Bunch Riding Guide
This is a guide for all athletes training with Fluid Movements - both new and experienced. In it we’ve documented a few rules which keep us all safe while training. They’re universal cycling rules and etiquette and there’s a common theme throughout, and that’s SAFETY. It is all about remaining safe while riding, and will only work if we all follow the rules all the time.
The guide is divided into four sections:
- Etiquette and rules of the bunch ride
- Signals and calls – how we communicate when riding
- Different bunch formations and Fluid Movements training rides
- Frequently asked questions
1. Etiquette and rules of the bunch ride.
At Fluid we have always seen the benefits of outdoor cycling sessions and weekly bunch riding for our riders. This environment teaches many things that indoor and solo riding cannot, including:
- Building a riders confidence through exposure to varied terrain, traffic and climatic conditions.
- Increased bike handling skills through experience and constant skill refinement.
- Developing awareness of how to stay safe and ride defensively on public roads.
- How to dose rider effort when training and racing in wind, heat and rain.
The importance of staying safe when training this way brings us to cycling etiquette and pack riding. To ride safely in a bunch requires a number of important factors including – matched rider experience and ability within a bunch, constant rider communication through clear and universally understood signals and riders being consistent and predictable with their riding behaviour. If these rules are not followed, riders can put themselves and others in the bunch at risk of injury.
Basic bunch formation
There are many ways that a bunch can operate whilst riding. There is static formation where riders remain in the same position in the bunch throughout the ride, through to rotating the lead by rolling off the front or via a pace line. This allows for lead sharing within the ride to manage fatigue. For the purposes of bunch basics, we will look at the static bunch ride and basic rules that go with it.
-Always ride directly behind the rider in front, about 1-1.5m ideally and up to 3m in the wet. Avoid staggering and never allow your wheels to overlap.
-When riding behind another rider, look to the small of the riders back in front, not the wheel, so you maintain your peripheral vision
-When following a rider up a climb, allow a little extra room to the wheel in front in case the rider gets out of the saddle. Bike can decelerate suddenly by half a pedal stroke if the rider does not pull up on the pedal as they get out of the saddle.
-Be consistent and predictable with your line and pacing.
-Sign and call down the line and to the inside for things like obstacles, potholes and change of pace.
-Be vocal and clear with verbal communication.
-Eyes looking to the front at all times, including when talking to the rider next to you.
-Never pass on the inside of a rider.
-Never ride in the aero position unless on the front.
-Never take both hands off the bars.
-Ride within your abilities, don’t overextend yourself when bunch riding. If you are leading
-Set an even speed that matches the rides brief.(i.e. aerobic, tempo or no drop) Be predictable and moderate with braking and acceleration
-Do not stop pedalling when you drink / eat as this causes a ripple effect through the bunch.
-You will need to soft pedal when going downhill. The bunch behind will have the advantage of “slip stream” and can travel faster without pedalling.
-Strong audible calling for slowing, stopping, rolling etc.
-Clear signalling If you are at the rear
-Audible calling when vehicles are passing the bunch or it is clear for change of direction.
-Letting non bunch riders know that it is an organised bunch ride, and if they are to join in, ideally do so at the rear. If you are riding mid pack
-Eyes front at all times, maintaining consistent line and distance directly behind the rider in front
-Pass signals and calls on obstructions, change of pace etc. down the line to riders behind
2. Signals and calls
How we communicate when riding Riders back OR riders When you are approaching riders let them know you are passing by calling ‘riders’ in advance of the pass. If you are at the rear of the bunch and you are calling that riders are passing the bunch then you call ‘riders back.’ Car up OR car back When you are approaching a parked car and you are going to deviate right and change direction to pass, call ‘car up’ and motion with your left hand coming behind your back. If you are at the rear of the bunch and a car is approaching in your lane, call ‘car back.’ Pot holes and debris (Glass) If you are approaching a pot hole, the lead rider points out the hole by possibly calling ‘hole’ and signalling with a pointed left or right depending on which side they are passing. For glass, definitely yell out ‘glass and point it out on the left or right Stopping for lights Ideally, in this instance think of the bunch as one vehicle. The leaders will decide if the bunch stops at the light or goes through. As soon as the light turns Amber, the leaders will call out loudly “STOPPING” or “LIGHTS” if they are bringing the group to a halt. If they decide there is not enough space to stop the group safely, they will call out “ROLLING” and the whole group goes through. A few very important considerations:
-The call the leaders make applies to the whole group. If they call STOPPING and someone three wheels back calls ROLLING you can imagine what could happen. Likewise, if they call ROLLING but someone in the middle of the group makes a unilateral decision to stop, everyone behind doing the right thing will crash into the back of them. The call BY the leaders is all that matters.
-The leaders might make a call that doesn’t make sense to you, but they can see more than you can, so do what they say. The only thing you can do wrong as a leader is make no call. If you’re in a bunch and you’re not happy with the leadership of it you should always pull out.
-If you deem it unsafe to stop based on the proximity to the orange lights and the speed of the bunch, then call out ‘rolling’, and accelerate reasonably through the lights. If it’s a sizable bunch, then riders down the line must eventually decide to stop the bunch once it has been orange for a time or becomes red and is dangerous to proceed. The riders that went through should wait or soft pedal on the other side of the lights to allow the rest of the bunch to catch up, depending on the ride type.
-When you need to call ‘Single’ file When the road narrows or there is an approaching obstruction, the lead rider sometimes must call single file. This requires the bunch to form a single line to maintain safety due to the circumstance. This is done by the lead rider raising one arm above their head and calling ‘Single’. Normally the left hand rider maintains the lead and pace, and the rider on the right will slow and fall in behind. This is mirrored down the line.
3. The different bunch formations
Rotating the lead (2 at a time).
On easier rides, the bunch may decide to rotate the lead so all riders can get a turn at the front. The leader will call ‘rotating’ to initiate the change. To safely rotate the lead, it is best to roll off the front in an anticlockwise direction. Rider 8 (right front) will move forward and to the left in front of rider 1 (left front) once their rear wheel has cleared the front wheel of that rider, and then rider 7 & 6 will move up, with rider 7 moving in front of rider 8 and rider 6 assuming the lead on the right.
On moderate bunch rides, sharing the lead can be done by rolling turns. It is a continuous change of the lead by the whole bunch. In the above picture, rider 8 will rider past rider 1, once his wheel passes rider 1’s front wheel he will slowly move across to the left and start to soft pedal and rider 1 starts the process all over again. The key is not to accelerate when the rider in front peels off, maintain the speed of the bunch. When you have peeled off, soft pedal, slowly moving back but maintain enough speed so you don’t have to accelerate when you reach the back and need to move back up the line on the right.
Paceline formation usually only occurs on harder bunch rides. The rotation is the same procedure as rotating the lead above, but at a faster speed. A rolling echelon forms. As the tailender transitions into the faster moving ‘pace line’ he/she calls “last rider”. This informs the new last rider to get ready to move across as well. Without this call, the pace line can easily break up as the riders do not transition to the right quickly enough and then get dropped. This is magnified the faster the pace line is going. If you cannot do a turn at the front, stay off the pace line, rather than try to slot in mid-line, or stay in the same position. Move to the back of the pack and indicate to riders around you that you are not joining the pace line. A good pace line requires all riders to maintain consistent speed, smooth motion, clear calling and heightened situational awareness of impending hazards.
Fluid Movements training rides
Choosing your bunch Usually there are a couple of options for the bunch rides. Put yourself with the bunch that closest resembles your ability. This will make your ride more effective and enjoyable. If unsure ask the supervising coach.
The nature of bunch riding
Triathletes can sometimes struggle with changes of pace in bunch rides. Being generally TT riders, when riding solo at midweek sessions holding a prescribed intensity is the norm. The nature of bunch riding is that you have moments when bunches inevitably surge when passing, on lumpier terrain, or from the concertina effect when you are further back in the bunch. This is all part of bunch riding, and as long as the surges are reasonable and not sustained, and don’t go against the ride objectives then this is ok and to be expected. The only time when there is very stringent monitoring of this is when the bunch ride range of intensity is very narrow. This is when the bunch is doing an aerobic recovery or a social (no drop) ride. As a rule this type of ride happens infrequently but would be clearly called pre ride. NOTE: Fluid Movements weekly Long Bunch Rides are generally aerobic conditioning intensity and often have scheduled tempo efforts following the control period at the beginning.
TYPES OF RIDES
Social (No Drop) bunch ride
Aerobic recovery intensity where heart rate is low and riders go as easily as they can. If the riders are well matched then they should not be dropped. Intensity should stay below 70-75%mhr if on a flat course
Aerobic conditioning bunch ride
This ride is similar to the majority of long bunch rides Fluid Movements does. Intensity should stay between 70-80%mhr and be easy to moderate in aerobic intensity. Unless there is an efforts schedule set pre ride, this intensity is maintained to develop aerobic fitness and condition.
Tempo bunch ride
Usually this ride has a specific intensity above 78-85%mhr, and riders in the bunch should be very evenly matched. Smaller bunches of 3-5riders are suited to this type of ride, often with rolling turns or pace line formations used. Intensity should be from moderate to hard sustainable.
Solo weekend ride
Often after a designated period as a bunch at the start of the ride, riders will be asked to split off and ride solo off the wheel following their effort schedule for the rest of the ride in the aero position. It’s very important as triathletes to have this solo time in the aero especially as riders move into their specific training phases. Solo weekday ride The majority of midweek training should be done solo and off the wheel as per the rider’s individual training program. Intensity and duration is very specific, so bunch riding isn’t appropriate unless warming up or cooling down.
Commuting IS training, so riders must account for it when planning or reviewing their weekly ride mileage. All commuting should be done at an easy aerobic intensity.
4. Frequently asked questions
What if a faster rider or bunch passes me and I want to get a tow?
It is good form to ask if you can sit in behind, although this happens very infrequently these days! Some people don’t want others sitting on their wheel, and fair enough. Some don’t feel safe and you should respect that. Two things to bear in mind:
- NEVER “drop in” half way through a bunch going past you. You may be allowed to sit in behind, but you can expect an earful if you drop in.
- Do NOT move in front and take a turn unless asked. If they’re riding solo they might prefer to ride alone. It’s rude not to do a turn if asked, but much worse to move up if not asked.
Why do we ride two abreast?
Except for very specific circumstances, we always ride in two perfect lines, with no gaps. The main reason is safety – logically this makes the bunch half as long as it would be if we were single file, and it makes it much easier for cars and other groups to pass quickly. You will sometimes have to go single file where the road narrows, a large vehicle needs to pass, or where you’re climbing and there are double lines. At this point a ride leader will call out “SINGLE!” The accompanying signal is one arm held up in the air. Everyone will need to slow down and open gaps to allow this to happen. Re-form into two columns quickly afterwards. What happens if a group passes me – or passes a bunch I’m leading? Very similar to a non-drafting race! You MUST let the whole group complete their pass. To not do so is extremely dangerous. If it’s a group passing another, everyone is 4abreast across the road, and the outside and rear riders are very vulnerable so the pass has to be completed quickly. If the group being passed speeds up, they are causing a very dangerous situation – they may naturally speed up as the leaders are now catching a draft, so the leaders need to be aware not to speed up. The difficulty comes when the passing group of rider have bitten off more than they can chew and aren’t strong enough to stay in front, or bring their group around to complete the pass. This can be a very dangerous situation and the leaders of the bunch being passed must slow their group to allow the pass to be completed. In time it’ll become apparent which group is moving faster. This is one of the most important reasons that only strong, experienced riders should lead large groups.
Why is it important to ride in club colours?
It doesn’t just look awesome it helps to keep everyone safe. Firstly it’s very easy to monitor the bunch, and keep others from dropping in. Random riders will be less likely to drop in on our group if we’re all in squad colours. Should this happen, it’s very easy for a coach or senior rider to identify them and kick them out of the group. Why is this important? You should never ride in a bunch with someone who doesn’t know how. We go to a lot of trouble to ensure you know all of these rules and etiquette, and by now you can imagine what would happen if there was one person in the middle who didn’t know! 20 people riding in perfect formation and obeying the rules can be brought down by one rider. It also helps the ride leaders keep the bunch together if there are splits in the bunch at (for example) roundabouts or traffic lights.
Why can’t I ride in the aero bars?
There is nothing wrong with riding a TT bike in a bunch, but you must stay on the hoods/ram’s horns and out of the aero bars unless you’re on the front. One very simple reason – there are no brakes on the aero bars. If you are 1-2m from the wheel in front you will not be able to brake in time.