Pro Cyclist Ted King Shares How to Fit in on a Group Ride


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"It's like riding a bicycle!"

If you've ventured even this far into this column, my guess is that you know how to ride a bicycle. And once you've learned that basic task, it's nearly impossible to unlearn.

Balance and perpetual motion fly out the window as soon as the training wheels are off, so then it's the simple chore of spinning your legs and soaking in the miles. But the reality is that riding bikes is the easy part. After mastering the art of riding, the next, more difficult endeavor is fitting in.

Like a clique of teenagers, the aesthetic of cyclists is starkly superficial. Each club tries to match one another by sporting just the right clothing, yet with a unique flair of individuality. The brand you're wearing must pop with precisely the right color scheme, which needs to pair with exactly the right sock length to complement your spiffy shoes that are shining just so.

Or so the story goes. In reality, even if you're riding a squeaky rust bucket of a bike in flip-flops with cutoff jeans, you're still making the world a better place. Sure, there are upgrades you could make, but riding is riding, so just by being on two wheels, you're winning the battle.

Therefore, the more critical aspect of cycling cultural conformity takes place directly on the bike. Let's tackle riding etiquette to benefit everyone on the road.

Circumstance A: You're Riding Alone.

First things first, you belong on the right side of the road. Moreover, you should ride as far right as possible. Every foot of pavement traveled is a new scenario, and I encourage you to be ready to react accordingly, but 99 percent of the time, you belong on the right of the white line.

Next, be acutely aware of your surroundings and never presuppose anything. Don't assume a motorist sees you just as you shouldn't expect that napping dog to continue napping when you approach it. Ride defensively, be smart, be aware, but also ride with ownership of the road. No matter what that hillbilly in the honking pickup says, you do have the right to the road. Ride authoritatively.

Circumstance B: You're Riding in a Group.

As a professional cyclist, observing dangerous deviations in group riding fires me up more than virtually anything else on a bike. Look, I'm not a bicycle dictator, so you may do as you'd like. I do, however, likely have tens of thousands more hours tallied and miles pedaled than you and by imparting the following basic recommendations, I'm hoping to keep you safe and happy on your bike.

1. The riders at the front have the best view, so it's their job to see upcoming dangers and point them out. "Hole," "stick," "gravel," "jogger" should be pointed out with the left or right hand and relayed back in an audible, but not fingers-on-chalkboard, shriek. Let your group know, but don't bellow it to the whole neighborhood.

2. Your group might be two or 200; regardless of size, never ride more than two wide. Furthermore, echoing the message from before, you belong as far right as possible. Hey, Left-Lane-Larry, there is absolutely zero reason to be three abreast, zigzagging across the yellow line, yet I see you there all the time. When a car comes ripping around a bend and sees a group strewn all over the road, the motorist is immediately angry. Comparatively, the motorist is much more at peace coming up on a group that's tightly and professionally knit together and on the right. Do your part.

We'll now steer toward the unwritten rules that you find on established, swifter paced rides.

3. As the pace increases and you're still a newbie earning your stripes on an established, speedy group ride, you should start somewhere in the middle of the pack and simply observe. Over time, as you're feeling more comfortable (or strong), begin to integrate into the rotation at the front.

4. It's likely the group will rotate in a two-abreast pace line. While you should maintain consistency and rotate in the same direction as the group, the assumption is that once you've finished your pull, you'll rotate in the direction of the wind.

5. If you're stronger, pull longer (not faster.) Let's say you notice that you're feeling stronger than the others; your pulls at the front should maintain the same speed, simply for a longer time. Surging speed is annoying on a group ride for everyone.

6. Don't half-wheel! The bane of every professional cyclist is someone who rides with their wheel just a few inches ahead of the other. When called out, they'll sheepishly apologize, "I just didn't want to slow you down." A good gauge is the front wheel or handlebars of bikes should be two abreast: Keep them perfectly parallel with each other.

7. Always wear your helmet. Even if you're riding a rusty clunker of a bike and pedaling in flip-flops.

Ted King is a 10-year veteran of cycling who has raced the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia, Paris-Roubaix, Tour of Flanders and more.

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