Riding in the winter time requires attention to new details. The obvious one is generally less traction, but since many group rides fill up in the winter with people looking to share the misery of long wet miles, group ride etiquette and skills become critical.
The mornings are dark in the winter, so lights are a requirement; a solid white on the front, and a solid red on the back. 120 lumens or more on the front is encouraged so can see the road in front of you.
Rain Bikes & Winter Equipment
On the west coast we typically spend half of our riding year in wet conditions. Having a bike that you can ride, enjoy and rely on is important. You must spend time maintaining it properly if you want to avoid trouble out on the road. Here are some things to consider:
- Chain replaced every 2,000 miles
- Brake pads checked for wear
- Rims cleaned and glass picked out of tires from the last wet ride
Make certain you pack a spare tube, CO2 cartridge or bring a pump, have basic tools and anything else you might need. Don’t rely on someone else’s preparedness for help. And consider carrying a pair of rubber mechanic’s gloves. They take up no space, but make changing a grimy wet flat a much more pleasant experience.
Fenders & mud flaps
A pain in the rear, but a requirement. The front fender is for you. If you don’t care about getting your feet wet, don’t bother. The rear fender is for your teammates. Get one that drops around the back (not a “back scratcher” that only keeps water off your own butt), and includes a mud flap (crap flap) THAT IS ABOUT 1-2″ OFF THE GROUND. If your mud flap is more than 2″ off the ground, then it is useless and will allow water and road grime to spray on the person behind you. Make sure your fender and mud flap are aligned so they are covering the back of your wheel.
Winter riding means slower speeds. Slower speeds necessitate that we ride further onto the shoulder and into the bike lanes over a lot of debris, including glass and worse. Riding light summer tires is asking for trouble. If you’re out on your own, it doesn’t matter. But if you’re out with the group and get a lot of flats, you’re making a bunch of people who took the time to be prepared wait for you, getting cold and often wet in the process. Invest in some heavier tires. So long as you take time to clean your tires and pull out all the glass each week, you can easily go all winter without a flat.
Flats on the route
If you get a flat on the route, call out “Flat!” or “Mechanical!” If you disappear off the back and we later realize it, often someone has to abandon the group to go look for you or even the whole group will. We don’t want to ditch any teammates and leave someone out on the road alone. If you don’t mind going it alone, be sure and let someone know that you’re leaving.
Drafting is important in racing and should be practiced in group rides. This means keeping a consistent gap, paying attention and taking a turn at the front. If you’re newish to group rides, then feel free to ask someone for help. We’re here to help everyone improve.
While riding with the group, especially at the slower paces this time of year, it is easy to get into the habit of “half wheeling.” This is where you’re riding with your front wheel overlapping the rear wheel of the person in front of you. Don’t do this. It’s fine to do if the group slows suddenly and unexpectedly, but generally you should be completely behind the person in front, otherwise the risk of touching wheels becomes high and touched wheels will likely cause a crash.
If you’re in the front, you must watch the road ahead, gently steer around larger problems in the road and point them out BEFORE you get there. Don’t suddenly hop over or zip around a pot hole or drag your teammates behind you through the ruts and pot holes. You have a responsibility when you’re in the lead.
When you’re riding 2 x 2 down the road, you should be riding 2 x 2. Tight formation riding is a skill we all need to develop. When the road narrows and there is traffic, we MUST work together to share the road as well as use available bike lanes. Using the bike lane does not mean riding on the white line and leaving 6 feet to the riders right. When you are in the back of the group, keep an eye out for cars approaching from behind and yell “car back!”. If you hear someone yell “car back!” be sure to yell it to the people ahead of you.
When we’re coming to a turn, the front needs to signal and the back needs to watch and take the lane when appropriate. The goal is to move as a coordinated unit, not a bunch of singles. Work together. Use your head. Be a team.
Taking a Pull
Since it is winter and the pace is generally slower, you should pay attention to the pace and/or perceived effort before you get to the front. When it’s your turn at the front, you should maintain the same effort level that has been set. That means if the road meanders up or starts to climb, you should maintain the same relative perceived effort of the group.
After your pull, move clear of the group and then soft pedal or even brake and get to the back of the group and into the line quickly. This helps keep our group tight and out of traffic. If you’re not moving back quickly, you’re forcing people to shift over into the road to give you more room.
While this page is written with road riding in mind, many of the same principles apply to gravel rides. Riders should have a light with an option of 1000+ lumens for trails in the dark. Fenders are optional, but many riders opt for a rear fender or seat-flap to keep mud and water off themselves.