Smarter Climbing Descending Cyclists

Clever Climbing and Smarter Descents for Cyclists

On the mountain stages for any cycling race, the road to victory is a combination of skill, experience and intelligence. Whether you are racing, training or riding with friends for fitness and pleasure, the importance of safety is amplified when it gets hilly. Higher speeds on descents and slow, inconsistent speeds while climbing can increase the danger of a bike crash. There are a few easy rules to reduce the risk and increase the pleasure.

In the free Cycling Essentials Bunch Riding Guide, the chapter on ascending and descending covers the four key considerations for bunch riding safety and etiquette on the climbs and descents.

 

Climbing Hills in the Bunch

A rider who starts too soon is on their own and can bonk. A rider who starts too late will miss the boat. Strategy, tactics, nutrition, skill, ability… and a multitude of factors affect performance. This goes for competition cycling, but also when riding with friends in a bunch.

For training and friendly bunch riding, it is often more enjoyable for riders to cycle at their own pace. This means that the bunch may split up and it is common courtesy for the faster riders to wait at the top of a climb. When there are lots of climbs, a designated meeting point should be selected. Allow time for the slower riders to recover.

If there is a long delay, consider sending a fit rider to check up on slower riders incase they have suffered a ‘mechanical’ and require assistance.

 

Racing up the hills

Fast riders who are held up by slower riders and don’t have the opportunity to pass are quickly frustrated, so make it easy for faster riders to pass.

While ascending, your reaction time and also the ability to move over can be affected by both concentration and the sheer effort, so thinking ahead makes sense. When climbing hills, try and keep to the side. If you are riding in a bunch, likewise, orientate yourself to the side so that there is space for other riders who want to pass.

When you are in a faster bunch and are approaching a slower bunch or slower riders from behind, call out and let the riders know that you are approaching and overtaking. It is good strategy to let them know how big the group is, for example the first rider may call “10 riders passing” and this ensures that the slower riders don’t pull out too soon. The last rider can also call out “last wheel” (or “last rider”).

 

Increase the Gap

 

In a good bunch riding in tight formation, the gap to the rider ahead can be quite small. This is an aerodynamic advantage but also demands a lot of trust and confidence in the skill of the riders ahead and that they are also looking out for obstacles that can be a safety risk to the bunch.

During the ascents and descents it is harder for a bunch to maintain consistency in speed and cadence. Going uphill, riders may have different abilities climbing but also different styles. Descents are fast and often involve braking and cornering which can be less predictable.

The rule of thumb is to increase the gap – the space to the rider ahead. When climbing hills, if the rider ahead suddenly gets out of their saddle to stand without warning, their bike will surge back. On descents, the rider ahead could brake earlier than you anticipate, but also react quickly to unexpected obstacles while cornering. Your safety is improved by increasing the gap to a safe distances, the faster the descent, the bigger the gap.

 

Be predictable

Accident easily occur when riders are unpredictable, the move out unexpectedly and unaware of riders approaching from behind or they suddenly brake.

Ensure that your bunch has a culture of calls and hand signals. If a rider wants to get out of the saddle and stand, they call “standing” or even if they take a drink, holding the drink bottle to the side so that riders behind know you are taking and drink and might slow.

Each rider in the bunch has a responsibility to ensure that the other riders are alert and know if there are any changes, such as to your position or speed.

Smart Cyclist Bunch Riding Crash Corner

How to Corner and Merge on a Bike without Crashing

Cars and motor vehicles pose a significant risk to cyclists, but so do other bike riders. The risk of serious injury is the same so there are a few simple rules to follow to ensure that riders in a bunch are safe… and efficient. 

Efficiency is one of the biggest advantages of riding in a bunch (as well as socialising). When the bunch is a coherent group and all riders, from the lead through to the riders at the back, the bunch is faster and it is simply more enjoyable. In comparison, a disorganised bunch creates surging which makes the riders at the back work harder, it is stressful and there is an increased risk of crashing.

This article on avoiding crashing in the bunch follows on from the The Six Most Important Safe Bunch Cycling Rules and covers cornering, merging into single-file and crossing to two (or more) riders abreast.

 

How to Corner without Crashing

In a bunch when the riders are cycling with two or more abreast, the rule for cornering is to “Hold Your Line.” The most efficient path through a corner is to start wide, cut across the corner and then end wide, but when riding alongside others, this is a dangerous tactic. Both the inside and outside rider can cut another off so instead need to ride two-abreast (or three or four) around the corner. The rider on the inside has a shorter path while the rider on the outside takes a longer path.

If you are riding single-file, you can afford to take the most efficient path (starting and ending wide while sweeping across the apex). However riders need caution by allowing more space to the rider in front. If the rider ahead slows or choses a different ‘line’ through the corner, you need to remain behind and avoid suddenly appearing next to the rider when they are not expecting you.

 

How to Merge / Single-Up

 

When a bunch need to change from two (or more) abreast and form a single line, usually the call “Singles” or “Single-Up” is given and passed through the bunch.

The riders on the outside of the lane need to provide space so that the rider who was along-side, can then ride forward and into the slot. This zip-lock format of merging is safe and efficient, the onus is on the riders to leave enough space and also to ‘close the gap’ and ensure that the tight formation and speed of the peloton is retained.

 

Doubling-up

 

When a bunch changes from single-file to two-abreast, a call of “double-up” is called. A tight-knit bunch may anticipate that it is safe to ride two-abreast and no call is given.

The lead rider remains on the ‘outside’ and the next rider then moves out and alongside the lead rider. This pattern is repeated with every second rider moving out of formation and then up along-side the rider who want in front.

Riders towards the rear can quickly find a big gap in-front due to the acceleration so need to be aware of closing the gap while lead riders should aim to maintain a constant speed to avoid splitting the group.

 

Safety in Communication

Bike crashes can be bad luck, but they can also be caused by a lack of awareness and communication. In a racing environment, even when the finish line is in sight, the etiquette is still important, unexpected moves can bring scores of riders down.

GCN have some detailed cornering advice in their video – How to Corner like a Pro.

For more on bunch riding and paceline formations, technique and etiquette, download the Free Bunch Riding guide.