Becoming a proficient bunch rider takes time and experience to achieve. The key to a safe ride is to always be aware of the conditions we find ourselves in, and to react accordingly. Most important is consideration of the riders around us: what they are doing at any given time, and their level of skill. And of course we need to be continually aware of the road and traffic conditions.
For those taking part in their first cycle race on the road or who are new to group training, there are a few points you should be aware of to avoid falls and to gain the confidence of others around you:
- Be predictable with all your actions, and remember that what you do affects others.
- Maintain a steady straight line and avoid braking or changing direction suddenly, especially if contesting a sprint. Remember that there are riders following you closely from behind. To slow down, gradually move out into the wind and slot back into your position in the bunch.
- Point out and call out any road hazards ahead. These include potholes, drain grates, stray animals, opening car doors, sticks or stones, parked cars, etc.
- Do not overlap wheels. A slight direction change or gust of wind could easily cause you to touch wheels and fall. Pedal down hill when you are at the front of the bunch. Cyclists dislike having to ride under brakes. If you freewheel down hill you are doing as much good as sitting in your lounge chair.
- Stay to the left when in front to allow room for others to pass safely on your right, particularly in traffic. Pass other riders on the right hand side whenever possible.
- Be smooth with your turns at the front of the group. Avoid surges unless trying to break from the bunch. A group will travel quicker when turns are completed smoothly.
- Avoid leaving gaps when following wheels. Cyclists save about 30% of their energy at high speed by following a wheel. Each time you leave a gap you are forcing yourself to ride alone to bridge it. Also, riders behind you will become annoyed and ride around you, especially if the bunch is working together to break away or catch a break in a race.
- When climbing hills, avoid following a wheel too closely. Many riders often lose their momentum when rising out of the saddle on a hill which can cause a sudden deceleration. This can often catch a rider who is following too closely, resulting in a fall from a wheel touch.
- Do not panic if you brush shoulders, hands or bars with another rider. Try to stay relaxed in your upper body to absorb any bumps. This is a part of cycle racing in close bunches and is quite safe provided riders do not panic, brake or change direction.
We also recommend this article on bunch riding skills to all club members and others who ride with us. It was written by Chris White, a senior member of Randwick Botany CC . While to a certain extent it focuses on riding in city conditions, the basics are still relevant to our situation. The last two paragraphs could have been written with our club in mind:
In summary, being fit and capable to hang onto the bunch is not enough. Without taking away the enjoyment of the ride it is imperative that every rider hones his or her skills. If you want to improve ask one of the more accomplished riders. If you are not sure stay down the back until you are confident enough to join the bunch. If you are nervous or lacking confidence, consider the safety of the other riders first before joining the bunch.
The Club is developing as a recreational/racing club, where riders have a wide range of ability and levels of fitness. Everyone should be tolerant, responsible and be prepared to accept criticism if you do not come up to scratch. Those more accomplished riders should devote part of the club ride to helping the beginners, rather than zooming off into the distance.
The Randwick Botany club also has a good summary of road rules as they apply to cyclists.