Cycling as part of an organised group, (known as a 'peloton') has many advantages for both the individual riders and other road users:
- Riding alongside others is sociable
- Riding behind others is very efficient because you are using up to 30% less energy
- Other road users often find it easier & safer to pass one bunch of cyclists that is cohesive and behaving predictably, rather than trying to pass the same number of cyclists riding as a succession of uncoordinated individuals, pairs or small groups.
- By sharing a common awareness, the same number of cyclists in well drilled bunch, can stop or manoeuvre quicker and more safely, than if the cyclists were riding individually or in disorganised groups
Inexperienced riders in a peloton can be danger to themselves and to others - so to stay safe, they need to get 'up to speed' not just with the pace of the more experienced rides - but also with the level of skill needed.
You can start the learning process to become a better bunch rider by reading this article, which has gathered together tips & advice from our experienced members and qualified coaches.
There's quite a bit of information to take in if you are a beginner - but try not to be put off - you are not expected to know it all from the off. It takes many, many miles of group riding for the points below to become instinctive - and even then everyone can make mistakes. All that is expected of you is to try to ride safe and try your best to improve in your own time.
Our 10 Tips For Riding in a Peloton:
Riding solo or on the wheel of a friend will help you to develop and improve your general bike-handling skills but it is just not possible to learn to ride safely and efficiently in a peloton unless you train as part of an organised group.
Of course everyone has to start somewhere, but rocking up to a race or mass participation event such as a cyclo-sportive, with little or no bunch riding skills, is not really ideal. So start by finding a good group of helpful & experienced riders (i.e. your local cycling club,)who will remember what it was like for them when they started out and will be patient - providing you are well prepared and ready to listen and learn - so read on!
1 - FAIL TO PLAN / PLAN TO FAIL
- Everyone punctures and everyone suffers a mechanical now and again - but if it happens too often on a ride, it detracts from the fun. So always check your tyres for cuts and embeded flints before a ride.
- Make sure your bike is well maintained and is serviceable
- Always carry a spare tube, puncture repair kit, tyres levers, CO2 pumps, a spare cannister and conventionalk pump - and know haw to use them. A puncture stop should never take longer than 5 minutes!
2 - SAY HELLO & GOODBYE!
- Introduce yourself to the group so they know who you are and can look out for you on the ride. Ask any questions you might have about the ride, such as any intended route, speed etc.
- If you intend to leave the ride early - let someone know
- If you decide at any point to turn off or turn back - say Goodbye in case a search party is organised!
3 - BE PREDICTABLE
- From a safety point of view, if there had to be only one rule – this would be it!
- When you turn up to ride with a group, it may have been a week or more since you last rode with others – you have to make sure your head is switched on to Group Riding Mode.
- From the moment the group sets off, all of your actions will affect the group as a whole, so unpredictable riding can be very dangerous to everyone.
- Unexpected or unpredictable actions are the single biggest cause of crashes in a bunch of riders.
- All obvious enough but the following rules explain some of the finer points...
4 - FOLLOW SMOOTH
- The wheel in front is your wheel - ride behind it!
- Don't ride wide to the side of the wheel in front and try to look around the rider in front of you - Look 'through' the wheel in front of you to one or two riders ahead - this will help you hold a smooth, straight line so that others can easily follow you.
- For ordinary club run speeds, an appropriate gap between your front wheel and the wheel in front of you is around 0.5 - 1.0m - no more than a wheel's diameter.
- Keep your hands close to the brakes but not on the brakes in case of sudden slowing - remember, if you run out of braking room, you can normally just drift to the side of the rider in front. Sometimes people who are not used to riding in a bunch will feel too nervous at this close range - riding on the right side (in the U.K.) is generally less nerve-racking for such people as they feel less hemmed in.
- If you are really struggling to ride close to the wheel in front of you, practice on the back and soon you will be able to move up the line with a partner.
5 - KEEP IT TOGETHER
- You should generally try to ride with your handlebars, shoulders and elbows parallel to the rider alongside you as this will make it easy for the riders behind to remain in 2 abreast formation.
- This will also reduce the chances of getting hooked on the other rider’s bars or knocked by the other rider’s knees.
- If you do accidently get too close to another rider, try to ensure that your handlebars do not touch by keeping your bike upright and leaning so that you rub shoulders rather than rubbing handlebars - but hold your line.
- If you are in the bunch and there is no one beside the person in front of you, you should move up to fill the gap
- If no one is alongside you and no-one moves into a gap beside you, move to the back of the bunch, so that the next pair can move up the line.
- Don't overlap wheels - a slight direction change or gust of wind could easily cause you to touch wheels with the rider in front, which could cause you too crash.
- Look ahead - do not become obsessed with the rear wheel directly in front of you. Try to focus four or five riders up the line so that any 'problem' will not suddenly affect you.
- Keep your upper body relaxed to absorb any road bumps - but always keep a thumb hooked under the bars or brake levers so that any bump doesn't cause your hand or hands to fly off the bars.
- Do not get lulled into a false sense of security when riding in the bunch - your safety and that of others depends on you staying vigilant.
- Always make your own call at roundabouts, cross roads and T junctions - never blindly follow a bunch through a give way sign without looking for approaching traffic yourself. If the group does become split, make sure those in front are aware – they should then pull over in a safe spot such as a lay-by, so that the bunch can re-form. For this reason, it’s pointless for riders on the front to run an amber traffic light
- Never take your hands of the bars in the middle of the bunch to sit up to stretch your back, put a cape on or remove clothing etc. when you have riders on your wheel relying on you. Go to the back first, if you hit a stone and fall off, at least it's only you and your bike that's hurt.
- When drinking, always hold a bottle to the side of your mouth so that you can see where you are going while you drink - the other hand should be lightly covering a brake.
- Don’t prop - manybeginners, freewheel momentarily when they first get out of the saddle to go over a rise or a hill. When doing this, the bike is forced backwards. For the rider behind, it looks like you've deliberately forced your back wheel towards them. Try to keep forward pressure on the pedals when you get out of the saddle to avoid this situation. When climbing hills, avoid following a wheel too closely many riders often lose their momentum when rising out of the saddle on a hill which can cause a sudden deceleration.
- Experienced riders should always politely point out any mistakes made by less experienced riders. This must be done diplomatically of course, try to be positive - but it is important to make people aware of unsafe riding and help them learn the right behaviour.
6 – BRAKE CARFULLY
- If you unexpectadly brake too much and too hard, it causes a chain reaction through the bunch behind you - and it takes only one rider to not be ready and the slowing down could cause an accident.
- Rather than braking all of the time, try to use subtle changes in body position to sit up and catch more wind to slow down, or perhaps gradually moving slightly out into the wind from behind a rider in front and then slot back into position in the bunch.
- Riding with your hands on the brake lever hoods or on the drops while in the bunch, with two fingers resting lightly on the brakes ready in case of the unexpected.
- Sitting up with your hands on the brake lever hoods gives the riders behind a clear advance indication that you might be about to brake.
- Often it helps your balance and smoothes your braking if you carry on pedalling during braking.
7 – CONSTANT EFFORT vs. CONSTANT SPEED
- Constant speed means pedalling smoothly when you’re within the bunch, and hold a consistent speed rather than surging forward when you’re moving up to take your turn at the front. Surges cause gaps further back in the bunch which in turn creates a 'whiplash' effect as riders at the back have to continually chase to stay with the bunch. This is particularly evident in larger bunches when cornering or taking off from standing starts at traffic lights where the front of the bunch can be up to speed before the back of the bunch is moving. When you are trying to keep a group together on a club ride, you don't sprint out of corners like you do in a race.
- Constant effort means pedalling downhill when at the front of the bunch to compensate for having more wind drag than those on your wheel - otherwise the whole bunch is on the brakes even though you are just coasting.
- If riders in the bunch unavoidably speeding up and slowing down, give them some 'elasticity' by allowing them to surge forward and then fall back in line.
8 - COMMUNICATION IS KING
- Speaking clearly and loudly so people can hear and quickly understand what you are doing can give the split second warning the riders behind need - E.G.: "Braking" "Stopping" “Car Up” (If there is parked car or car pulling out that may represent risk coming up, sometimes the bunch swing out of the way and an unsuspecting rider is left with nowhere to go.) “Car Back” (If a car is coming from behind and the bunch have to move in to allow room for it to pass,) “Rider/s” if the bunch is passing slower riders, or a cyclist is approaching from the other direction.
- Point out obstacles such as loose gravel, broken glass, holes, rocks or debris on the road and calling out "hole" etc.in case someone misses your signal.
- Signals should be in proportion to the amount of obstacles / severity of the pot holes etc. If the road is really pot holed or muddy, the bunch will know soon enough once you shout out "Take care gravel!" (etc.) so there is no need to over do the signals and shouts.
- Never drop a hand to point if it prevents you from being able to control your bike.
- On hearing or seeing a command, everyone should let a bigger gap open between riders and take care. When you do get past an obstacle, don't put the power on until the back of the bunch has left the bad road behind.
- Remember, all this communication is wasted unless everyone passes the message on, all the way to the back of the peloton, not just letting those close to the front know.
9 - TAKING A TURN ON THE FRONT
- The most common way to take a turn on the front of the group is for each pair just to stay together until the reach the front after other riders have taken their turn at the front.
- When you make it to the front, don't up the pace or 'half wheel'. This means keeping half a wheel in front of your partner. This automatically makes your partner speed up slightly to pull back alongside you. Often half wheelers will also speed up, so the pace of the bunch invariably speeds up as the riders behind try to catch up. This is the very annoying symptom usually of somebody who is a bit nervous and excited. Not wanting the rest of the group to end up not being next to each other in their pairs, (or not wanting the other guy to think that he's better than you), you speed up to match his pace. But, he still needs to be that little bit in front so he speeds up - again, until everyone in the bunch has gone up two or three gears and 10km/hr and no one is particularly happy.
- Lead when it's your turn on the front - remember when you are on the front, you are not only responsible for yourself but have a duty of care to consider how your actions can affect everyone in the group behind you. When you are leading the bunch, try to monitor potential problems and give plenty of warning of impending stops or changes of pace. Scan the road ahead for potential problems, pedestrians, horses, oncoming vehicles, red lights etc. and be ready to signal to others what's coming up.
- Sprinting out of corners is hard-wired in to all racers but it will cause a mixed ability group to really string out and eventaully break up - try not to do it!
- After having a turn on the front (generally about the same amount of time as everyone else is taking - about 2 miles is right), the front pair separates and moves apart, allowing the riders behind to come through the middle to the front.
- Plan when to come off the front - you and your partner need to do some planning when you get on the front so that when you roll through you come off at a place where the road is wide enough for the group to be four-wide for a short time. With some planning, it is often possible to come off the front a few hundred metres earlier or later to avoid a dangerous situation.
- Always retire to the back of the bunch - if riders push in somewhere in the middle of the bunch rather than retiring to the back after taking a turn, cyclists at the back will not be able to move forward and take a turn of their own. This will make them a bit miffed and colourful language may ensue! No one wants to be stuck at the back of the bunch for the entire ride and subjected to the "whiplash" effect. Remember that riding in a bunch is about all riders sharing the workload, unless you are struggling, or learning the ropes.
- To get to the back, stop pedalling for a while to slow down, keep an eye out for the end of the bunch and fall back into line there. It is safer for everyone if you get to the back as quickly as possible as the group is effectively riding four-abreast until you and your partner slot in at the back of the bunch.
- If a car does come up from behind, or if the road narrows, indicate that you want to slot into the group and someone will ease and let you in temporarily. As soon as it is safe, move out again and get to where you should be at the back of the bunch.
10 - OBEY THE RULES OF THE ROAD
- Stopping at stop signs and red lights, slow down for give way signs, indicating before you turn, sticking to the bike lanes wherever practical and riding with consideration and courtesy to other road users.
- Not following road rules is confusing for drivers and other cyclists around you, and dangerous because it makes your riding seem erratic and unpredictable
- Cyclists have every right to share the road, they do not have the right to ride inconsiderably and obstruct other traffic for mile after mile.
- Take care when overtaking other road users including cyclists, horse riders and pedestrians - give them a friendly shout to let them know you are approaching and give them as wide a birth as possible, as road and traffic conditions allow. If in doubt about safety, i.e. if there is approaching traffic, or if a horse appears nevous for instance, slow down and prepare to stop, giving as much notice as possible to everyone behind.
- There are not many instances when it is appropriate to ride more than 2 abreast on the open road - so if riding in pairs, stay directly behind the wheels in front - don't drift to the side as from behind, this will look like everyone is riding 2 or 3 abreast.
- Examples of where riding more than 2 abreast is unavoidable would be where riders are moving from the front to that back of the bunch, or if the group has to overtake a slower vehicle. Cars overtake using both lanes all the time - but it has to be done safely - look behind and in front and signal to the rest of the group before overtaking.
- On a hill, you must only overtake slower riders after you have checked that there is no vehicle overtaking, or about to overtake from behind.
- There will be times when there is not enough room for a car to pass even if the bunch (or individual) were to drop into single file. In that situation, making room for a car to pass is giving the car an invitation to come through which may put riders or on-coming traffic at risk.
- Cyclists have been riding in groups on the open roads for over 100 years and most the time they can share with other road users safely, without a problem. A certain amount of give and take is needed on all sides of course and It's a fact of life that due to the sheer number of people using the roads, sometimes you will encounter other road users who are impatient, ignorant, or even negligent or agressive in a way that can endanger your life, as well as theirs and other road users. Always try to remain passive whilst you are on your bike - you simply will not win an arguement with an automobile for instance! Try to let poor behaviour go if you can - one day they will meet their match.
- However, if you encounter behaviour that endangers life, or could cause injury, take a note of the number plate and as many details as you can about the vehicle and driver AND ALLWAYS REPORT IT TO THE POLICE.
- Of course, cyclists, horse riders and walkers are nearly always drivers themselves and so understand that if the peloton is perceived to be obstructing any traffic behind, it could cause annoyance and give the club a bad reputation.
- But providing a group rides appropriately, it should not be seen as obstructing the traffic, it should be seen as part of the traffic.
Edited by Guy_Watson