Riding in a bunch can be enjoyable if done in the right way. However, bunch riding can also be dangerous if people in the group don’t understand the rules.
These tips are designed to help educate riders of the basic rules of riding in a bunch.
Try to maintain a steady and straight line. Remember that there are riders following closely behind. Avoid sudden braking and changes of direction.
To slow down, gradually move out into the wind and slot back into position in the bunch. By putting your hands on the hoods on your brakes you can 'sit up' and put more of your body in the wind to slow down slightly without using your brakes.
Ride safely and try to stay off the brakes. If you are inexperienced and too nervous to ride close to the wheel in front of you, ride at the back and practise. When the pace eases, ride to the side of the wheel in front, ease the pedalling off, and then drop back on the wheel.
Otherwise known as rolling through – swapping off – taking a turn.
Riding at the front of the group can be tiring. This is why groups rotate through and share the work. The most common way to take a turn on the front of the group is for each pair to stay together until they get to the front. After having a turn on the front, the pair separates and moves to each side, allowing the riders behind to come through to the front.
To get to the back, move to the side and slow your pedalling down while the group rides past. Keep an eye out for the back of the bunch and fall into the line at the end. It is safer for everyone if you get to the back as quickly as possible.
Note: Some bunches use a method of changing the rider that is known as the 'rolling box'. In this version, the rider at the right hand side of the front pairing decides when a change should be made. After letting their partner know, the call is made, “Changing!”. The rider on the right accelerates ever so gently, the rider on the left soft-pedals for a short time. The rider on the right, when clearly ahead of his (former) partner, moves smoothly into the position as the front left rider, and the rider who was second in line on the right moves up to beside the new leader.
So the whole right hand file moves up, and the left hand file drops back. And there’s no need for any sudden accelerations in any of this. The last rider on the left file, who no longer has a partner beside him, moves to the right, and move up to ride beside the rider in front of him.
Avoid surges unless you are trying to break away from the group. Surges cause gaps further back in the bunch. This in turn creates a 'rubber band' effect as riders at the back have to continually chase to stay with the bunch. This is particularly evident in larger bunches when cornering or taking off from standing starts at traffic lights where the front of the bunch can be almost at full speed before the back of the bunch is moving.
When you finally make it to the front of the group, don’t ‘half wheel’. This means keeping half a wheel in front of the rider beside you. This automatically makes your partner speed up slightly to pull back alongside you.
To prevent this from occurring, make sure you know the general speed of the bunch and try to keep your speed around the same. Keep your wheels and handlebars in line with the person next to you.
You need to communicate with the person beside you so that when you roll through to the front you finish your turn at a place where the road is wide enough.
If riders push in somewhere in the middle of the bunch rather than retiring to the back after taking a turn, riders at the back will not be able to move forward and take a turn of their own.
No one wants to be stuck down the back of the bunch for the entire ride and subjected to the 'rubber band' effect. Remember that riding in a bunch is about all riders sharing the workload.
Point out obstacles such as loose gravel, broken glass, holes, rocks or debris on the road. Calling out the obstacle as well as pointing is helpful in case someone is not looking at your hand when you point.
It is just as important to pass the message on. Another obstacle is a parked car. Call out “car” and sweep your hand around your back to let people behind know. Point out runners or walkers on bike tracks and slower bikes if you are passing someone on the road.
Maximise your energy savings by staying close to the rider in front. Cyclists save about 30 per cent of their energy at high speed by following a wheel and tucking in behind the rider in front.
Each time you leave a gap between you and the person in front, you are forcing yourself to ride a bit harder. Riders behind may over take you pushing you further to the back. If you are in the bunch and there is no one beside the person in front of you, you should move into that gap.
A slight direction change or gust of wind could easily cause you to touch wheels with the rider in front and fall. It is important not to overlap wheels as it may not just bring you down.
If you brush shoulders, hands or bars with another rider, try to stay relaxed in your upper body to absorb any bumps. You may find yourself in a situation where you bump shoulders or handlebars with the person beside you. This is a part of riding in close bunches and is quite safe provided riders do not panic, brake or change direction.
Many riders, even the experienced ones, freewheel momentarily when they first get out of the saddle to go over a rise or a hill. When doing this, the bike is forced backwards. This can cause chaos in a tightly bunched group of riders. Try to keep forward pressure on the pedals when you get out of the saddle to avoid this situation.
Do not become obsessed with the rear wheel directly in front of you. Try to focus four or five riders up the line so that any ‘problem’ will not suddenly affect you. Scan the road ahead for potential problems, red lights etc, and be ready to react.
If you are on the front of the group and the lights turn orange, it will definitely be red by the time the back of the bunch goes through the intersection. Look ahead and remember to call out hazards such as ‘stopping’ so the people behind you can react. It is your responsibility to obey the road rules.
When you are at the front of a group, you are not only responsible for yourself but everyone in the group. When you are leading the group, monitor potential problems and give plenty of warning of impending stops or changes of pace.
Never use your aero bars in a bunch ride – not even if you are at the front. Using aero bars means that your hands are away from the brakes. Aero bars are for time trial or non-draft triathlon use only.
It is important to make people aware of unsafe riding and help them learn the right behaviour. Riding in a bunch is about everyone’s safety.
When riding as a group, it is important to be courteous to surrounding residents. Be mindful that noise can travel easily, particularly in the early hours; disrupting sleep and interfering with daily activities. Be aware of your noise levels and maintain an appropriate level of noise, especially when riding past private properties and residences.