there is another upcoming obstacle.
The calling out of a wheel destroying pot hole as well as merging lanes needs to be quick and happen in advance. I understand yelling is common, but for me this seems to:
A. startle riders into quick unwanted movements or B. only help the riders next to you. Crosswinds and Apple AirPods will also make certain the words are delayed and unclear. When the lead rider becomes distracted and starts pointing quickly and waving at goats (country roads - don’t worry) I tend to start rotating backwards with a smile. Same thing happens when the lead rider indicates like that guy at the club waving the neon disco sticks at high speed.
As a Leader - simple, short specific and decisive alerts go along way to help keep people safe.
RACE / RIDE WARM UP TRICK
This may sound strange but I actually over-tighten my heart rate strap a little bit during warm-ups. I like to tighten the strap on my commute to the start of a group ride, when I'm on the trainer on a rainy day or on rollers before an event. Doing this makes my chest a little more constricted during harder warm-up efforts. Post warn-up, I set the strap to its normal, comfortable setting. Straight away I feel the extra forcing of oxygen. It allows me to feel more relaxed and that my breathing can be a little more expansive.
All good laughs here as this is one of the most conflicting prep items for cycling. I'm not even sure of the “proper universal" way to install it, but I know what is best for me.
The first thing to know is that you should use actual chamois cream not the hand lotion conveniently placed right beside the sink - they may seem the same, but the anti-bacteria properties, cooling effect as well as the ability to deal with friction make chamois cream worth it every time - even on short rides. Invest - it’s worth it. The purpose of the cream is to increase the comfort of your contact point and ease the friction on your soft tissue while pedaling.
Now, “where" to apply - I cannot help but smile as I type this…..thinking of my friend Mo who mistakenly took the cream for suntan lotion and applied 2 full handfuls to his face….awesome guy, but even to this day I smile so big my face hurts.
After turning my bibs (yes bibs, not shorts) inside out in my hand I apply 2 fingers worth along the seams on the side and 1 fingers worth to the upper and lower parts on the pad. The application amount will greatly depend on how much time you plan to spend in the saddle - for a 6hr ride I have covered almost the entire pad pretty heavily with extra amounts going to the side seams as well.
But no matter what you do ***please be mindful of loading up the center spot with cream. Whether you are a man or a woman, going heavy in the center is not recommended.