Bunch Riding - the Urban Cyclist
Living in urban areas with its seemingly endless gridlock of cars being often driven without any consideration of others, especially those on bikes, I am always very conscious of the safety factor when riding alone or with a group
There are two parts to the safe riding equation. The first is to learn to ride from the very start in a safe manner while out training with others on long rides where there may be anywhere from two to fifty plus riders. The second is learning the more technical aspects of race riding whether it is time trialing, bunch riding or criterion racing.
Something that is often overlooked it a 20second bike check before every ride. I learnt this very good lesson at a young age when the quick release was not done up having come back from holiday. One pothole later and I had a face full off road and a pileup on my back! It is a very easy check to do and can save you from all types of situations.
It’s called a bunch ride for a reason. Usually accidents involving a cyclist being hit by a car result from a split in the bunch with riders becoming isolated in ones or twos. Establishing eye contact with a motorist is a good way to know they have seen you. There will be a natural stringing out effect if riding over rolling hills but priority should be given to staying together and regroup as soon as possible
Riding in pairs is ideal on long rides as it allows for great social interaction however the group should have a procedure spelt out, so riders can swiftly move into single file and back again depending on the road. Verbal communications are the key to changing quickly. Messages are transferred either from the front back or from the back to the front but must be done loudly and clearly. Being able to ‘hold your line’ is a critical part of riding. Potential problems arise is riders drift out into the road. Many novice riders don’t feel comfortable being on the inside (kerb-side) of the bunch and feel trapped, however this is normal until you get used to it. Also, not being able to ‘hold a wheel’ correctly or match up with your following riding partner can also create a different kind of drifting problem.
Often group communication is really poor among social bunches. Specific cycling specific sign language should be used as much as possible to point out potholes and obstacles on the road or signaling the presence of a parked vehicle. The key here is to do it soon enough and for the message to keep being communicated back done the line. A wide berth of parked vehicles is mandatory all the times as this saves the classic door in the face accident.
Another important time is when riding through built up areas and dealing with traffic lights, gives way or stop signs. These situations are the most frequent cause of near accidents.
Hopefully when you meet someone new to a bunch you informally share any local protocols to encourage safety. If there are youngsters in the pack its ideal to pass on these learning’s while they are young. Yelling, swearing and gesturing at motorists is tempting but should be avoided for the simple reason that they may take out their anger on the next group of riders they come upon, and everybody looses!
There is an earlier, more basic stage of technical skill required before a person should join a bunch and these will be covered in blogs to come.