Hints & Tips on Good Riding

Club Riding

There are codes of behavior that are somewhat unspoken yet understood in the cycling community. If you are a new rider or your riding is done mostly solo, you may be unaware of this. To avoid embarrassment, it’s a good idea to know the rules of the game before stepping out onto the field.
There is a lot of enjoyment to be had from cycling in a bunch – but to reap the full benefits and keep everyone happy you need to make sure you are aware of the etiquette and language of group riding.

Safety is the number one priority when riding solo or with a group. Behaving predictably is the best way to make this a reality. When other road users can anticipate your next move, you go a long way toward ensuring everyone’s safety.

Once you know the rules, signals and terminology of group riding you can seamlessly blend into any pack, whether it’s a fast-rolling bunch in a sportive, on a local club run or even a collection of commuters you happen to pick up on the way home from work. Being aware of how to behave and communicate with riders around you will make the whole bunch experience safer, faster and more fun.

Youghal Cycling Club is a friendly club willingly offering  advice and welcomes all levels of cyclist.

The Four Fundamental Rules of Club Riding

Sitting on a wheel

This is a valuable lesson, its here where you get the most protection of windbreak. If there is a rider on your wheel then you have an obligation not to leave any gap open with the rider in front of you.

Don’t be a lazybones  

Once you get a bit stronger you are obliged to get off the back of the bunch and make your way to the front and do your bit.

Relaying verbal information

It’s important that you let everyone behind know what’s coming up. Those at the back won’t be able to see, so are relying on you to give them adequate warning and keep them safe. Try not to shout too frequently or unnecessarily. Important things to tell the group are when you are stopping, (otherwise you risk a pile-up), that a car is coming head-on with little space so riders need to single out, that there is a car trying to overtake from the rear, and that you are approaching a tight turn or gravel on a turn.

Car back – is a car coming from behind the group.

Car down/Up – is one heading towards you.


The biggest hazard in group riding is people stopping quickly and unexpectedly. More accidents and mass pile-ups are caused by people panicking and grabbing a handful of brake than anything else. If you stop suddenly, the person behind is just going to run into you, and a collision is likely to bring down other riders as well. If something happens in front, look for ways to avoid it while maintaining speed and shouting back a warning, rather than simply slamming on the anchors.

Unwritten Rules of Club Riding

  • Be aware that everything you do has a knock-on effect on everyone behind and beside you.
  • You are responsible for the safety of everyone around you as you are for your own wellbeing.
  • Don’t half wheel. When you hit the front, keep the pace consistent and matched to your riding partner. Some groups allow the cyclist on the left-hand side dictate the pace.
  • When you hit a hill, maintain your effort level, not your speed.
  • When you come through for your turn and move over to the recovering line, do so smoothly and close to the rider you are taking over from. Dont leave them with a massive gap.
  • Don’t leave gaps. Full stop.
  • If you are struggling to close a gap, wave the rider behind you through.
  • Do your fair share of work at the front.If you are hanging and can’t take a turn, stay back and take a breather.
  • If you are feeling strong and someone else is suffering, give them a shove on the back to help them back onto a wheel. Keeping gaps closed will ensure the group stays together and you’ll maintain the pace better.
  • If someone gives you a shove, accept it graciously. Everyone has bad moments.
  • Always carry the tubes, pumps, food and tools you need to look after yourself and your bike.
  • capable of or you know you are tiring. If you start to get dropped, the group will have to slow down to look after you, or in some cases you will be abandoned.Just sit in the group and enjoy the spin.
  • Show your respect for other cyclists and the drivers with whom we share the road. A smile and a wave go a long way if a driver has waited for a cyclist to get through a junction. Say hello to other cyclists on the road as you pass. We are kindred spirits, connected by our passion. Oh yeah, never spit when other riders are too close behind you!!

Back to the top

Bike Control


To control speed, the rear brake is used more often than the front. When used, the front brake is often “feathered,” meaning that pressure is applied gradually and in small amounts to reduce speed as when preparing for a corner. But in an emergency situation where an immediate stop is needed, both brakes are applied with the front brake given the most pull. In such a situation you should also slide back on the saddle to weight the rear wheel preventing it from skidding and losing control. This position also helps to prevent an “end-o”—as in end over end.

When descending a hill you must be careful when using the front brake. Pulling it aggressively can easily result in a crash. Apply the rear brake primarily on a fast descent feathering the front brake only if more slowing power is needed.


One of the most dangerous times in a ride, especially a fast one, comes when negotiating corners. The first rule of cornering is don’t brake in the corner. If the turn is free of gravel and water you should be able to take it at full speed by leaning. But if it’s necessary to slow down, brake before you get into the turn. Then let go of the brake levers as the turn begins.

The most important time in taking a corner is the early part. If the critical speed and line you selected are right, then you will have no problems. Practice approaching corners over and over at various speeds. Make it second nature to judge how fast to take them. The line you select depends on your speed. A fast speed requires a more gradual and sweeping turn than does slow cornering.

Sit in the middle of your saddle, not on the nose or back end of it. This will help you better maintain balance. As the turn starts, stop pedaling so that the inside knee is high, put most of your weight on the outside pedal, and lean to the inside. The lean of the bike should be greater than the lean of your upper body. To accomplish this keep your head upright so that the line of the eyes is parallel to the road surface.

When the bike becomes more upright as you exit the corner, begin to pedal again. It is common to stand up out of a corner to regain momentum.


Body mass has a lot to do with not only how well you climb, but also with how you climb. Smaller riders (less than two pounds of body weight for every inch of height) usually climb best when out of the saddle, whereas bigger riders (more than about 2.3 pounds per inch) climb more effectively seated. Riders between these extremes often alternate between sitting and standing when climbing, but spend more time seated. The standing position is less economical on a moderate grade, but on a steep hill standing reduces the feeling of effort.

When starting a long, steady climb select a lower gear so that the cadence is relatively high. Then as you progress up the hill shift to higher gears. This helps to prevent fatiguing muscles early in the climb allowing you to finish strongly. Doing it the other way around—going from a high to a lower gear—is associated with slowing down. In a high gear your cadence may be as low as 60 rpm. The lower your cadence, the greater the strain on your knees and muscles. But even if you spin at 100 rpm on the flats you’ll find that a slower cadence is more effective when climbing.

If alternating between sitting and standing positions on the climb, shift to a higher gear on standing and back to a lower gear on sitting down. This is especially true near the bottom of the climb when your gear is somewhat lower. You can’t spin as fast when standing so a higher gear is necessary then. Near the top of the climb you may not need to shift up as the gear will already be high.
When standing, allow the bike to sway gently from side to side without weaving off line. Do not exaggerate this movement. It should happen naturally as the pedal goes down and the hand on the same side pulls to counterbalance the leg force.

When seated, scoot back on the saddle and place your hands on the brake hoods or bar tops rather than on the drops. This will keep your head up so you can better see what’s ahead and open up your chest to allow for easier breathing. On standing, grip the brake hoods to better balance the bike. Keep the grip light. Squeezing the bar does nothing to improve climbing and only wastes energy. Bernard Hinault, one of France’s greatest cyclists, used to say that when climbing he kept his fingers as loose as if he was playing a piano.

If the front wheel veers off line with every stroke due to using too high a gear, locking the elbows, or from choking the handlebar, the rolling resistance increases up to 30%. Don’t make climbing any harder than it already is. Pay close attention to maintaining a straight line.


Coming back down a hill at high speed requires concentration and trust. You must concentrate on the road ahead, potential dangers on the side of the road (pedestrians, dogs, parked cars), and other riders and traffic around you. You must also trust your bike and handling skills. If these are questionable, then slow down. It’s better to lose a few seconds in a descent than to make a trip to the emergency room.

Most riders have a fear threshold—a speed above which they feel out of control. As you become more experienced at descending, your threshold will rise, but it will never go away. When the threshold approaches the tendency is to grab the brakes and hang on for dear life. This could make matters worse as the heat build up from the friction of brake pad against rim may cause the brakes to begin to fail.

Slowing down on a descent is an art form based on using your body as a sail to control speed, evenly distributing your weight between the front and rear wheels, and briefly and repeatedly applying the brakes, using the rear brake primarily. This allows the brake pads and rim to cool between applications.
Riding with Other Cyclists in a Single PacelineRiding a bike in a single file pace line with a large group of cyclists is an exhilarating workout, but a risky one. Obeying certain unspoken rules of etiquette will help everyone stay safe. Here they are.

  • Maintain a close position within one to two feet of the rear wheel ahead by soft pedaling or moving slightly into the wind when the group slows.
  • Ride with your hands on the brake hoods, but do not keep the fingers on the brake levers as this will encourage constant braking that is dangerous in close formation.
  • Do not stare at the wheel ahead, but rather look up the road using peripheral vision to maintain a safe position. Looking up the road allows you to react to obstacles, hills, speed changes, or formation changes.
  • When in the lead position, called “pulling,” maintain a constant speed. Any changes in speed should be gradual. The lead rider must never coast, even when going downhill.
  • The duration of a pull at the front of the group should be limited and is determined by the size of the group from a few minutes to a few seconds. The smaller the group, the longer the pull.
  • On finishing a pull, signal to the rider behind that you are ready to move to the rear. After a quick check over the shoulder to make sure there is no traffic, move laterally to the downwind side of the formation and soft pedal as the group passes. As the last rider appears, check over the formation-side shoulder to make sure this is indeed the end and then move into position as the last rider.
  • At the start of hills the group will “accordion” with wheels tending to overlap on uphills and with gaps growing on downhills. Be prepared for this when a hill appears.
  • As an obstacle on the road is approached the lead rider should steer safely clear of it and point to the obstacle to warn the others. Those following also point to warn trailing riders.
  • Well in advance of turns and stops the lead rider uses hand and voice signals to notify the group with the signal being repeated by the others.
  • Everyone in the group needs to be constantly aware of traffic. It is common for those at the rear to loudly announce “car back” when a vehicle is approaching from the rear on a lightly traveled road.

Back to the top

Fitness and Health

It can be difficult to keep up an exercise program, especially if you don’t see results right away in the mirror or on the scales. After all, the No. 1 reason most people workout is to look and feel leaner. If you are consistent in your riding program, that will happen – but, unfortunately, we don’t all get the results right away. Some never see the benefits on the scales.

There are lots of reasons why some are unsuccessful in this endeavor, including low motivation and poor food choices. Another explanation for being a chubbier than we’d like despite regular riding is genetics – some of us just weren’t meant to be skinny waifs.
If you’re hoping that riding will help to fight off the bulge but don’t see progress on the outside, keep in mind that plenty is still happening on the inside. Many healthy benefits accrue from regular exercise. Here are some of them.

10 Other Reasons to Ride

  1. Heart Health. Exercise improves the functioning of the heart and blood vessels while decreasing your risk of heart disease – the No. 1 killer in this country. If someone in your family died of a heart attack at a premature age then exercise and diet are all the more important for you. Don’t stop!
  2. Improved Blood Chemistry. Exercise has been shown to increase HDL (“good” cholesterol) and reduce the amount of triglycerides in the blood. Again, this means improved cardiovascular health.
  3. Lower Blood Pressure. Blood pressure readings of 140 over 90 or greater are considered hypertensive. By age 65 almost 60% of all Adults are at this level. Research clearly shows that regular exercise alone, without any other lifestyle changes, lowers blood pressure.
  4. Decreased Risk of Cancer. By exercising regularly you reduce the chances that you will contract some cancers, such as colon cancer.
  5. Stronger Bones. Exercise has been shown to help prevent osteoporosis and the risk of broken bones that comes with aging. Increased bone mineral density is even evident in those under the age of 30.
  6. Reduced Chance of Diabetes. Type II diabetes is at epidemic levels in America – no other life-threatening disease is growing as fast. Riding a bike regularly will improve your insulin metabolism.
  7. Greater Muscular Strength. Remember how strong you felt when you were younger? You can regain it; research on 90-year-old people shows that great gains are possible with consistent exercise. Every day activities like climbing stairs or carrying groceries will get easier as you ride more.
  8. Reduced Stress. Regular exercise helps you to put the stresses of life into perspective and makes for a calmer demeanor. That means your mood is more relaxed, you feel better about yourself, and you sleep better at night.
  9. Decreased Pain. Exercise may help you reduce the discomfort caused by chronic problems such as arthritis or a bad back.
  10. Other Benefits. Exercise improves digestion and lung function while increasing joint flexibility.

So when you step on the scales, keep in mind that it isn’t telling you the whole story about your exercise program. There are lots of good things happening inside which aren’t always evident there or in the mirror. Keep pedaling!

Keeping the Fat Fires Burning

But let’s get back to where we started – losing body fat. Exercise is pretty good at that, if you do enough of it.
During exercise we use energy to produce movement and the more movement, the greater the calorie expenditure. For example, running at a nine-minute-per-mile pace burns about 11 calories a minute, but walking at 18 minutes per mile burns only about five. So faster exercise burns more calories in a given time.

But here’s the clincher: Exercise also burns fat after a workout because once the sweating stops our metabolisms stay high for awhile. This may be the greatest benefit of exercise when it comes to losing fat. So how can you increase the post-exercise burn?

A few scientific studies provide answers. Here are some findings.
In one study, exercising for 20 minutes at 35 to 55% of aerobic capacity, as in riding briskly, elevated metabolism for 20 minutes after stopping. Not much, but better than nothing.

When subjects in another study exercised for just a few minutes at 90% of aerobic capacity until exhausted, as when riding very hard, metabolisms remained high for only 15 minutes.

Twenty minutes of walking at a brisk effort bordering on running, kept the calories burning at a high rate for 40 minutes post-exercise. When the fast-paced walking was doubled to 40 minutes, it took 100 minutes for metabolisms to return to normal!
Walking four miles per hour on a treadmill for 150 minutes burned calories post-exercise for several hours. Six hours after stopping, metabolisms were 15% higher than normal.

After exercising for three hours at a brisk walking pace, metabolic rates were high the remainder of the day and still 4.7% higher the next morning.

It appears that the best ways to keep the metabolic fires burning furnace-like are to exercise at a moderate intensity for a long time, or to exercise at a high intensity for a short time. Strength training also is helpful as it increases muscle mass — more muscle means more fat is burned.

To lose unwanted fat you have to start some place. Gradually building more fitness will do it. Once your fitness is greater, the weight problem will begin to take care of itself. Stick with it!

Easy to Say

A full-time job and other responsibilities can easily get in the way of regular exercise. But, although your family and job are important, so is your health and well-being.

If you find that time and motivation are the biggest reasons you can’t exercise as you would like to, you may need some strategies to get started. Here are some that may help.

Exercise First. It’s best to work out first thing in the morning before a day’s worth of interruptions get in the way. But if you’re not a morning person, try the next strategy.

Be Prepared. If you’re going to ride after work, lay out clothes and shoes and pump up your tires before leaving in the morning. After work this will serve as a strong motivator – and you won’t have to decide what to wear. If the ride will be first thing in the morning get everything ready before going to bed.

At Least 5. Even if you don’t feel like, start every ride. But tell yourself you’ll quit after five minutes and go back home if motivation is still low. If, after five minutes, you’re still not feeling up to it go on home. If you find yourself getting nothing but five-minute workouts try the next strategy.

Buddy Up. Find a compatible riding partner and agree to meet regularly at a certain time and place. Knowing that someone else is waiting for you will get you going and make riding more fun, too.

Save Petrol. Ride your bike to work whenever you can. You’ll need a small backpack to carry clothes or some planning to get them to work the day before. This is an easy way to get in miles.

Kill 2 Birds. Do two things simultaneously. While riding a stationary bike watch television or read, chat with friends and family. With a little ingenuity, you probably can find other things you can do from the seat of a bike.These exercise strategies will help you start and maintain a daily riding routine. Keep them up and before long you’ll forget you even needed such strategies in the first place.

Back to the top

10  Things Every Cyclist Should Know

Like many aspects of life in general there are nuances of riding a bike that are passed down by word of mouth or that some times will be demonstrated. Many are simple things , but if you are never informed , how will you ever know ? Here are my top 10 ;

10 : The rear end

Riding the Wicklow 200 last weekend I noticed a number of cyclists wearing white shorts with a VJL ( visablejocks line ) underneath . All cycling shorts are designed with a padded chamois to be worn next to the skin . You may feel naked the first time that you do this but you will get used to it very quickly . The seam of any underwear will cut into you and is a surefire way to get a saddle sore or to end up walking like John Wayne after a spin . Chamois cream is a great way to cut down on the natural friction that occurs when pedaling at 90 rpm for a couple of hours . This can be applied to either the chamois itself or directly onto the skin where the point of contact is . Whilst everyone has a personal choice in saddle styles , in general they should be narrow for road bike use , as you will be sitting more forward and a wide saddle may cause chaffing between the legs . All saddles should be level , not pointing up or down . If you feel that you need your saddle pointing down towards the front hub , chances are that it is too high in the first place and vice verse . It does take time to get your rear end used to sitting on a saddle for hours on end , but this too is all part of the training .

9 : What to do if you get a puncture

There are racing cyclists who drop their bike into a shop to have a new tube fitted after getting a puncture whilst out training . I blame mobile phones for this . If you had no way of communicating with someone who may come to pick you up there would be a much greater incentive to learn what to do yourself . And it really is pretty simple . Forget about patches , that puts people off straight away . On every training spin bring a pump , tyre levers and 2 spare tubes . If you get a puncture , take off the wheel ( if it’s a rear drop it down into the outside sprocket first as this will help you know where to hang the chain when putting the wheel back on ) . Use your tyre levers to remove one side of the tyre and then pull out the tube . Pump the tube to see if you can find where the air is coming out . This will give you a good idea of where to check the tyre for the item which caused the puncture in the first place . Locate the thorn , piece of glass , thumb tack , or whatever and remove . Then check the rest of the tyre . If you cannot find anything whatsoever in the tyre and the tube has two holes very close together , this may be a pinch flat . These are caused by riding an under inflated tyre over a pothole or stone . Next slightly inflate your new tube and fit into the tyre . re-seat the outer bead of the tyre and finish near the valve . The reason for this is so that if a part of the tube remains under the tyre bead by pushing the valve back up into the tyre you can re seat this properly . Now pump the tyre as hard as possible using your hand pump and refit the wheel .

8 : How to ride in the wind

The wind can be a cyclists’greatest enemy . But with a little practice you can make life much easier for yourself when the trees start to sway . If you are riding in a group stay close to the rider in front . If the wind is coming from the left place your front wheel slightly to his right and vise verse . When riding on your own be conscious of any protection or shelter that a ditch or wall can offer . Use your gears and try to keep a good pace going . Riding against a strong headwind is very similar to climbing , that’s why so many Dutch riders have excelled in the mountains of the Tour de France . Always try to begin your training spins with a headwind so that you can enjoy the tailwind on the way back .

7 : Food and drink

For spins under 2 hours you do not need to eat anything . Bring a gel in case you are having a bad day . For longer spins bring an an energy bar , ride shots , fruit or whatever you like to eat and nibble away from the 1.5 hour point onwards . Drinking depends on the weather, but is a good idea to begin sipping within the first 5 mins. as this will set the tone for the rest of the spin . I usually use 1 x 500 ml bottle of powerbar carbo/isotonic mix every 2 hours whilst training.

6 : Using your gears

It is always easy to spot an inexperienced cyclist . They are trying to churn a huge gear with their shoulders . Take a look next time you see one and you will see their shoulders move at least 12 – 18 inches with each pedal stroke . Bikes nowadays can have anything up to 33 gears. Even if you only have 10, use them to keep a nice steady economical cadence. The average should be about 90 rpm on the flat and 70 rpm whilst climbing.

5 : Clean your bike

20 – 30 mins once per week will keep your machine running much better. Brakes, gears, handling will all run a lot smoother when a bike is well taken care of. Chains and cassettes will not wear out as quickly and you will spot problems such as glass or thorns in tyres before they become an issue. You will also feel better as a nice clean machine whirring along underneath you will always lift your spirits. Try it and see.

4 : Time

Cycling takes time . It takes time to go for a spin and it takes time to improve . Then the better you get the further you can go and it takes even more time again . With family , work and social commitments there will always be something else to do , you just have to find a way around them . The biggest obstacle many people find when trying to do ‘The Wicklow’ or  ‘The ring of Kerry’ or ‘The Sean Kelly’ is getting the time to train for these events . Well here are a few ways around that problem . If you know the names of three or more characters on Fair city , Coronation Street , Eastenders , Big Brother or whatever TV show is on , you have the time to train . If you spend your lunchtime sitting in a cosy cafe , you have time to train . If you sit in traffic for 1 or more hours per day , you have time to train . All you need do is to become a little more disciplined with your time and you will find the time to train . Your wife will be happy with the new trimmer you , the boss will be happy with your increased productivity and alertness and the kids will enjoy the extra energy that you will have to play with them .

3 : Bend your elbows

When we first started out cycling with the Carrick group Tony Ryan would come up along the line and give you a Karate chop on the elbow if it was locked rigid . He was a great advocate of ‘bending the elbows ‘ . It makes sense really . If your arms are locked all the vibration from the bars travels up along to your neck and shoulders which causes neck and shoulder pain . You are also less flexible if someone bumps off of you in a group . It does take a bit of practice but will be well worth the effort .

2 : How to climb

Many people have a mental block about climbing . The main thing to know is that climbing does involve a certain amount of pain for everyone . Robert Millar said that ‘ the best climbers are not the ones who can climb the best , but the ones who can suffer the most ‘ . So be prepared for some pain , but also be conscious that everyone else is suffering too . This makes it a lot more tolerable . On short , sharp climbs , try to power over them but for longer climbs it is important to pace yourself a little . Find a gear that you are comfortable(ish) in and get into a rhythm . When rising out of the saddle change up a gear to maintain your speed and change back down when you sit down again . The only way to improve your climbing is to climb , so don’t be avoiding any hills when out training .

1 :  Look up

If you have ever been sea sick or car sick , you will have been told to look up at the horizon to make your body feel still. This is because 20% of your balance is related to your optic nerves. This is important on the bike too . When descending you are much more stable when you look on up ahead than 5 feet in front of  you. The speed of the road passing by can actually make you feel dizzy. You need to look where you want to go, not where you don’t. In a bunch too, it is important to look up. Your peripheral vision will take care of whats around you and by looking up ahead you can look out for any parked cars, etc. and also be more stable on the bike itself.

A few other simple things are to always wear your helmet 1” above your eyebrows , not on the back of your head , call the potholes and obstacles when riding in a group and don’t be afraid to ask other cyclists if your not sure about something . It makes them feel important and you get the answer you are looking for. Well, most of the time anyway.

Back to the top

Thanks to Barry Meehan from Worldwide Cycles Clonmel, and Youghal Cycling Club for the articles.