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With next year fast approaching our thoughts perhaps turn towards the cycling that we wish to do in the coming year. If you are considering an Italy cycling holiday you may have found the group rides that the MidLIfeCyclist will be offering in the Italian Lakes next season – we will be taking five group tours to Lombardy of different distances and levels of challenge. Many will have experience of group riding, perhaps with clubmates or with charity challenges, but for others it will be a new experience, and with this in mind, we thought it may be helpful to offer a few tips to keep yourself (and others around you) safe on the road, and make your ride a safe and enjoyable one.

No half-wheeling

This is perhaps one of the most important rules to follow when you’re riding in a group. “Half-wheeling” is when you overlap your front wheel with the rear wheel of the rider in front of you, and if they move sideways then your front wheel is the first thing they’ll hit- taking you down and potentially other riders behind you. A further risk of half wheeling is that you will be riding in the “blind spot” of the rider in front, and unless they really twist round to look behind then they won’t know you’re there…And don’t freewheel quietly up into their blind spot and start chatting – social as it is, it may be an unwelcome surprise causing them to brake unexpectedly or move towards your riding line, causing you to adjust

Point out obstacles in the road

Whether it’s a verbal warning or a hand gesture, let the riders around you know of any obstructions in the road. Swerving around potholes and drains is no good if the next rider goes straight into it, and road furniture such as traffic islands and speed humps can be equally hazardous.

Each group has its own different shout for approaching cars, but “car forward” and “car back” are pretty universal. If you are riding on a narrow stretch of road, it is common etiquette to ride in single file so cars can overtake.

Stick to road rules

You might not be a motorized vehicle, but if you’re using the roads then you need to stick to the highway code. Ride (at maximum) two abreast only ever when safe, and obey red lights and right-of-way rules at junctions. In town, be sufficiently confident to ‘own’ your place in the traffic where it is safe to do so. Despite the reputation that Italian drivers have, as being unsafe, they are generally very respectful and helpful towards cyclists – many, are of course, cyclists themselves, as it is a sport widely practiced in the country – you will see many riding on the road with you.

If you’re riding on an Italy cycling holiday with the Mid Life Cyclist, we will make you aware of the specific local rules that apply. In Italy, it is unpleasant and unsafe to cycle through tunnels, and we do our best to avoid using them at all indeed, in some of the longer tunnels it is entirely forbidden, and in all tunnels you are required to wear a high-visibility vest and have your lights on. It is also necessary to have your lights on, should you be riding after dark.

In France, lights are also compulsory in poor weather, and pro-cyclist Alberto Contador was once infamously stopped by police whilst descending the Col du Galibier with no lights on his bike.

Descend in single file

Further on the subject of descending, I’ll quickly suggest two key helpful tips; descend in single file, and leave a reasonable gap between yourself and the rider in front. Descending in single file gives each rider their own choice of line down the road and through the corners, allowing everyone some room for error, and also to avoid any muddy or mossy patches and the wet leaves that are so common in on tree covered descents. Leaving some space is also key, as if the rider in front of you overshoots a corner or comes off their bike, it gives you time to act accordingly; remember, braking distances can be significantly longer downhill, especially in the wet.

Don’t let down the rider who’s been let down.

“Nobody fixes their own puncture” is the rule when cycling with the Mid Life Cyclist.

If you’re riding without the luxury of a support car and someone punctures, don’t leave them by the roadside. Make sure a few riders stay with them while you help repair the puncture, and get the lead group to slow down so that the chasing group can catch back up. Ditto accidents and illness – our back up vehicle carries an extensive first aid kit. Leave a rider at every junction you turn at to point the chasing group in the right direction, and the ride will eventually come back together.

If it’s a more serious problem that won’t be a roadside repair, for example a snapped mech hanger, make sure that the rider has a way of being attended to or collected by our accompanying vehicle, before you continue your ride. Carrying some cash and a mobile phone is highly advisable.

We offer the following general tips for cycling safely, and particularly, for Mid Life Cyclist group rides :

  • Ensure that your bike is properly adjusted after rebuilding e.g. saddle height, so that it is comfortable to ride – our bike mechanic can help you do this and can also make adjustments during the tour
  • We begin each day with a group briefing of the route for that day and what you should expect. Fail to prepare – prepare to fail etc.
  • We cycle together as one group – there will be a group leader at the front and also at the back (back rider) – and we stop frequently for breaks throughout each day
  • We cycle at the pace of the slowest rider and help each other out with any punctures or bike failures
  • Stronger riders may be asked to “mark” corners and wait for the back rider
  • The group leader is the navigator and knows the route – please don’t ‘gps trump’ him. It’s annoying and generally leads to a delay for everybody! Remember that you are cycling not driving – the road signs tend to be written for drivers and we may not necessarily be taking the most direct route, to avoid a busy or fast road, or offer better cycling. In Italy, direction signs particularly, can be somewhat ambiguous. Your group leader will be aware of what is correct
  • Unless it is safe to do so please ride in single file
  • On busy roads leave a space between you and the rider in front for vehicles to overtake
  • Always wear your cycle helmet – mandatory (a stipulation of our insurance) on MidLifeCyclist tours. Always obey traffic signals.
  • In Italy ride on the right, overtake other riders on the left! Obviously, the opposite to what you’re used to in the UK.
  • When overtaking another rider, always check over your shoulder behind you for approaching vehicles and other members of the group

We look forward to cycling on a tour in Italy with you.

Be safe out there………Bob and Greg

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