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.

Find and join cycling bunch

How to Find and Join a Cycling Bunch

Joining a cycling bunch is a rewarding way to enjoy cycling and make it a social activity – After all Cycling is the New Golf. It gives you time to connect with others and compare bikes and gear). Your aspirations could be competitive or social and there are a few things to know when joining a bunch. Firstly we will look at finding a bunch and secondly the etiquette for joining onto a cycling bunch of unknown riders. 

How do you find other riders? You probably already know if you are a mountain biker, road cyclist or into other styles of cycling and this (of course) is a good starting point. Here are a few places to start – and remember that it does take some effort on your part which includes going out of your comfort-zone to find the right group of riders.


Finding a Cycling Bunch and Riders


Colleagues and Friends

Probably the easiest way to start is with colleagues and friends – talk about cycling and pretty quickly you will find out who else rides, and plan to go for a ride together. You can also get referrals from your connections to cycling groups – it is always nice to have an existing connection.

Your Local Bike Shop

Good local bike bikes shops often have shop rides and some even have teams connected to the shop. For the bike shops, they are an excellent way to increase loyalty among customers – and in turn, customers can join regular local rides. Some shops will have different rides, such as monthly rides for beginners and weekly rides for more advanced riders.


Your Local Cycling Club or Bicycle User Group

Cycling clubs are generally for competitive cycling and often members will cycle together during training rides which may be organised by the club or independently by members who enjoy cycling together. Some clubs offer recreational membership for riders who are not interested in competing and social rides.

Bicycle User Groups (BUGs) are often recreational and accommodate riders of all ages and abilities. These are a good avenue for riders who are interested in cycle tours in the local region. BUGs may also be orientated towards cycling advocacy and engaged in building or fostering cycling routes in the local area.


Online Bunch Ride Finders

There are hundreds of online website which connect cyclists, simply turn to Google. Cyclists will also turn to local cycling forums to reach out to others and connect and other cycling interest groups. While there is often a disconnect between virtual / anonymous communities and the real world, take time to understand and judge a group. Also be aware that a stranger or group of strangers online will not necessarily follow-through and be as reliable as in real life.


Etiquette for Joining a new Cycling Bunch

Whether you have found a brand new bunch of cyclists to ride with or your are out on the ride and want to join onto a group of riders, there are a few things worth knowing.

The first is that there is a lot you don’t know. This includes how well each of the other cyclists can ride in terms of fitness, bike handling skills and regard for others. You also don’t know the etiquette of the group – for regular cycling bunches, they may have their own protocols and make assumptions for all riders.

If you have organised to rider with a new group, take a few moments before setting off to discuss etiquette. For example if you are a beginner rider without experience riding the planned route, let this be known. Often there will be a ride leader or senior rider who provides guidance for the whole group – it is worthwhile connecting with them.

In a new bunch, it can make sense to ride at the back and observe until you are familiar and comfortable with the group.

The Unknown Bunch

If you are riding solo and come across another bunch who are riding at a similar speed, it can be nice to join them however etiquette is needed.

Firstly, ask the riders if it is ok to join them. Some groups may prefer not to have unknown riders; they may be concentrating on training or may be wary of the riding ability of strangers. In this case hang well behind the group and if you choose to overtake, don’t slow down.

Similarly, a bunch that overtakes shouldn’t slow down and you can ask them to speed up or drop behind if they are distracting.

For a new bunch, it is worthwhile remaining at the back and some bunches may allow you to join but prefer that you don’t take part in the rolling paceline. If you are welcome in the group, do take your turn on the front of a rolling paceline and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Follow ride etiquette within the cycling bunch, pointing out obstacles and holes plus signalling your intentions. It is better to do too much, in the effort of safety, rather than not enough. And just as important, chat with the other riders.

Bunch Riding Peloton Calls and Signals

Bunch Riding Signals and Calls

In tight formation, unless you are at the front of the bunch while cycling, you have limited visibility and it is difficult, or even not possible to see what is happening up front. Of course this creates a risk situation for you as a cyclist and so bunch riding rule and etiquette need to work in your favour to help protect your safety. 

Communication in a bunch is through hand signals and calls (shouts). Often calls and signals are initiated by the riders at the front, but not always. Riders at the rear or in the middle can also make calls which are important to the safety of the entire peloton. The hand signals and calls make up for the impaired vision out front and should provide all of the information you need to ride and react safely in the bunch.

Regardless of who makes the call, it is crucial that every single rider passes this information on. Both voice calls and hand are repeated by each rider. In a bunch there is a lot of noise, the sound of bikes on the road, traffic and even the sound of the wind which can make a call by a rider a few lengths ahead or behind inaudible. Because sound is easily lost, it is crucial for each rider (and not just every second, third or fourth) to repeat a call and ensure that they need to slow down or stop or avoid an obstacle.

Some calls such as STOPPING have a hand signal which is supported by a verbal call. In the case where a rider needs both hands on the steering wheel, and it is unsafe to make the hand signal, the audio call fills in the gaps. On the other hand, some information may be passed on by hand signals alone, for example a parked vehicle ahead is signals with a hand behind the back and can provide sufficient information as the bunch slowly moves over to pass.

For more on bunch riding etiquette and safety, download the Bunch Riding guide.