Training Tips for Women #2: Pack Riding Skills

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By Deb Preller, M.D.

For those new to sharing the road with hundreds of other cyclists of varying skill and ability, you will want to work on your pack riding (or group riding) skills before Obliteride. These skills are often overlooked by people training for a century/charity ride because they don’t plan to spend the whole day in a pace line trying to set Strava records. Often people end up doing all of their training solo or with a few friends of similar fitness and pace. This training strategy is great for the majority of your training time. You will learn which friends you can ride close to, who you can draft and who you never want to ride behind nor beside.

During a long charity event like Obliteride, you may encounter more than your fair share of the latter. Unfortunately, many of these folks start as early as possible. Depending on your pace, you may end up behind many of them, wanting to pass. On the other hand, some may pass you at a speed which seems perfect for you to tag along at and cut your work by up to 20% if you are skilled at drafting. (Drafting is riding behind someone else so they block the wind and decrease the effort required for you to ride at any given speed).

For all of these reasons, it is important to get comfortable riding in a group. Even if you have no interest in riding that close to others, they may ride that close to you at times. For everyone’s safety, it is useful to learn some basic group riding skills.

Following are some suggestions for gaining confidence—and ensuring safety—while riding in a large group.

1. Spend some of your training time riding in a big group.  If you are new to pack riding, start out small.  Ride with a friend or two who has pack experience and practice riding behind them.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Looking ahead is the key to drafting Look at the person’s shoulders or beyond. You don’t need to look at their wheel or bike as you will be able to see this in your peripheral vision. You would never drive staring at the bumper in front of you. If you try it you will see why! Looking up will give you more time to react (not overreact) when something happens up ahead.
  • Avoid sudden movements. Don’t grab your brakes and squeeze unless the person in front of you comes to a sudden stop.  This will cause a chain reaction and put everyone behind you at risk.  Touch your brakes lightly, as if driving/riding on ice.  Minimize turning your handlebar, and instead lean your bike to turn.  This is much smoother and safer.
  • Gradually decrease the space between you and the person in front of you as you become more comfortable riding close.
  • Even when you think you are at the back of the group or you are riding solo and no one is behind you, there are likely hundreds of people you never even knew existed back there.  Don’t stop in the middle of the road or lane.  If you need to check something or if you drop something, signal to the right, look before you turn then ride to the side of the road before stopping.

2.  Take a bike handling skills class.  There are many classes available around Seattle through Cycle U, Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, Cascade Bicycle, etc. This will make you feel more comfortable and efficient in your riding. It will also make all of your training even more productive. People who are tense and nervous riding around big groups waste a lot of energy and are more likely to crash or cause a crash.

3.  Join an Obliteride training ride. Once you are comfortable with small groups and have learned a few basic skills, it would be a good idea to go on one of the Obliteride training rides. These group rides will give you an opportunity to experience riding with a small contingent of the people who will be joining you in August.

About Dr. Deb Preller

Dr. Preller practices at Overlake Medical Center in Bellevue, Wash. Her achievements on the bike include the Washington state road women’s category 1-2 champion in 2006; gold and silver medals at Master’s National track racing in 2005 and 2006; Master’s World’s silver medalist in track racing in 2005; and Master’s World’s silver medalists in road racing in 2006. Dr. Preller currently co-manages the Fischer Plumbing Women’s cycling team.

The legal stuff: The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

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