New Rider's Guide
All of us were new riders once, and we were all helped by others. Here are the thoughts of some of the current club members on riding with the club.
Your first club ride
The idea of your first club ride might seem a bit intimidating: experienced riders in matching kit, expensive looking bikes with all sorts of gadgets, all knowing exactly what to do as they set off...
Don’t worry about any of this - we all learn what to do over time, and the kit and gadgets don't make you a better rider anyway. For people new to group riding VCJ runs 'Anchor' rides, So come along at 9 am on any Saturday (no need to join the club until you know its for you), say "Hi" and ask to join the Anchor group ride.
The Anchor ride is particularly suitable for anyone new to group riding, or not yet confident of their ability or fitness level. It is always led by an experienced club rider who will show you how to ride safely and confidently in a tight group. These rides are about 30 miles (about 50 km) at an average pace of 13-15 mph (20-24 kph) depending on terrain, and riders on the day. We look after each other, no-one gets left behind and we always have fun.
If you are already an experienced group road rider, see the 'Which group?' section below, or just ask any of us which group would best match your speed and ability.
Here are some things that you can do to prepare for the ride, and below we have some group riding guidelines you can read to help you get a feel for the essential skills.
Eat a decent breakfast at least an hour before arriving for the club ride. Porridge, cereal, toast, fruit, rice, eggs are all excellent. Avoid overly fatty or greasy foods and don’t eat too much meat (it takes too long to leave your stomach).
What to bring
For a standard club ride of 45-60 miles a typical example of what you'd need is:
1 piece of flapjack
Half a peanut butter and jam sandwich
Bring whatever you like to eat and bring a little more than you think you will want – we advise against things that don’t digest easily e.g. greasy foods or meat.
In summer, 1 litre of fluid, in winter 0.5 litres as a minimum. Plain water is fine, but many riders choose a squash or electrolyte tablet (which can be sensible if you sweat a lot).
Two tyre levers
Two inner tubes – check they are the correct size and valve type
Something to pump your tyres with. Try using it before you need it.
Tyre patches, in case you are unfortunate enough to use both your spare inner tubes.
4mm and 5mm allen keys (most modern bikes use these for many parts) or a bike specific multi tool.
A cable tie (if you break a spoke you can tie it to the others and carry on riding)
A Tyre boot (a 2cm x 3cm piece of old tyre, toothpaste tube or credit card can cover a rip in a tyre)
A chain tool (to fix a broken chain or work around a broken rear derailleur)
A foot long piece of gaffer tape wrapped round a tube on your bike (this has many uses)
Always look at the weather forecast and dress for the weather. When you first go outside you should just feel a little chilly. You will warm up as you ride. If there is any chance of rain and it is cool, bring a rain top. Thin layers and zips mean you can adjust as the temperature changes.
A good pair of padded shorts is highly recommended.
Always have some cash for food or emergencies. Also for coffee in the café at the end.
Should the worst happen and you end up stuck on your own, this is your backup plan to call for help.
Know how to:
Repair a puncture
Adjust your brakes
This is what you are here for. Riding in a well organised group is fun, sociable and can be challenging physically. Riding close to other people at speed requires care and adherence to a few basic guidelines to keep you and others safe, and to make it a more comfortable ride.
Which group should I ride with?
New riders should join the Anchor ride, where you will learn the skills for group riding. More experienced riders should pick a group you think will be below your ability level first time out.
Average speed means there will be sections that are harder and faster than the average speed suggests. Once you find yourself at the front of your current group more often than not, it is time to move to a faster group.
The following groups are usually riding on a Saturday:
Anchor group: average speed 13-15mph (20-24kph), no dropping
Consolidarsi: Average speed 14 – 16.5 mpg (24-27kph), no dropping people if possible
Medium: Average speed 16-18.5 mph (26-30kph), no dropping people if possible
Medium fast: Average speed 17-19.5 mph (27-31kph), people occasionally dropped
Fast: Average speed 18.5-21+ mph (30-34kph+), regular dropping of experienced riders, often no mid-ride stop or regrouping after hills. This is race training.
If there are beginners these will usually be incorporated into the slowest group heading out (on a Sunday beginners may be asked to come back another day if the main group is not suitably composed).
Riding in pairs
When in groups we ride ‘2-up,’ with two lines of people side by side, roughly two feet apart. On wider roads this formation makes the group compact and easier for cars to overtake. A group should be no bigger than 16 riders overall. 6-12 is ideal.
If there is only one rider in front of you, one of your pair should move forward to fill the gap, and so on through the bunch. Your pair should be close to the pair in front: 1-3 feet is ideal on a flat or gently inclined road. Avoid leaving big gaps between your pair and the one in front, as it it wastes energy, road space and makes the group look less predictable to other road users. Leave more space if you are less confident or you think you may need to brake soon.
When going downhill at speed leave a lot more space to brake and manoeuvre, tens of feet.
Going single file
In order to let cars pass on narrower roads, or to ride along main roads the call ‘single file’ will go up from a ride leader. The rider on the right (closer to the centre of the road) should move smoothly behind the rider on the left. The riders toward the rear of the group on the left hand side will need to slow to allow the extra space required.
Rotating riders on the front of the group
Everyone should get the opportunity to share the work on the front of the group. At the front it can be windy and much harder work than in the bunch.
When you get to the front, initially maintain the same speed as the people before you. Don’t surge away – the guys or girls on the front before you may be tired after their turn and need a chance to get to get their breath. Attempt to keep a constant effort as the road goes up or down (this no longer means a constant speed!). As a guide, your turn on the front should be about 5-10 minutes, but less if you need to take a break.
Once your time on the front is up, indicate your desire to rotate as a pair. This can be done by pointing up in the air and circling your hand. The outside rider moves in front of the inside rider, allowing the outer line to move ahead. The front rider of the outside line moves inside to form a new leading pair.
Point to substantial hazards on the road surface with one finger. Call out if significant or numerous hazards (e.g. lots of potholes)
All fingers outstretched, pointing towards hazard in road – gravel or loose surface
Arm bent behind back, elbow making an arrow pointing to large hazard on one side of the road to be avoided (e.g. parked car, runner in road)
Hand straight up (if safe to do so) – puncture or mechanical - also, call out ‘puncture’
Palm of hand held steady facing rider behind – stopping
Palm level to ground, hand raised and lowered – slowing
Hand in air making circling motion – intending to rotate off the front of the group
Arm outstretched to left or right – indicating a turn left or right
If a car is coming towards the bunch from in front on a narrow road, call ‘car up’
If a car is coming towards the bunch from behind on a narrow road, call ‘car back’
This is when one person in a pair wants to ride at a greater effort than the other resulting in their wheel being half a wheel length ahead. Avoid this. It is equivalent to saying ‘come on!’ If you want to go faster, speak to the group and agree on it.
Dropping people from the group (and how to help them)
If someone is struggling you can do a number of things:
Slow the pace to allow them to recover
Check they have eaten and had a drink
Check they don't have a mechanical issue with their bike
Send them to shelter towards the rear of the group (not the very back as they might disappear without the group realising)
If someone drops off the back, a stronger rider might go back to collect them, allowing them to draft the stronger rider back to the group
Eating and drinking enough
There is lots of information on this available in books and online. As a guide, eat and drink little and often (every half hour is ideal). Eat something like a banana at the rest stop.
Courtesy and stopping on red
If you are on the road you should obey the traffic laws. This will keep you safe and other road traffic will know what to expect from your movement on the road.
Stop on red lights. No exceptions.
No obscene language, gestures or road rage. There is no place for this. No exceptions.
As you approach horses go slow and keep talking / making noise, give a wide berth. If you have a noisy 'freewheel,' keep pedalling.
Say hi to other cyclists and road users!
Making sure your bike is in good mechanical order
Brakes must work well
Tyres should be in reasonable condition and pumped up (as a rough guide 23mm tyres should be pumped to at least 90 psi)
Gears should change acceptably and not throw your chain off
Your bike generally should not be likely to break down. If you are unsure of its condition then get the once over at a good local bike store
If you are struggling
Make people around you aware you are finding the pace hard. They can help look out for you.
When did you last eat or drink? You may need more food.
Go to the back of the group and seek shelter from the wind, do not take turns on the front. It is better to finish than blow up taking a turn on the front.
Getting dropped a few times can be part of moving up to the faster groups. You might have to push to your limits a few times to get fit enough to be able to last the whole distance, particularly in the medium-fast and fast groups. It can be disheartening, but do not fear. Be prepared to navigate your way home. Take a map or GPS device or simply follow the road signs if you are confident with that.
It is particularly important to be self-sufficient if you get dropped. You must be able to fix a puncture (or two) and have the kit outlined in the What To Bring section. If it all goes horribly wrong a mobile phone should be your last line of defence.
Become a member
If you like riding with us then join up at British Cycling.