Bunch Riding Tips

by Jeremy Hunt

Bunch Riding Tips

Now that you have caught the cycling "bug", there's no doubt you're keen to join some group rides. Working up the courage to join the riders setting the pace at the front can be quite daunting, so understanding the dynamic of the group will help you overcome those fears and curiosities.

A well-oiled rotation is like a form of art, so we have put together a few tips to help you join a paceline without causing any disruptions. Much the same as riding in a crosswind, a paceline is a selection of riders who set the pace for a group at a controlled pace, protecting one another from the wind to maximise the speed and efficiency of the peloton.

For your first group rides, it is recommended you start by sitting down the back and getting comfortable in the bunch, learning your spatial awareness, and how the riders behave on the road. Always ride within your limits! You're not just responsible for your own safety, but the safety and comfort of all the other riders around you.

As you start to feel more comfortable riding in a group and closer to the wheels around you, you can try to ride a bit closer to the front. Everything you do needs to be predictable. Be vocal if you need to be. Observe how the others ride, as that will be your guide for how to fit in with the group as though they don't notice you.

When you do build up the strength and experience to join the pace line, start by slotting in at the back of the rotation. There will be two sides to the paceline, the riders moving forwards who are setting the pace, and those seeming to drift backwards, who are recovering from their "turn" and on their way back to begin their pace setting again. A well drilled group will have between six and 30+ riders setting the pace.

Once you do manage to jump into the pace setting line, without causing any disruption, it's up to you to stay close enough to the rider in front of you that you remain in their draft, while saving enough energy to pull through at the same pace as they do. You do not want to raise or lower the pace (surge), so keep an eye on your speed (not power) as you're moving forward so you know what you need to give for your turn.

As the rider in front of you rolls over the rider in front of him, you will then have your nose in the wind and this is the hardest but most important part – you need to roll over in the same direction as the rider in front of you and keep the pace on as you wait for the rider behind you to do the same to you. You must keep pressure on the pedals after you "peel" off from your turn (or pull) to make sure you adequately pass the rider who was in front of you. You will then take the tiniest bit of pressure off your pedals which will serve two purposes, 1) it will allow the rider you have rolled over to slip into your slipstream and get on your wheel, and 2) it will allow the rider rolling over the top of you to get over the top of you and out of the paceline. You will then add a tiny bit more pressure to inch back onto the wheel of the rider in front as you slide into their slipstream.

It is equally important to maintain your position in the slipstream of the rider in front of you in the slower paceline as you drift backwards, as this is vital to your recovery for your next turn. Most good bunches will be vocal, and as the rider you follow up in the faster paceline jumps back into the faster paceline, they will call, "in" or "up" so that you can give a little surge back up to speed in the faster paceline. This is the only time in a bunch that you should surge, and it won't affect anyone as you are shifting from the slower paceline to the faster paceline. The more rotations you do, you will note the riders two, three and four riders in front of you in the faster side of the paceline. When you see them switching from the slower side to the faster side, you can get ready to pre-empt the switch across to the faster paceline so you can do it as seamlessly as possible, which will in turn, save your legs a bit more.

This is quite hard to explain, but the internet has many great videos explaining this brilliant skill. As we have said, a faultless paceline is an art form!

The key things to keep in mind when you join a paceline:

  • Be predictable and smooth
  • Do NOT surge
  • If you join the paceline you need to complete your turn no matter what
  • Once you have completed your turn it is crucial to get back on the wheel in front of you
  • Remain close to the rider in front of you to maximise the draft from the slipstream
  • Do not make sudden changes to your line
  • If you tire, sit out a few rotations so you can recover
  • If a rider in front of you surges through on their turn, leave them out there and pull across in front of the rider at the front of the slower paceline (this will also help them)
  • Have fun and enjoy getting faster!

FormFinder tip: Eventually you will be able to rotate turns in a paceline on feel. Practice makes perfect!

Video links
How To Ride In A Pace Line | Cycling Group Ride Tips The science of the echelon

I don't like to be negative and I don't like rule lists, but when safety is at stake I can make an exception:

  • Crosswind wrong side of the wheel
  • Drop the wheel
  • Fail to point out obstacles/potholes/slower riders
  • Roll the wrong way
  • Jam through
  • Roll through too slow
  • Not roll through when it's your turn
  • Snot on others
  • Yell instructions at others when you don't know what's right
  • Crash
  • Ride outside your ability level (create danger for others)
  • Sprint in a zigzagging line
  • Sprinting or riding in the paceline with equipment that could be dodgy
  • Telling others how strong you are
  • Sprinting past the group when they are rolling turns in a paceline
  • Wearing headphones!
  • Referring to your power meter instead of speed when riding turns
  • Using your mobile phone
  • Refusing to let people in in front of you if you're down the back
  • Not taking food on a longer group ride / not taking spares
  • Rolling to 3rd or 4th wheel but not pulling through
  • Pouring water on your head and half the water and sweat landing on the guy behind you
  • Littering / throwing bottles or gels
  • Half wheeling
  • Using hands to signal a red light (just yell)

Be considerate of other riders and other road users including slower cyclists and meandering drivers. If you are training or in an amateur race then consider what risks you're taking - s it worth it? I look forward to seeing you on the road. Comment below if you have anything to add.

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