If you enjoy bunch riding, you will also know about the chain reaction effect. One rider brakes and the rest have to be on their toes and react quickly to avoid crashing. But it is more than avoiding crashing, it is about predicting what could happen, knowing what is happening and riding with the safety of other riders in mind – your riding error can have catastrophic repercussions.
In the Smart Cycling – Cycling Essentials series, the free Bunch Riding Guide outlines the approach for safe bunch riding, and this includes “Who’s in Charge”. So who is in charge… surely it is the Lead Rider?
Yes and no. Each and every rider in a bunch or peloton still has a responsibility to all other riders, both in the way they conduct them self and ride, as well as passing calls or signals through the bunch.
Let’s move to the back of the bunch to the Tail-end Rider. Far from just pulling up the rear, the rider at the back has an important role if the bunch needs to change lanes. As the rear most rider, they call-out to inform the bunch whether the bunch can move OVER or needs to WAIT. For multi-lane crossing the call may be OVER ONE or OVER TWO depending on what is safe. Each rider needs to pass this message forward to the lead rider.
In addition, the Tail-end Rider warns of vehicles approaching from behind, and usually provides an indication of the size such as CAR, BUS or TRUCK. If traffic is heavy, the Tail-end rider may also call to suggest that a bunch riding two abreast changes to single-file with the call SINGLE or SINGLE-UP. On hills or situations where riders fall off the back of the bunch, the Tail-end rider can request the bunch to slow or inform the bunch that the riders have rejoined with ALL-ON.
The Lead Rider
While all riders have responsibility in the bunch, the Lead Rider is responsible for many of the important calls and signals. And they have make the calls and signals with the safety of all of the riders in mind which means planning ahead and predicting danger scenarios. This is can be as simple and breaking early, slowing (calling SLOWING or STOPPING) and avoiding sudden braking within the bunch. It means slowing starting (after the bunch has stopped) to allow all riders to ‘get on’ and avoid the concertina effect.
Generally, the Lead Rider has to call early and ensure a constant pace which suits all riders with gradual changes (turning, swerving, slowing, accelerating). The Lead Rider often changes as it is a position which often faces the wind and allows the riders following to draft. When the rider signals their intent and moves over, the next rider in line generally takes the lead. These Pacelines, different formations and variations will be discussed in another post. What it means however is that each rider should be aware of their responsibilities leading the bunch.
One of the key safety requirements is to avoid and call out obstacles such as potholes, debris, parked vehicles, other cyclists and anything else which requires the attention of the bunch. For all of these obstacles, a call and often a hand signal is used which is then passed back but each rider. When avoiding an obstacle, the lead rider chooses a safe line with the assumption that riders will follow.
The Lead Rider also needs to make a judgement call at intersections and for changed traffic situations, for example informing the bunch whether to stop at traffic lights which change from green to amber or to ride through (on the understanding that the bunch is small enough to pass before it turns red. For larger bunches this can be tricky and riders in the middle may need to make an independent call to stop. In this case, riders in the front group should slow down to allow riders behind to catch up.
For individuals and non-commercial groups such as cycling clubs, the Bunch Riding guide is free to download, share and print. It provides a concise and visual overview of all of the key safety considerations for bunch riding.