This guide has been prepared to make your cycling with OCC more enjoyable and safer for yourself and your riding partners. As an added benefit of sticking to these principles, you will find that you will get fitter, stronger and faster.
The tips below have been gleaned from many years of experience and lessons learned and then handed down through the elders of the peloton.
A safe group is an efficient group and reduces risks for all, whilst also being considerate to your fellow riders and other road users.
Always be Predictable and Consistent with all Actions
Riders on the front have a responsibility to guide the bunch safely, so always maintain your speed through rough sections, avoid sudden braking and changes of direction and always try to maintain a steady straight line.
Remember that there are riders following closely behind and any sudden unexpected movement can cause problems for riders behind you. It’s inevitable that there will be occasions when you may have to hit a pothole to avoid a sudden movement and causing an accident.
When riding over a small bump or uneven surface, lift your backside off your saddle – it will help to balance your weight over both wheels. Also relax your arms and upper body as this will allow your body to absorb the road imperfections and pass through safely.
Sometimes you may find that you are moving too fast and getting too close to the rider in front. To slow down, gradually move out into the wind and slot back into position in the bunch when you have less speed.
Continue pedalling when you call or point to a hazard. Every time you stop pedalling, you slow down causing riders behind you to brake because they are not expecting it. Constant slowing down and speeding up disrupts the flow of the bunch and is unsafe and inefficient.
Remember – everything that you do will have a cascading effect down the line of the bunch, reducing the safety, efficiency and enjoyment of riding in the bunch. The more predictable and consistent the behaviours of all riders in the bunch will allow for the group to ride safer and faster, making for a more exhilarating ride for everyone.
Learn to keep pedalling while you eat and drink as you are riding. As soon as you stop pedalling you slow down, causing problems down the line due to the unexpected change in speed.
- Brake Carefully
Ride safely and try to stay off the brakes. If you are inexperienced or a little nervous about riding too close to the wheel in front of you, stay at the back of the group, gain confidence and practice your bunch riding skills.
When the pace eases, don’t brake suddenly, instead ride to the side of the wheel in front and ease the pedalling off a little, then ease back into position again on the wheel. Practice on the back and soon you will be able to move up the line smoothly. Aim to ride 50-100cm directly behind the wheel in front of you.
By putting your hands on the hoods over your brakes you can “sit up” and the increased wind resistance will help you to slow down. This is preferable to braking because it doesn’t scrub off as much speed and is smoother for the riders behind you. Slowing or braking unexpectedly will cause others to brake hard and they will not thank you if they have to chase hard to get back on your wheel.
- Be Smooth with Turns at the Front
When riding on the front of the group, avoid surges in speed (unless you are trying to break away from the group, of course!). Surges cause gaps further back in the bunch, which affect the riders at the back as they have to continually chase to stay with the bunch. If you want to increase the speed, do so gradually – the bunch is like an elastic band and a sudden surge on the front will be a full on sprint at the back just to stay on!
Unless the Ride Leader calls for the bunch to ride in single file, always ride two abreast with handlebars level. There are several reasons for this: it reduces the size of the group for overtaking cars and at the same time reduces the temptation for cars to squeeze past when it really isn’t safe.
Do not stay on the front for too long and look to ‘rotate’ about every 5-10 minutes. This will keep everyone fresh and the pace consistent and therefore safe and predictable.
- No Half-Wheeling
When you finally make it to the front, don’t ‘half-wheel’. This means keeping half a wheel in front of your partner. This automatically makes your partner speed up slightly to pull back alongside you. Often half-wheelers will also speed up, so the pace of the bunch invariably speeds up as the riders behind try to catch up. This makes it difficult for everyone else in the bunch as they are continually adjusting their speed and using more energy. If you are the victim of a ‘half-wheeler’ then gently pull them back so that they are level with you.
- Moving into single file
When ride leader calls for single file, check there is space to move into the side, signalling if necessary. Riders on inside should allow riders on the outside (ie to their right) to slot in ahead of them.
- Pedal when Going Downhill
Pedal downhill when at the front of the bunch as cyclists behind you will won’t want to ride with their brakes on consistently.
- Point out obstacles
Always clearly point to loose gravel, broken glass, holes, rocks or debris on the road, calling out “hole” etc. Likewise, if you are moving out to avoid a pedestrian, road furniture or a parked car, then signal by pointing with your hand behind your back, pointing to the right.
Ensure you pass the message on to the riders behind you.
Wherever you are in the bunch, use your common sense to alert riders behind you about potholes/debris. Only point/shout when necessary. There is no need to point out every bump and leaf in the road, only the hazards that could cause a problem.
- Hold your wheel
For experienced group riders, an appropriate gap between your front wheel and the person in front is around 50cm. Keep your hands close to the brakes in case of sudden slowing. Sometimes people who are not used to riding in a bunch will feel too nervous at this close range – riding on the right side is generally less nerve-racking for such people as they feel less hemmed in. Watching “through” the wheel in front of you to one or two riders ahead will help you hold a smooth, straight line.
- Keep the group tight
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. 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. If you are in the bunch and there is no one beside the person in front of you, you should move into that gap (otherwise you will be getting less windbreak than everyone else will).
- Don’t Overlap Wheels
Make sure that you don’t get too close to the rider in front and overlap wheels, if they do move sideways unexpectedly, or there is a slight direction change or gust of wind could easily cause you to touch wheels with the rider in front and fall.
- Don’t Follow too close when Riding Up-Hill
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. Many riders often lose their momentum when rising out of the saddle on a hill which can cause a sudden deceleration. Following the wheel in front too closely when climbing may result in you falling.
- Don’t Panic if you Brush Shoulders, Hands, or Bars with Another Rider
Try to stay relaxed through your upper body as this helps absorb any bumps. Brushing shoulders, hands or bars with another riders often happens in bunches and is quite safe provided riders do not panic, brake or change direction.
- Look Ahead
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, like potholes, traffic lights or pedestrians, and be ready.
- Obey the Road Rules
Especially at traffic lights – if you are on the front, and the lights turn orange, they will definitely be red by the time the back of the bunch goes through the junction. You will endanger the lives of others if you run it.
- Lead in Front
Remember when you are on the front, you are not only responsible for yourself but everyone in the group. When you are leading the bunch, try to monitor potential problems and give plenty of warning of impending stops or changes of pace. If you are uncertain of the route, ask your Ride Leader for directions if approaching a junction.
If the bunch has dropped riders and you want to regroup, then slow down just 1-2 mph, to allow chasing riders to regain contact with the group without exhausting themselves. This slight drop in pace also allows them to re-join the group safely upon catching without having to brake heavily due to the big difference in speed.
- Be self-sufficient
Come prepared to fix your own punctures, have enough food and drink and make sure that you have the correct clothing for the conditions.
If you do need to communicate to the whole bunch, be clear and loud. There is a lot of wind and road noise and may words sound the same.
Hand signal are always essential, but also call out particularly dangerous hazards, such as large potholes or areas of gravel, joggers and pedestrians, horses and if you are stopping or slowing suddenly.
Slower descenders should keep to the left hand side of the road allowing faster riders to pass safely.
If you are riding in close formation, lifting your torso will create more wind resistance and slow you down without having to resort to using your brakes.