Cycling in Groups: Etiquette, Pacelines, and Drafting for Beginners

Cycling in Groups: Etiquette, Pacelines, and Drafting for Beginners

Solo cycling is a fun way to get in the zone, fine-tune your skills, and tackle challenging routes at your own rhythm. But there’s something to be said for a great group ride. Joining a group ride offers an opportunity to connect with other cycling enthusiasts and push beyond personal boundaries with the encouraging and competitive spirit of the group.

In this guide, we'll delve into the essentials of group ride culture, covering everything from the unspoken rules of etiquette to the specialized terminology used. Whether you're gearing up for your first group ride or want to refine your group ride etiquette, this guide should equip you with the knowledge you need for your next group ride.

What is a group ride?

A group ride involves multiple cyclists riding together and is focused on teamwork and collective pacing. These rides can vary in size, ranging from just a few cyclists to large pelotons consisting of dozens or even hundreds of riders. Group rides can be informal gatherings among friends or organized events like a century ride or a Gran Fondo.

It's important to make sure you have a good understanding of cycling etiquette before a group ride to ensure everyone's safety and enjoyment. You should know how to communicate effectively with other riders, obey traffic laws, and respect the pace and abilities of the group.

Benefits of riding in a group

Riding in a group offers many benefits that can enhance both the social and physical aspects of cycling. Here are some significant benefits of riding in a group.


Group rides provide an opportunity to connect with other cyclists who share a passion for riding. The camaraderie and mutual support among group members can make cycling more enjoyable and motivating. 

Safety in numbers

Riding in a group is sometimes safer than riding solo as it makes you more visible to motorists, reducing the risk of cycling accidents. Additionally, having multiple cyclists riding together provides assistance in case of mechanical issues or emergencies. 


When cycling in a group, you can take advantage of drafting, where riders position themselves closely behind one another to reduce wind resistance. Drafting can significantly decrease the effort required to maintain speed, making it easier to sustain higher speeds for longer distances.

Motivation and accountability

Riding with a group can motivate you to push yourself harder and reach new fitness goals. The encouragement and support of fellow cyclists can help you stay committed to your training regimen and push through challenging rides.

Learning opportunities

Group rides offer a chance to learn from more experienced cyclists with advice on bike handling, gear selection, or training strategies. 

Group ride terminology

There’s a ton of cycling lingo, and group rides are no different. Here are some common terms and phrases used during a group ride.


The paceline is a formation of cyclists riding tightly in a single or double line, taking turns at the front to let the riders behind them benefit from the draft. This reduces wind resistance and makes it easier for everyone in the group to maintain speed. 


On closed roads, the lead cyclists often group up in larger formations called a peloton. Riding in a peloton provides aerodynamic advantages and allows you and the other cyclists to work together to maintain high speeds.


Pulling refers to taking a turn at the front of a paceline or peloton in a group ride. The cyclist or cyclists pulling in a group help decrease wind resistance for the others and create a draft they can use to their advantage. 

Pulling is incredibly important in a group ride, and it’s also quite strenuous. After pulling, you rotate to the back of the group to rest and recover, leaving the next person in line to pull.


Drafting is a technique where a cyclist rides directly behind another cyclist to reduce the wind resistance experienced while riding. If you’re behind the paceline, you benefit from the reduced air pressure and can maintain a faster pace while exerting less effort. 


Also known as "hitting a wall," bonking refers to a sudden and severe depletion of energy reserves during a ride, resulting in a significant drop in performance. Bonking is often caused by inadequate nutrition and hydration.

Learn how to fuel up properly with our Cycling Fueling Guide


Dropping means falling behind or getting left behind during a group ride due to equipment issues, pacing, or bonking. The group’s attitude toward dropping should be discussed beforehand as that will determine the pacing and whether or not cyclists will be left behind during the ride.

No-drop ride

A no-drop ride is a type of group ride where participants commit to staying together for the duration of the ride, ensuring that no cyclist gets left behind or "dropped" due to differences in skill level or pace. No-drop rides typically make periodic stops to allow riders to catch up with the rest of the group.

Sag climbing

This strategy allows riders to climb the paceline at a more manageable pace, especially if the group is cycling a bit faster than some riders are used to. Sag climbing helps you move up without running the risk of bonking or dropping. It’s best done when the group is approaching a hill. You’ll move to the front of the paceline just before the incline, then ease up once the group starts to ride up the hill. This allows you to drift back a bit and draft from the other riders in front of you.

Cycling group ride etiquette

Group ride etiquette is essential to ensure the cycling group's safety, enjoyment, and cohesion. After all, group rides are all about cooperation and teamwork. Follow these etiquette guidelines and skills to have a great group ride.

Learn proper communication

Use hand signals, verbal cues, and calls to alert other riders to obstacles, changes in pace, or upcoming turns. Communication is crucial for maintaining safety and cohesion within the group. Every group is different regarding signals and cues, but you can learn a few universal gestures beforehand. For example, holding an open palm behind your back typically signals an upcoming stop, while a one-handed dribbling motion normally means the pace is slowing.

Point out hazards

Ensure the safety of other riders using hand signals or verbal cues to alert them of hazards such as potholes, debris, or road obstacles. Pointing or calling out the hazard helps riders behind you anticipate and avoid it. Cyclists are expected to repeat the gesture so the message is passed down to all riders in the group.

Rotate through pacelines

When riding in a paceline, take turns at the front (pulling) and rotate to the back of the line to rest. Avoid sudden accelerations or braking when rotating positions to maintain a smooth and steady pace for the group.

If you’re one of the faster riders of the group, keep your pace slower so the other cyclists can keep up. To challenge yourself, pull longer so the other cyclists have time to rest. If you’re less experienced or slower, pull for a shorter time while still keeping the group’s pace up.

Peeling off

When it's time to peel off, gradually drift to one side of the road or path, creating a gap between yourself and the rider behind you. Make sure to do this smoothly and predictably, without sudden movements that could disrupt the flow of the group. Signal your intention to peel off by using a hand signal, such as a flick of the elbow or a wave, to indicate to the rider behind you that it's their turn to come through. At the same time, ease off the pedals slightly to allow the rider behind to take over the lead position smoothly.

It’s common for riders to drop after peeling off improperly. Try not to drift back too quickly, or you’ll have to pedal harder and expend more energy catching up with the group. Maintain a steady pace and ease back into the back of the pack to avoid dropping.

Skipping pulls

If you’re new to cycling or just need to conserve energy, don’t be afraid to skip a pull. With group rides, endurance and self-preservation are key. Whenever the lead cyclist peels off, leave a gap between you and the next person so they can fill it in. Stay near the back of the pack, and slow your pace if needed so other riders can pass you. Finishing the ride is a greater accomplishment than pulling beyond your limits and getting dropped.

Learn how to increase your cycling power so you can pull like a champion during your next group ride →

Respect the group's pace

When pulling, adjust your speed to match the group's pace, especially on no-drop rides where riders of varying abilities participate. Avoid surging ahead or lagging behind excessively, as that will disrupt the group's cohesion. If you’re in the middle of the group, communicate with the lead cyclists if anyone is falling behind so they can adjust the pace accordingly.

Hold your line

Ride predictably and maintain a consistent line without sudden swerving or erratic movements. Try not to brake suddenly if you can help it. Instead, allow wind resistance to slow your pace. Maintaining a consistent line helps prevent collisions and allows other riders to anticipate your movements. It also creates a steady draft that cyclists behind you can benefit from.

Maintain a safe following distance

Leave enough space between yourself and the rider in front to react to sudden changes in speed or direction. Never overlap your front wheel with the back wheel of the person in front of you. Everyone has a different level of comfort in maintaining distance; don’t be afraid to give yourself plenty of room between yourself and the next rider, especially on steep declines.

Navigating the world of group ride etiquette and terminology can feel like mastering a new language, but armed with knowledge and respect for your fellow cyclists, you're well-equipped to pedal confidently into the pack. Remember, group rides are about more than just miles—they're about forging connections, pushing limits, and experiencing the sheer joy of riding in good company.

Before joining your next group ride, don't forget top-quality cycling apparel and accessories. From sleek jerseys to cycling bibs and tights, we have everything you need for a comfortable ride.

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