Cycling in bunches

In the world of cycling, Triathletes and Multisport athletes are not always held in high regard. While some criticism can sometimes be justified, in many cases it is a case of “I did not know”. Here I will try to relay some information I have learnt after a few years of cycle racing.

Bunch riding is a part of many triathlete, multisport athletes, duathletes racing and/or training. Coping with riding in a bunch is an important skill to master, as there are many advantages to be gained. There are also many things to be aware of. I intend to cover a number of areas relating to riding in packs in the nest two articles.

Getting the advantage

Drafting behind someone else, particularly in a bunch can reduce your required effort considerably. In the middle of a peleton you may be exerting 60% less effort than if you were riding at the same speed alone. A group of riders working well together should be able to travel faster than an individual of greater ability, or a group not working together. The closer you can get to whoever you are drafting behind, the greater the advantage. However, there is also still an advantage to be gained eight bike lengths behind someone when travelling at 40kph. The faster you go – the greater the advantage.

On the counter side, there are some disadvantages to riding very close to someone else. Obviously the closer you get, the more dangerous it becomes, as a slight error by yourself or anyone around you can instigate a serious dose of road rash for all concerned. You also have very little view of what is coming up – whilst staring intently at the wheel you are following! Again this is potentially dangerous situation, and you need to rely somewhat on your fellow riders to tell you about up coming parked cars and pot holes in the road.

Safety

Having been involved in, and seen, a few large ‘stack-ups’ – I know cycling in a bunch is dangerous. Remember, you are not only responsible for your own safety, but everyone else in the bunch! Your actions in the bunch need to be predictable to all other riders in the bunch – and communication is the key. If you wish to work well together, you need to talk to each other. Generally this task ‘should’ go to the most experienced rider in the group (unfortunately it often goes to the person with the loudest voice!).

While you get a better draft advantage the closer you ride to the person in front of you, there are the inherent risks associated with riding close together. You are very reliant on the person in front not making any unexpected moves (like stopping or swerving), and you often cannot see much of the road ahead (or obstacles that may pose a risk!).

To try and make life in a bunch a little safer, try to follow these guidelines:

Maintain your line. Remember that the person behind you may have there front wheel VERY close to you back wheel. A sudden swerve may knock them off their bike, and cause a domino effect through the group.Don’t slow down suddenly. Jamming on you brakes in the middle of a bunch is probably the best way to bring a bunch down – if an unexpected obstacle appears, try to ride around it. Attempt to maintain a nearly constant speed – even after you have just done you lap. In a group working well, there is very little difference in speed between those moving forward and those going back.

 

Getting good shelter.

When riding in a group, particularly in a race situation, you want to get the best advantage you can. Where you ride in relation to the other riders largely depends on the wind direction and your ability. Determining exactly where the best place to position yourself can be quite tricky, and some times trial and error is the best bet. As a rough guide, you want the person you are drafting behind to be between you and where the wind is coming from. If you are riding directly into a head wind, then you should be directly behind the person you are drafting. If the wind is coming from the right, you need to be on the left side of the person you are drafting. There maybe minor adjustments, depending on how fast you are going. If there is a very strong cross wind, the best drafting position my in fact, be almost beside the other rider(s). Tail winds can also be tricky, with many riders finding this situation more difficult than in a head wind. Again you want to be between the rider you are drafting and where the wind is coming fromcycle_bunch_fig1.

Looking at Figure 1, rider ‘A’ is “doing the work” at the front. Rider ‘B’ is getting a good draft, as he is sheltered from the wind coming from the right by the two riders in front of him. Rider ‘C’ is getting some draft, being directly behind ‘B’, but is still exposed to more wind than he needs to be. ‘C’ needs to be further to the left. However, if he is very close to the edge of the road, he may not be able to ride further to the left – and must just take what draft he can get! This is sometimes referred to as “gutter riding”. Rider ‘D’ is not getting much draft effect at all. He maybe quite close to rider ‘C’, but because the wind is coming from the right, he is actually exposed to the full force of the wind!

Guidelines to lapping

There are many subtleties in effective lapping in a bunch situation. I will try to cover a few of the main points here. When a group is working well together, you should not be changing pace much – whether you are moving toward the front, or returning to the rear. Two of the biggest mistakes is increasing your speed when you hit the front, then just stopping pedaling after completing your hard lap. When you increase your speed upon hitting the front, you either end up riding off the front (and not helping those behind you), or everyone else must speed up (expending more energy) to catch up.

If you just stop pedaling after doing your lap, you can end up making life difficult for yourself, or for others. Your speed will begin to drop quite rapidly, and you will head toward the back of the group quickly. In fact so quickly that you may not be able to get on the back of the pack again! If you continue to pedal and just reduce your speed a little, then your will not have to ‘sprint’ to get back on the back, as you will not be going much slower than the riders moving forward. In a ‘well oiled group’, you will still be providing draft to others (ie the person who ‘lapped’ in front of you) as you move toward the back of the pack. If you slow down more than expected, those behind you may have to take evasive action!

cycle_bunch_fig2

If we look at figure 2, rider ‘A’ is currently ‘doing the work’. After he has finished his lap, he will move gradually to the right and slow down a little – to be in position ‘B’. Rider ‘B’ is still putting in a bit of effort (not wanting to slow down too fast), and is providing shelter for rider ‘C’. If rider ‘B’ slows down too fast he will collide with the front of rider ‘C’. Rider ‘C’ is finally getting some shelter, and is continuing to move gradually toward the back. Rider ‘D’ is at the back and must perform the tricky move of getting on the left side of rider ‘E’, while maintaining almost the same speed as rider ‘E’. Rider ‘E’ is now moving forward in the group, and is getting great shelter! He needs to relax and recover before getting to the front again!

That is a brief introduction to riding in groups. In the Next article I will cover a few tactical issues. Look after yourselves out there.

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