Group Riding on the Open Highway

Riding in a Group

A Group Riding Session
A Group Riding Session

It’s Tour de France time again and the weekend warriors will be out in force. But the increase in numbers comes an increase in inexperienced riders. A rather well know NGB is rather worried about its insurance premiums, partly as a trend trend towards more dangerous group rides, crashes and casualties.

When I started cycling over 20 years ago, it was in a club environment. Lets not pretend these were wonderful days in which newcomers were welcomed with open arms. Rather, the rides were ‘hang on if you can affairs’ in which I typically did not hang on. I would arrive back later than most at the  secret society club rooms. Old boys would talk about how they rode 80 miles on a 100 inch fixed gear to a road race, they would win it and then cycle home again with only a jam piece for fuel. It was a macho environment in which you were welcome to ‘f**k off” if you weren’t hard enough and changing clubs was as safe as shouting “EDF” in Moss Side. Lizzie and Laura wouldn’t even be able to buy any female specific clothes let alone consider wage equality. Some of the shit things I saw back in these days still motivates me to do a better job in encouraging youngsters who want to ride a bike.

However, there was a positive. Cycling etiquette was literally booted into me. I was taught how to sit on a wheel, how to ride through-and-off and to communicate holes in the road or approaching cars. It wasn’t until 10 years later that I got really good riding advice from cycling legend Brian Rourke. His type is fading fast….an old boy who’s been a great pro, still able to mix it with the fast boys but wanting to help the youngsters and inexperienced riders learn how to ride a bike safely. Brian would nip back, push you up to the bunch, or guide you through corners following his line to catch up. Amazing stuff. Nowadays, offer similar advice on a chain-gang and you’re likely to be told where to go.

The brilliant news is that lots of youngsters who now receive excellent coaching and learn their craft well before they even reach junior level. This is thanks to dedicated volunteer coaches and professionals who deliver skill based coaching sessions. The majority of older riders haven’t experienced skills coaching and prefer to focus on training zones.

Of course, It’s easy to be critical of others and I’m certainly far from a bike handling wizard. However, a problem we are facing is having riders coming to the sport later in life who haven’t been through the club environment, who have not been coached and who feel the need for speed!  The typical demographic is now ABC1 males who are reaching a mid-life crisis, who have plenty disposable income and are not the best at listening to advice.

This isn’t good for the sport as big crashes are far more likely. Egos take priority over safety, despite it being ‘cycling law’ that we should consider the safety of other riders just as much as our own. Part of the attraction of cycling is that it’s sometimes dangerous…..however, it is cockwomblery when ego and lack of skill are mixed.

There’s no easy solution but I’ve come up with a few top tips that you may wish to pass around:

Top Tips

  1. Recognise that it takes skill to ride a bike at speed. That means riding at the level of your skill rather than of your fitness, when in a group.
  2. Being a weekend warrior can be fun but ‘smashing it’ in a large group with a range of abilities is not safe. Rather, enter a race!
  3. If you don’t know cycling etiquette, don’t ride in a group until you do. You’ll find lots of different versions if you do a simple Google search. For British Cycling members, there’s a great article on etiquette in the Insight Zone.
  4. If you’re an experienced rider, lead by example…don’t be a sheep. That means speaking up when you spot unsafe riding and splitting the group up if it is too large.
  5. Don’t ride in groups of more than around 8-10 riders. You’ll get a much better workout that way and it will be safer.
  6. Try to avoid all-male groups. Maybe a gross generalisation but females tend to know their limitations and have smaller ego’s.
  7. Leave your ego at home.
  8. Don’t wear pants under your shorts!

Size of Groups

I’ve come up with a list of advantages and disadvantages between large and small groups. Unless you road race, I can’t think of a good reason why you would choose to ride in a group larger than around 8 riders, unless it is on a closed-road circuit.

Large Groups (8+)



  • Sometimes replicates the demands of road racing (if you road race).
  • Pace is highly variable so get a good physical workout
  • Forces you to concentrate more.
  • More dangerous because of range of rider abilities
  • More dangerous because of the snaking effect i.e. touch of the brakes at front of the group may result on a rider at the back having to slam their brakes on; riders at back have to accelerate much harder out of corners than those at the front.
  • Large groups make it difficult for cars to pass and motorists get frustrated
  • Difficult for experienced riders to control the group and give less experienced riders tips.
  • The effects of one or two in-experienced riders can disrupt the whole group
  • Work: rest ratio is less than for smaller groups
  • Difficult to do a work-out that is specific to your own training.

Smaller Groups (Less than 8)



  • Much safer than larger groups
  • Can practice race tactics more safely i.e. mini-breakaways, sprinting for 30’ signs and so on
  • Can accommodate a greater range of abilities
  • Ideal to learn group riding skills such as ‘through-and-off’.
  • More inclusive/less intimidating for riders new to the sport
  • Easier for experienced riders to provide riding tips
  • Easier for cars to pass
  • Work: rest ratio is greater than for larger groups i.e. you work harder
  •  Does not replicate the stop-start nature of road racing (only a disadvantage if you race)
  • I can’t think of any more.


Just a wee note to say that this article represents my personal views, rather than those of anyone I represent.


7 thoughts on “Group Riding on the Open Highway”

  1. Point 6…in my experience females in triathlon need. To learn to ride full stop as many miss out handling the bike and jump to speed and miles and try and hang on…scaring themselves to death and ultimately not staying in the sport . Back to basics is a need for female novice riders in my opinion

  2. This made me think of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers theory, that talent is only one component of success, and it takes 10,000 hours of practice before anyone can be successful in a specific discipline. Traditionally, as you point out, riders would start as junior club members, and put in a lot of hours in club runs and races over the years, gradually acquiring the instincts and skills that allowed them to ride safely in a group. The past 20 years has seen a huge decline in the number of juniors coming through the system, with a more recent rise in the number of adult novices who have not served this sort of apprenticeship. Perhaps the current resurgence of the junior scene will help to rebalance things by raising the average skill level in the bunch in a few years time!

    p.s. Just as an aside, I believe the specific incident referred to in your article was actually an unfortunate accident triggered by an awkwardly parked car, rather than the result of careless or dangerous riding by the group.

    1. Thanks for your comments Ken.

      Yeah… I’m lucky insofar as I regularly see the best of the kids these days. The 10000 hours is a funny one….Jamie Timmons work on genetics suggests that not even 10 million hours would work for me.

      Yeah… I was careful not to say too much about this weekend’s crash as I wasn’t there. Wishing everyone a speedy recovery.

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