By Coach Fred Matheny
It’s easy to ride with a couple of like-minded friends. But it gets more complicated when you’re with a big group of people you don’t know, maybe fighting a strong crosswind. And in a cycling racing pack or the random groups that dominate centuries, it often seems like there are no rules at all.
In crosswinds, the area of maximum draft from the rider just ahead isn’t directly behind him or her. Instead, the draft is to the leading rider’s left if the wind is blowing from the right, and vice versa. In these conditions, riders hide from the wind in a formation called an echelon. Looked at from above, the riders will be offset like a slash: /
Here are 4 rules for riding in an echelon:
Always pull off into the wind. To get shelter from the wind, the rider behind may be overlapping your rear wheel on the lee side. If you pull off to that side, you may strike his front wheel and cause him to swerve or crash, thereby taking down following riders like a line of Dominoes.
Don’t make sudden moves. Because echelons mean overlapped wheels, use extra caution. Swerves to miss a pothole or debris in the road could cause a crash. Communicate!
Watch the wind direction. When the road turns, the relative direction of the wind changes, too. So does the location of riders behind you. Always remind other riders of the new conditions and make sure everyone knows which way to pull off.
Don’t hog the road. Big echelons take up lots of space. Six or 7 riders can easily fill a lane, causing a dangerous situation for traffic. If the road doesn’t have a wide shoulder, break your group into smaller echelons of several riders each.
In a racing pack or large group like those that form during events, usually no one organizes the riders, telling everyone to ride a double paceline or an echelon. You’re jammed together like a herd of stampeding cattle. Survival tips:
Ride near the front. It’s safer because there are fewer riders in front of you to do something that could cause a problem — and fewer to get mixed up in any problem that does occur. Often, the strongest and most experienced riders are at the front.
Avoid getting boxed in on the edge of the road. There’s no place to go except off the pavement if riders crash in front. And if the road suddenly narrows, you’ll get squeezed out. It’s also more dangerous because the road often drops off several inches into the gutter or shoulder, making it very difficult to get back on the road in the middle of a pack of riders.
Stay aware of traffic. If you’re on the left side of the bunch, avoid swerving across the centerline for any reason. (In most races, doing so gets you relegated to the back of the pack. But in the early stages of organized events, it tends to happen often when riders of varying levels are bunched up.) Even if no vehicle is coming at you, one could be passing from behind. Tangling with another rider is preferable to becoming a hood ornament on an SUV.