Group riding offers many obvious safety features for cyclists, most notably, being seen by other vehicles on the road, as well as by pedestrians. However, to ride safely in a bunch requires a number of important factors including – appropriate riding experience, fitness, a mechanically sound bike, alertness, consistent riding style, and excellent communications through clear and universally understood signals. If these general factors are not followed, the rider is putting him/herself in danger as well as the bunch.
A small or simple error in bunch riding can lead to a disastrous outcome. The following information should help to make group riding safer and more rewarding.
The most important factor to successful group riding is communication. Make sure you know the meaning of and always pass any verbal signals through the group. As well as obvious shouts such as “slowing” and “braking”, others to be aware of are “car up”, meaning there is a car ahead to be aware of, “car back”, meaning there is a car behind and “single out”, meaning to adopt single file. Be aware there are local variations of these shouts, so use your eyes too. There are a number of hand signals you should also be aware of (see illustrations on page 2).
Stay relaxed in the group but constantly look around and don’t mindlessly follow the wheels. Look past the riders in front to get a heads up of the road ahead. Always look first and let the riders around you know before moving within the group.
Obey the rules of the road
Rides take place on roads that are open to traffic always respect junctions and stay on the correct side of the road.
Ride consistently and predictably
Your movements will affect everyone in the group. Hold a straight line, don’t weave and always overtake around the right hand side of the group. Don’t grab your brakes and, if you stand out of the saddle, don’t let your back wheel drop back. Also, when you come to a feed station, no matter how relieved you are to see it, don’t veer across the road.
Don’t overlap wheels
In case the rider ahead need to brake, don’t follow their rear wheel directly. It’s perfectly acceptable and you’ll get the same drafting benefit from riding six inches either side of it. However it’s essential that you don’t overlap their rear wheel as any sudden movements by them will be likely to bring both of your down.
Make sure both you and you’re bike are prepared
Ensure your bike is well maintained as misfiring gears or poor brakes can make you a liability in a bunch. Carry suitable spares, clothing and some of your own food and drink so that you are self reliant.
Avoid half wheeling
If road conditions and traffic allows you’ll often be riding two abreast. Maintain an even pace and stay level with the person next to you. Do not constantly up the pace whenever a rider draws level to you. Known as “half-wheeling” this is definitely frowned on.
Don’t always sit amongst the wheels and shirk your stint on the front. Even if you just put in a few turns of the pedals it’ll be appreciated. However, even if you’re finding the pace easy, don’t get on the front and accelerate, try to maintain the pace of the group.
Don’t ride in the gutter
If you’re on the front of the group, don’t sit in the gutter as you’ll be forcing everyone else to follow you increasing the likelihood of hitting obstructions such as drain covers and of picking up punctures. Where possible, ride 1 m out from the curb.
Expect the group to change
Groups will change, fragment and reform as the ride progresses. Expect larger groups on flat sections but, on longer climbs, they’ll break up. Similarly, on descents, riders will tend to string out to give more time to react at higher speeds.