I love cycling in a group. There are many reasons – the opportunity to chat to other people, the little bit of competition and the feeling of sharing a common goal.
When it comes to saving energy when cycling, two or more riders are certainly better than one. That’s because of a technique that puts aerodynamics to work known as drafting.
Drafting is when the front rider cuts through the wind, decreasing the wind resistance of another cyclist who is riding close to their back wheel. This allows the second rider to gain advantage of the slipstream created by the front rider. The energy saving for the second rider has been estimated to be as much as 30 percent. Interestingly, the front rider also experiences a slight push from the second rider as well.
Drafting is an important skill to learn in cycling. To properly draft in a headwind, cyclists must have the ability to ride with mere inches between their wheels. In a crosswind, cyclists form what is known in racing terms as an echelon, a staggered diagonal line with each rider slightly downwind of the previous rider.
Here are some tips to help you ride in a group and take most advantage of drafting
Control your speed
The lead rider in a pace line (line of cyclists one behind the other) can stay at the front for just a few seconds or for several minutes. When you join a group that is rotating the lead position and it is time for you to lead, resist pouring on the power to show everyone how strong you are. A pace line is happiest when the pace is steady. Fast accelerations or jerky braking motions disrupt the line and can cause a crash.
Keep eyes and ears open
When you are following someone, avoid getting a visual fixation on their rear wheel. Look several feet ahead, keeping the distance between your front wheel and the rider ahead of you in your peripheral vision. If you are the front rider you can see the road clearly and so you must point out road hazards.
If you are riding in windy conditions or it is a hilly course, anticipate changes in the group pace. When the peloton changes directions, sometimes the weaker riders are no longer sheltered from the wind and they fall off the pace. Be aware of the riders behind you.
Get a friend to come out with you so you can both practice switching positions and drafting off each other.