Riding in a group is not only fun but highly efficient; it should come as no surprise, but air has a weight, and you need to push 100KG of air every 150 meters, so slipstreaming (draughting) someone just ahead of you is a great way to reduce your effort (as much as 30%).
This is the idea of the peloton, and you may have seen in time-trials and the Tour de France how the professional cyclists ride so very close behind each other, taking turns to protect each other (and their GC riders) from the wind.
Considering safety, although contentious and likely to stir the ire of many a car driver, riding two abreast is not only permissible in the Highway Code, but if there are more than say four of you makes overtaking your group much safer (the overall road distance needed for the overtake manoeuvre is reduced by several bike lengths). If you are a novice rider who is unsure of their ability, I recommend single file unless you are practising with a seasoned cyclist who can take charge when the need arises to go from 2 abreast to single file (e.g. heavy traffic or narrow road). When 2 abreast, keep talking to each other about how and when they want to change position, etc and start with one handlebar’s distance between you.
Riding in a group requires concentration and diligence of other around you, it needs practise. If you are draughting each other as a group, the front person peels off (after looking over their right shoulder) and joins the back (the side they peel off depends on side wind direction), the next person takes over, without increasing the pace, and so on.
- Don’t look at the back wheel of the person in front of you, look ahead and concentrate
- Never overlap wheels (half wheel) with anyone, just in case they, or you, need to swerve to avoid an obstacle or pothole, overlapping your wheels is dangerous, potentially causing you and others to crash. It’s also considered poor form.
- Until you are proficient, keep a minimum distance of one bike length between you and the person you are following – you can still get the draughting effect up to 3 metres behind the other person
- If you are moving at less than 10 mph (16kph) then the draughting becomes negligible.
- When you are on the front of the group, shout out any obstacles, potholes, gravel, etc as people behind you may not otherwise see those obstacles in time to avoid them.
- If you get too close to the person in front of you, don’t brake abruptly, there’s probably someone close behind you that may not react as quickly as you !
- Riding in the group is an art, and a great way to get a breather if you are struggling and someone in your group is gracious enough to let you draught them.
For more information, refer to British Cycling’s great video on this topic