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.

Cycling Rules for Bunch Riding

The Six Most Important Safe Bunch Cycling Rules

Cycling rules can save you from most of the preventable causes of crashes in the bunch or peloton. Embedded inside a group of cyclists, your visibility ahead is reduced to backsides and heads. The wheel in front can be anything from a meter to just centimetres away – the closer the better for drafting but riding too close gives you even fewer escape routes. Fellow riders on your sides and behind mean that each of your actions can cause a chain reaction which ripple through the entire bunch. 

A lot can go wrong, but there are a number of cycling rules for inside the bunch which can keep you safer and help you to avoid many of the situations which can cause a crash.

When you know the cycling rules and etiquette inside the bunch, if others don’t know it then there is still plenty of risk. It is important to openly discuss the cycling rules for your bunch, and to share them with new cyclists so that they know what to expect and how to ride safely in your group.

 

Cycling Rule 1 – Hold your line

This means, be predictable so that other cyclists can anticipate what you are doing. The easiest way to hold your line is to follow directly behind the cyclist in front.

The first example of NOT holding your lines is when riding inside the bunch and you veer left or right. This affects a rider beside you and all riders behind. This place added pressure on other riders to control their bikes and try and work out what you are doing. If you are on open roads and a vehicle is passing, a rider to your side may be forced out too far.

The second example is riding around corners two-abreast. If the outside rider cuts across the corner, they will cut-off the rider inside. Similarly, if the inside rider veers too far on the approach or exit, this can force the outside rider off the road. A dangerous situation for all which means slow a little and ‘hold your line’.

 

Cycling Rule 2 – Look Ahead

Inside a bunch with just the backside of the riders in front to look at, some riders focus their eyes down to the wheel in front. This is dangerous, it is easy to become fixated on the tyre and road and loose proper perception of everything around.

The correct approach is to look ahead, look forward which provides you with a broader field of view and peripheral vision. Though some of your view is blocked, you should be able to see the traffic situation ahead as well as spot the movement of the riders in front.

 

Cycling Rule 3 – Ride Smoothly

Although you are already holding your line, one of the biggest flaws of riders is to surge. Some cyclists pedal fast and reach the wheel of the rider in front, then stop pedalling or even brake. As the slow they have to accelerate again and it creates a surge effect which means that all riders following are affected and it often creates a concertina effect in the peloton.

Inside a bunch, each rider has an important responsibility to try and maintain a constant speed. The aim is to keep the distance between yourself and the rider in front constant.

If you need to make a drastic change – you need to call out to the other riders so that they can prepare.

 

Cycling Rule 4 – Make Small Adjustments

Following on from Cycling Rule 3 and riding smoothly, a peloton will accelerate and brake as the typography, terrain and traffic changes. Rapid acceleration can mean that riders behind are quickly left behind – if you are riding with a friendly bunch, you will want to keep together. Hard braking can be unexpected and lead to crashes.

The best approach are small / micro-adjustments. Rather than accelerating rapidly, keep it steady and constant to slowly build up speed.

To slow down gently and brush off a little speed there are a number of approaches:

Light Pedalling means you continue to pedal but with less force. If you stopped pedalling completely the deceleration could be too rapid, so light pedals is a gentle method.

Air Braking is sitting up higher in your saddle and allowing your chest to catch more air which slows you. This technique is often used on downhills as the following riders have a substantial advantage drafting and quickly start to accelerate and travel faster than the rider ahead. Sitting up can slow you and let you remain nicely spaced behind the rider up front.

Feather the brakes is very lightly applying the brakes to marginally slow you down. Very often cyclists on the road ‘ride on the hoods’ – their grip around the raised brake hoods and the index fingers on each hand resting on the brake levers.

 

Cycling Rule 5 – No Half-Wheeling

Half-Wheeling or Overlapping Wheels is when a rider is no longer directly behind the rider ahead and have edged up closely on the left or right side. Instead of keeping the distance to the rider ahead, the wheels are now ‘overlapped’. This is a very dangerous situation responsible for a lot of bike crashes. If the rider ahead moves unexpectedly, for example to dodge a pothole, they will hit the wheel of the rider following them, often causing both to crash.

In this situation, if the rider behind left a gap then the rider ahead is able to move safely left or right, even without warning.

The cycling rules and etiquette can vary between riding groups, generally a more skilled bunch is able to rider closer together and leave a small gap. A less experienced bunch, or a bunch with a lot of unknown riders should leave a larger gap to the rider in front for safety. In either group, following braking a rider in the bunch who brakes late may find themself half-wheeling and should immediately correct by braking. If necessary, call out to the rider behind that you are slowing.

 

Cycling Rule 6 – Moving Out

Inside the bunch each rider had a position and needs to keep to their position – not only will it make the peloton more efficient (for aerodynamics), it is far better for the safety of all when each rider keeps in position and you can anticipate their actions.

However it can be time to move out of position when there is a paceline (rolling peloton) and each rider takes turns at the front. Perhaps you are tired and can’t keep up to the rider in front so need to move to the back. Or perhaps the traffic situation has changed – there is a hill coming up and you want to give other riders space.

If it is time to move out, signal your intentions, a hand signal may be sufficient for some groups or even a verbal call. Look around to ensure the coast is clear and move out to allow the rider following you to move into your position. The intention is to minimise disruption to the rest of the cyclists.

 

Any more Cycling Rules?

On this page only the rules specific to your riding behaviour inside a group are covered though to be a good, safe an courteous cyclist there is more you need to know. In the Cycling Essentials series these are being covered, you can also find a more comprehensive compilation of cycling rules and good biking etiquette in the Free Bunch Riding guide.