Road bunches have unwritten rules newcomers need to learn for everybody’s safety.
You’ve bought the bike, then the helmet-you’re nearly a pro! You’re riding 20km a day, then 40km a day, averaging 25kph, but on your own. You’ve seen the bunches about and you want to be part of it. Here are some hints about joining a bunch ride if you have never been on one before.
TYPE OF RIDE
Try to find a group that suits your fitness. Check the notice on the shop window as the average speeds of each group. If you happen to choose the wrong group because you are too fast for them or they are too slow ask about the other groups so you can join the right one next week.
It is essential to choose the right gearing for a bunch ride, you don’t want to be spinning madly whilst the others are cruising or alternatively you don’t want to be slugging it out in big gear when the rest of the bunch is spinning. Gear selection will depend on the speed of the bunch. You will find it very difficult to keep up if the average speed is 34-35kmp and you are in your small chain ring. Watch what gears the experience riders are using and copy them.
Ride safely and try to stay off the brakes. If you inexperienced and too nervous to ride close to the wheel in front of you, stay alone at the back and practice. When the pace eases, don’t brake suddenly, instead ride to the side of the wheel in front ease the pedaling off, then drop back onto the wheel. Practice on the back and soon you will be able to move up the line with a partner.
Many riders, even experienced ones, freewheel momentarily when they first get out of the saddle to go over arise or up a hill. When doing this, the bike is forced backwards. This can cause chaos in a tightly bunched group of riders. The sensation of the rider in front coming back at you is very unpleasant and can cause crashes. Try to keep forward pressure on the pedals when you get out of the saddle to avoid this situation.
When riding with a partner in a line of two’s stay close. Don’t ride to far away from your partner because you are intimidated by the wheel in front of you. The gap you’ve left between you and your partner is a waste of space and to a motorist behind it appears you are three wide. This is a good way to antagonize motorists.
Do not become obsessed with the rear wheel directly in front of you. Try to focus three or four riders up the line so that any problem will not suddenly affect you. Scan the road ahead for potential problems, red lights and be ready.
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 along side you. Often half wheelers will also speed up, so that the pace of the bunch invariably speeds up as the riders behind try to catch up. You don’t have to prove anything to the group, it’s just a training ride to build endurance with friends. Try to maintain the same pace the group was doing before you took your turn at the front.
STOP AT AMBER
Bunches should stop at red lights, if you are on the front and see the amber light, do not sprint through the intersection. The rear of the bunch can easily have a much too close encounter with a motorist traveling through the intersection, who completely in the right.
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.
Point out pot holes or similar obstacles, loose gravel and broken glass on the road for the riders behind you. A simple call of “hole” and pointing at the ground where the hole is can save a puncture or and expensive destroyed rim and the same with the shout of “glass”.
There are a number of ways that bunches swap off the front during rides. If the bunch is the typical round the river ride then shorter turns on the front are required and you move over to the left as you move past the previous rider in front. Remember not to look over your shoulder when moving over, a quick look under your left arm to see that you are not cutting off the other rider is much safer. Try to maintain the speed of the bunch when swapping off, increasing your pace as you move through creates problems for the rest of the bunch. The other way of swapping off is usually performed during long steady rides. Riding two abreast, both riders swap off at the same time normally after 5-10 minutes. Both riders should move to the left in a single file and have the bunch ride past them. Be aware that this creates a bunch that is three abreast so try to get to the back as soon as possible. Again it is important to increase the pace too much when moving through for your turn at the front.
OVERTAKING ON THE INSIDE
Overtaking on the inside is one of the most dangerous moves that can be carried out in a bunch. The temptation to pass on the inside normally occurs during a sprint, don’t at any stage even let the thought enter your mind. This is a dangerous practice at any time and must be discouraged, it may save you a few precious metres but it may also cause you to loose a lot of skin, not to say the abuse other riders may give you.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
Beware that your rights under the motor traffic act. As a member of a group of cyclists, you are allowed to ride two abreast up to the width of 2.4 metres from the side of the road. Many motorists are unaware of this. They think you should be in single file off the edge of the road where they can speed past you at 110 kph.
For all this information, it is most important to be relaxed in the bunch. This only comes with experience and there is only one way to get experience-get out there and do it. If you are unsure of anything ask someone in the bunch for advise. Remember safety first and ENJOY your group rides.