For most people, racing is a building block of skills, honed through participating and training in group rides. The most basic skill is to feel comfortable on the bike and get used to riding close to people. It’s not dangerous, but you need to be calm and collected, and it takes practice to get to that. The double pace line on most group rides is the single best way to practice this, so keep these tips in mind on your next ride:
1. Relax – Literally unclench your muscles, let your bike float underneath you a bit, whether you are standing and rocking it side to side a bit, or just holding the handlebars. This will also allow you to ride longer without fatigue. Remember to change up your hand position every once in a while too to prevent numbness.
2. Go elbow to elbow – You should be able to bend your elbow out and touch the rider’s elbow next to you. This is also a good reminder that your elbows should be bent slightly in the first place!
3. Look up – Look at the person’s shoulders in front of you, not their back wheel. Like mountain biking, you will ride where you look, so staring at the person’s back wheel in front of you will eventually take you there. It will also leave you oblivious to what’s going on up the road; looking at the person’s shoulder in front of you will allow you to see past them and see movement in their arms when they grab for their brakes. We don’t have brake lights, so watching for people grabbing brakes (and listening) is what we go based on before we even see people slow. As your ability progresses you will also be aware of your front wheel via your peripherals and you won’t worry about running into the rider in-front of you.
4. Positional speed – Use position versus braking to regulate speed. Every time you put on the brakes, you are taking away energy you put into the bike. Brakes are not your friend, but obviously necessary. If you find yourself coming up on someone in- front of you, consider drifting a bit up their side first before you decide to brake behind them. Stop pedaling and let yourself slowly drift back into their draft. Your companions around you will appreciate it as well instead of consistently braking. This will eventually even out your riding, and as you practice it, you will get to a place where you can anticipate how much power to put into the pedals to be exactly where you need to be, reducing both coasting and braking.
All of these things can be practiced on your local group training rides through positioning, attacking and drafting. They can help make you feel more comfortable riding close, reading the group and anticipating accelerations and braking, which all directly relate to improved racing ability.