Riding with others is one of the scariest things to get used to when starting cycling. I distinctly remember when I first started, battling it out with the hairy-legged men around the recreational fun rides of the Waikato. Riding in small bunches, let alone big ones was frightening – especially when I could scrap beneath the height of the men's handlebars and they wouldn't even see me! Despite loosing a few years of my life in Darwin's modern day version of 'natural selection' it was a great learning ground for bunch riding skills which has ever since made cycling so much easier. And in such a tough sport the path of least resistance is definitely an appealing option. So let's have a look at some easy pointers to help you ride more safely and with less energy in a bunch.
If you ever need to brake, do so gently as you need to be mindful of the riders behind you. If they are riding close to your back wheel and you suddenly brake then they will hit your back wheel and make you come down. In the event that you need to slow down suddenly then be sure to yell out "slowing" so the riders behind you are aware of it. In wet conditions gently "pulse" your brakes multiple times instead of one squeeze. In the wet your rims will be covered in water so the first time you squeeze the brakes the water will clear off, and the second time the brakes will actually grip the rim to slow you down.
Where your Head goes your Bike will follow
When riding it is very difficult to look suddenly to the left or right and not move your body weight on your bike. If your body weight moves then your bike will to. So if you need to look to your left or right use your eyes – not your head! And remember you do not need to look a person next to you if they are talking to you when cycling.
Eagle Eye Vision
Try to be aware of the riders around you by using your peripheral vision, and don't just look at the wheel directly in front of you. This helps you anticipate any fluctuations in speed or to avoid obstacles in the road such as potholes.
Rubber banding it
The best place to ride in a bunch is in the middle. You will expend the least energy in the middle, as you will be sheltered left, right, and front from the wind. If you are on either side it is easy to get pushed into the gutter or across the centerline by other riders moving off their line. Riding at the back is tough as anyone braking suddenly or crashing will effect all of the riders behind them and the people at the back of the bunch will have to experience the "rippling" effects of everyone's mistakes in front of them.
Riding Strongly in the Right Direction
Always ride a straight line and don't swerve suddenly as everyone following you will have to as well. The Mexican wave will continue through the bunch and might cause a crash. Bunch speeds tend to fluctuate up and down because of the variety of riders' ability in them. You need to anticipate fluctuations in speeds and if need be ready to gently use the brakes.
Climbing a Mountain or a Molehill
Climbing hills are a challenge for most of us and when in a bunch you need to be aware that there will be larger changes in speeds. If you are not good at hills try to be at or near the front of the bunch at the bottom of a hill so when other riders pass you up the hill you can jump onto the back of them cresting the top. If you have to get out of your seat riding up the hill, make sure you do while continuing to pedal. Do not stop pedaling and get out of your seat and then continue pedaling because this makes your bikes momentum "slip" backwards and will suddenly shorten the distance between you and the rider behind you. And lastly always leave a little more space between you and the riders around you so you can get around them if need be. There is nothing more annoying than getting stuck behind a slow rider up a hill and subsequently getting dropped off the bunch.
If there is a pothole coming up, tell the people around you by yelling out or by pointing to it. Warn people to make the bunch safer. Avoid white lines as they can be slippery, and finally corner properly, cutting the apex but been mindful of the riders to your left or right. If everyone corners correctly the bunch will move altogether and easily around the tightest corners.
So next time you are riding with a bunch practice the skills above and avoid being bounced around the bunch like a ball bearing in a pinball machine. If you can remember these skills you have enough knowledge to ride confidently in a group, ride safely and have more fun. It's that easy.
This article originally appeared in Femme Fitness Magazine. Amy Taylor is an Auckland based Exercise Physiologist and Cycling Coach. She is one of the founders of Kinetic Edge Training Technology, and along with other coach's offers cycling skills training on a one on one or group basis. Kinetic Edge also offers programming for specific events, and personal coaching. For further information see www.kecycling.com or contact her directly on email@example.com