Pack Riding 101

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Updated: April 1, 2010

This initial article of the Beginners’ Corner is about something very important to roadies: riding in a pack. You can’t ride long distances easily without riding in a pack, and working together can make things easier and just plain fun. So here’s some do’s and don’t’s of pack riding.

Pack Riding Defined

“Pack riding” is best thought of as organized group riding. Riders take turns “pulling,” or leading the group, while the other cyclists draft behind them. Over time, each rider takes turns pulling, with everyone rotating through the lead spot. As the lead rider pulls off the front, he or she drifts back (usually to the left) and rejoins the pack at the rear. The benefit of all of this organization is that it makes riding easier for everyone because all of the riders are working together, taking turns doing the hard work. With that in mind:

Do:

  • Be predictable. Smooth, steady riding is the name of the game. As riders get closer together, everyone needs to be able to trust the others not swerve into them, or otherwise cause mayhem.
  • Call out obstacles. Watch out for things in the road, and call them out for other riders. “Hole!” and “Bump!” are common yells. You can also point things out, too.
  • Call out approaching vehicles. Help everyone be aware of oncoming cars and trucks. Use “car up!” for cars coming from the front, or “car back!” for ones coming from behind.
  • Pay attention. It’s easy on long rides to zone out, especially when riding hard, but resist the temptation. Watch the other riders, approaching cars, debris in the road, whatever–just pay attention.
  • Try to be organized. The most fun packs are well organized–riding in two lines, two riders abreast, whatever… but organized. If everyone pays attention and rides in place, it is easier to be more predictable and avoid wrecks!
  • Take turns pulling. You know the type: the dreaded Wheel-Sucker. Be polite and take a turn up front. Even if you can only hold on for 30 seconds, do it. It’s the right thing to do and it will earn you brownie points in the pack.
  • Keep and even level of effort when pulling. Keep the speed or level of exertion constant when you get up front. Resist the urge to speed up and show your stuff. That irritates people and breaks up the pack.

Don’t:

  • Yo-yo. It takes a little practice to stay a steady distance behind the rider in front of you (about 2 or 3 feet is best.) Try to be steady–not falling back then speeding up, then falling back again. It breaks up the pack and shows you are noob.
  • Let gaps get created. Keep up. Don’t break up the pack by letting the riders ahead of you get away. If you can’t stay up at the pack’s pace, call out that you’re dropping off, and gracefully pull out of line.
  • Swerve or ride unpredictably. Can’t say it enough: ride straight and predictable.
  • Stare at the wheel of the person in front of you. Look at their back, then around, then back again. Staring at the wheel ahead of you makes it easy to zone out.
  • Draft and not take a turn up front. Don’t be a wheel-sucker.
  • Speed up when pulling. Keep the pack together by keeping the pace the previous leader held.
  • Pull too long, then get gapped on the end. One temptation is to pull too long, then not have the energy left to stay on the back of the pack when you pull off. Always keep a little reserve so you can stay with the group.

I hope this helps. Just remember—don’t stress about riding in a group, just have fun. That’s why we’re doing this… right?

One Comment

  1. Michael Smerbecl

    June 24, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    I live on base and recently bought a road base. Been riding on base and looking to branch off.

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