For a bunch to work well, you need to be able to trust the riders around you. On a slower ride like the Sunday rides, the rules are a lot more casual, but when the pace is up a bit or particularly if you are in a race, it pays to know the drill. You still need to be able to shift quickly to single file riding when traffic conditions require it.
Riders at the front
You are the eyes for the whole bunch – only you can see the potholes, glass, cars at intersections and so on. You need to point out hazards well in advance, so the bunch can smoothly avoid them. At intersections, it’s your call as to whether the whole bunch can get through or whether you bring the bunch to a gentle halt.
Riders at the back
You are the ones that warn the bunch of cars wanting to pass or let the bunch know that someone has punctured. Bunch riding is about looking out for each other, not abandoning fellow riders on the side of the road without a second glance.
This is rotating through so that everyone takes a turn at the front. Some folk are notably allergic to the front of the bunch, but if everyone contributes, the ride is easier for everyone. Normally there will be two lines, one moving up to the front, one moving down to the back. Ride close together – don’t leave gaps, keep close to the wheel in front and close to the rider beside you.
Which side do I lap on?
Take note of the wind direction. If it’s coming from your right, the line moving to the front will be on the left. If the wind is on your left, you “come through” on the right. The rule of thumb is that the riders coming to the front are always protected from the wind, so that they are fresh when they hit the front.
How fast should I go through to the front?
Most people get this wrong – the guy at the front pulls over and the next guy in the queue takes that as a signal to hit the gas. You only want to maintain the previous speed. Just gently apply enough pressure to meet the extra wind resistance. Don’t accelerate! That sends a shockwave through the bunch, the effect of which is huge by the time the riders at the back are affected. Again, it’s all about riding smoothly.
How long should I stay in front?
Generally, the faster the pace, the shorter the turn at the front. Just watch what others are doing and aim for that. Ultimately its up to you – if you are not feeling that strong, just hit the front and then pull over. If you are feeling strong, stay a bit longer. In a very small bunch, everyone will have to take longer turns at the front, but a big bunch can just keep rotating fairly frequently. The speed difference between the riders going forward and backward should only be a couple of km/h at the most.
What if I can’t go through?
This is known as sitting and is not a problem, provided you sit towards the back of the bunch. Don’t “sit” in the middle of the bunch, you can end up acting as a “cork in a bottle”, preventing other riders from coming through. Make it obvious you aren’t coming through by keeping your front wheel out of the vision of the rider in front. You might need to encourage the rider to take the gap until everyone is aware you aren’t going to come through. When you’ve rested up enough, just decisively jump on the wheel in front. In a large bunch, there might only be a small group working at the front, with a lot of riders sitting.
Riders often focus just on the wheel in front, but you need to keep looking ahead at what is happening at the front of the bunch (and beyond), to avoid pile ups when stopping or hitting pot holes etc.
Keep the pace even
To adjust your speed down, rather than braking, just move out into the wind slightly. You’ll scrub off the speed and avoid the shockwave effect that goes back through the bunch – otherwise the guys at the back end up bungy-ing up and down in speed. Likewise, if a gap opens up, don’t panic and hammer it to get there, just build the pace smoothly and drag everyone up with you. If you go hard out, you drop those behind and then have to brake again when you catch up – with the shockwave again affecting anyone behind.
1. NEVER overlap wheels with the bike in front
2. Keep a steady speed, this avoids the bungy effect for those further back in the group
3. Avoid sudden movements like braking, swerving or sudden acceleration
4. You are the eyes of the riders following – point out pot holes, road kill and other hazards
5. Riders near the back need to advise riders ahead of cars needing to pass
6. Keep an eye on the riders around you, if someone punctures, check if they need a hand
7. Show courtesy to other road users. Go single file where the road is narrow