Cycling 101

Safety and comfort

  • The Bicycle Laws of North Carolina on the North Carolina Department of Transportation web site is a great place to learn about the rules of the road and what you are responsible as a bicycle rider on the open roads.
  • Always wear a helmet. It is the most important piece of safety gear you own. A good fitting helmet should always fit around the crown of your head and there should be very little movement or play once it is on.
  • Sun or cycling glasses are a big help. They prevent bugs and debris from hitting your eyes as you glide along the road.
  • Once you start riding more consistently, invest in a pair of cycling pants. They will feel a little funny as you get used to them, but on longer rides they are invaluable.
  • Wear tight fitting clothes. Loose clothing can get tangled up in your spokes or gears.
  • In the winter, put on enough layers so that you are just a little chilly at the beginning of the ride. You will warm up as the ride goes along.
  • Carry the items and tools you need to fix flats: tire levers, a couple of spare tubes, a patch kit, and some sort of pump (either cannisters or a portable pump). Glueless patches work fine to get you home, but they are only a temporary repair.
  • Make sure the bike you buy fits you. The wrong size bike is an expensive mistake.
  • If your knee hurts in the front, raise the saddle. If your knee hurts from behind, lower the saddle.


Cycling can be a high intensity sport. Staying hydrated and maintaining calorie fuel is key. By the time you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. If you are on your bike for more than an hour, you will need food.

  • Stay hydrated! It is recommend that you drink at least 5oz water (about a mouthful) or some type of sports drink every 15 minutes. Until you get the habit, every time you see another rider take a drink, reach for your bottle. Some riders like water, others prefer sports drinks such as Gatorade. Experiment to find what works best for you. Especially during the summer months, make sure you remain hydrated when off the bike as well. Help your body absorb more water by adding a little lemon to each glass of water.
  • Regularly refuel your body. Sports drinks help, but they are not enough for longer rides. Riders risk "hitting the wall" where the body has used up its supply of readily available fuel. It's better to eat small amounts often rather then a larger amount all at once. Before the ride take in carbohydrates, such as a peanut butter and banana sandwich, raisin bran cereal, oatmeal, fig bars. Bring something lite to eat during the ride, such as power bars, granola bars, or fig bars.
  • Within an hour after a challenging ride, you will want to eat some protein. You have broken your muscles down during the ride, and they need protein to build back stronger.

Building strength

  • Spinning is key to building strength. It is more effective to pedal at a higher revolutions per minute (RPMs or cadence) than to tire yourself out in a higher gear. Generally speaking, 70-90 RPMs are recommended.
  • If your leg muscles burn on fairly level terrain, you are probably not spinning enough, and should move to a lower gear and spin faster.
  • If you are breathing hard on level ground, you may be spinning too fast, and should move to a higher gear and lower cadence.
  • Remaining in higher gears over time is bad for your knees.
  • An indoor spin class at the gym is a great environment to learn spin techniques and get used to the feeling to pedaling at higher RPMs.

Group Ride Etiquette

Pick The Right Group Ride

Group-ride levels and objectives vary. Determining the group's goal and pace will ensure that you join a ride that's right for you. Each CBC ride is posted with the anticipated pace over the complete ride. If a 72-mile route is posted as an average 17 mph, that means you should be able to maintain the 17 mph average over the total 72 miles. This does not mean that the pace will always be exaclty 17 mph so the group may be faster on the downhils or on a flat road. Picking the correct group to ride with will ensure that you push yourself but not cause the entire group to be to fast or slow for your pace.

Don't be late

CBC rides are timed to get all riders from all routes back to the brewery at the same time. Group rides typically start within minutes of the official starting time. If you're late, you'll miss out. Plus, if you hold the group up, you'll make a bad first impression. And, don't forget to allow for donning your equipment, pumping up your tires and reassembling your bike if you drive to the start. It's a good idea to arrive at least twenty minutes early.

Ride Carefully And Considerately

Bikes are considered vehicles, just like cars, and are required to obey the same traffic laws. And, getting a traffic ticket or placing your fellow riders in danger is certain to make a bad impression. Make sure that any actions you take are possible for those behind you. Avoid darting in front of cars while making a left or crossing an intersection when only 2 or 3 riders can successfully get across. It's a natural tendency to follow the rider ahead of you and having to make a split-second decision whether to cross or not places the cyclists behind you in jeopardy.

Travel as a group

If someone in your group has an accident or a flat tire, the group should all stop together. Once the situation is assessed, the leader will decide what to do and may tell some of the riders to go on.

Pace line riding

Pace line riding consists of two or more riders traveling in a tight group in the draft of the rider(s) in front of you. The front rider of the line creates a draft for following riders, which can be used for more efficient riding.

The draft envelope behind a single bicycle is about six feet long. The closer your front wheel is to the rear wheel of the rider ahead of you, the stronger the draft. Pace lining can save 20 to 30% of your energy output. This energy savings is what allows the pace line group to travel at higher speeds. Concentration on what you are doing in a pace line is essential; there is no time for sightseeing. Drafting behind one rider is the best way to start - someone you have ridden with before is best so that you'll already be familiar with his or her riding habits.

Group riding tips from David Cole

I've been cycling for a number of years, long enough to have encountered a variety of riding situations and to have matured some of my own group riding skills. I know from experience that riding as a newbie in an experienced group can be intimidating. I also know that inexperienced riders can pose a real safety threat within a group. So... I offer these group riding tips that I've picked up along the way, and hope they'll be helpful to others.

  • Hold your line No matter how large the group you'll tend to fall into single, double, or perhaps even triple-file lines. It is critically important that you recogize the structure of the group and fall into place accordingly. Cyclists who ride "between the lines" will almost invariably be overlapping their wheels with other riders, and any wheel contact will take both riders down. Maintaining your line becomes especially important as you round corners, as you don't want to cut other riders off in a curve. Perhaps more than anything else, riding safely in a group means riding predictably. If you hear someone behind you yell, "Hold your line!" know that they're doing you a favor, even if it may not sound like one at the time.
  • Maintain awareness To move safely within a group you must be constantly aware of the riders around you - ahead, behind, to your left and your right. When I ride solo I always ride with a mirror - I want to know what's coming up behind me. In a group of more than a few riders, however, I find that the mirror only helps on one side, and what I really need to know is who's immediately around me. In this situation glancing over each shoulder can keep you better informed of who's where.

    You also want to pay close attention to the rider in front of you. If he or she is riding erratically then you may want a larger gap between you than if the rider's a long-time riding partner.

  • Announce hazards When you're in a large pack only the first few riders can see the road. It is more than just a courtesy to point to and call out road hazards such as gravel and potholes. You should also announce when you're overtaking slower riders and if you're braking unexpectedly ("Slowing!"). Good group communication keeps everyone riding safely.

    I sometimes call out approaching traffic ("Car back!", or "Car up!") but do so only when it's out of the ordinary, such as a car pulling a wide trailer or a dump truck or the like. Announcing every car causes riders to become desensitized to situations which truly warrant their full attention.

  • Announce your moves When you're moving in or out of a line, point to where you're going so that riders behind you know what to expect. This is part of maintaining awareness of the riders around you and riding predictably.
  • Maintain your pace When you're drafting you gain about 1% efficiency per mph. You can ride in a group at 22-24mph at about the same effort it would take to ride at 20 mph solo. To ride efficiently the group needs to ride at a steady pace and avoid unnecessary slowdowns. Two common bottlenecks are:
    • descending/climbing hills If you're in the front while descending a hill, you need to remember that if you're coasting then the folks behind you are braking. As you approach the bottom of a hill you should accelerate to maintain your pace as you climb up the other side (otherwise the group will "bunch up" as the faster riders in the back catch up with the slower, climbing riders in front). I'm surprised at how many experienced riders simply don't know how to attack a hill. It's actually easier if you can maintain your momentum by accelerating at the bottom, and it keeps the group from compressing.
    • at corners It's only natural to slow as you go around a corner, but this can have a cumulative effect with a large group. The trick here is to cut a line through the turn which the group can follow and then accelerate smoothly as you go out the other side.

    One other situation to be aware of is when you get out of the saddle for a climb or sprint. It's easy to slow down slightly as you stand on the pedals, and this can be just enough for the rider behind you to collide with your rear wheel. You should practice accelerating slightly as you come out of the saddle to compensate. Since most riders aren't aware of this, don't feel bad about mentioning it when you see another rider do it.

  • Take your turn at the front Remember that drafting is much easier than pulling, and it's common for folks to feel the need to demonstrate their fresh legs when it's their turn to pull. Pay attention to the pace of the paceline. If the group is maintaining, say, 22mph on the flats, then that's the pace you should pull when you're in front. If you do choose to push the pace, try and wait until the prior leader (who's falling to the back of the line) is in line and back up to speed.

    The whole idea of the paceline is to share the load up front. If you have more than a few riders then you should limit your pull to a half-mile or so. Don't feel bad about taking a shorter pull if you think most of the group is stronger than yourself.

    It's generally considered polite to switch off at the top of a hill. This provides for better visibility to ensure you're clear of traffic, and it lets the next leader start out in more favorable conditions.

  • Keep your position This one's a bit of a pet peeve of mine, but some riders feel compelled to sprint every hill regardless of the pace of the rest of the group. These same riders will often then catch their breath on the flats, causing the group to ride faster, and then slower than what they'd otherwise choose. I realize that some riders are going to be stronger climbers than others, but if you have extra energy to burn I suggest you take a longer pull at the front. Otherwise, try and maintain your relative position in the paceline.
  • Be careful with aerobars. I ride with aerobars because I like having the additional hand positions. However, using the aerobars limits my bike handling; I'm less stable and I can't brake or shift as quickly. When I'm in a group I only use my aerobars if I'm in front pulling the paceline or if I'm in pursuit mode trying to close a gap. There are some folks that feel you should never use aerobars in a group because of the reducing handling.
  • Recognize when you loose riders off the back This is especially true when you have a small group. You want to make sure that riders who are dropped don't end up lost. You also want to ensure that they're not having mechanical or physical problems.
  • Recognize a rotating echelon Occasionally you may notice a situation where the lead rider in a paceline switches off almost immediately after pulling through. That is, almost as soon as the previous leader falls back, the new leader will likewise pull over and start to fall back. As other riders repeat this sequence, you end up with two parallel pacelines, with the outer line going a little more slowly than the inner line (since the riders in the outer line are all falling back). This is called a 'rotating echelon,' and it allows a group to move very quickly, since any one rider is pulling the line for only a short time. This seems to work best in groups of 10-14 riders and will quickly break down if anyone is unfamiliar with the protocol. If you're in a group that starts an echelon, just do what everyone else seems to be doing (like the way most of us learned to dance in junior high) and enjoy the fast, steady pace.