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.

Bunch and Paceline Formations

Paceline – Ride faster with the right paceline formation

The amount of energy a rider saves while drafting is usually quoted as 40%. It is scientifically proven that drafting in a paceline can save between 20 – 40% energy. This is substantial which is why you should notice that you need far less energy drafting. The energy savings will depend on the wind direction and speed, how far behind you are behind the rider in front and technique. 

A group of road cyclists riding together are usually called a bunch. The lead riders break the wind with following riders reaping the benefits. When the riders start to regularly swap the position at the front it becomes a paceline. The objective of the paceline is to move faster so this allows each rider to have a turn at the front before returning to the back to recover.

Paul Doherty of The Exploratorium provides more details on the science of drafting.

In cycling races a group of breakaway riders from different teams are forced to work together and start a paceline. A single rider however can ‘leech’ off the paceline. If they refuse to take turns at the front this can cause the breakaway group to slow down so the peloton can catch up, or it is to save energy for the sprint finish.

Pacelines are an important part of the strategy in competitive cycling. At the sprint finish for example, a lead-out is where a cycling team will align its riders in line to provide as much drafting cover for their champion sprinter as the race towards the finish. Each exhausted rider will peel off, one-by-one and done well, the champion sprinter is only on their own for the last stretch to the finish line. Such is the advantage of the lead-out that riders from other teams will draft behind champion sprinters and compete for line honours.

 

Doubles and Singles

Depending on the size of the bunch, the road and traffic conditions and the wind, a bunch will typically ride in single file or two abreast, doubles. For competitive events, a bunch can be much wider as riders challenge for positions towards the front.

For cycling on open roads, a bunch may need to change from doubles to singles to allow traffic to pass or move from singles to doubles when there is more space.

 

The Paceline

A paceline means that the riders in the group rotate position, typically each rider has a go at the front. Commonly the rider or riders at the front will peel-off and slowly move to the back of the bunch, the next two riders move up and take the lead.

The time at the front can depend on many factors, riders may choose to stay at the front until they need a break, there may be an allocated time (by the ride captain) such as 2 minutes or 5 minutes at the front (or based on distance) or riders inside the bunch may call the lead riders to ROLL if they feel that the bunch is slowing. When the lead riders decide to peel-off they may call ROLLING to inform the riders following and also give hand signals to suggest the riders behind need to move up.

A faster paceline technique is a Rolling Paceline (or Circular Paceline). Rather than lead riders peeling off, instead riders from the rear race up to the front and position themself on the lead and this pattern continues. It require more energy by the riders but is also a means that much higher speeds can be achieved so this technique is popular in team time trials.

The following short video is headcam footage of a rolling paceline.

 

Echelon 

An echelon is a paceline which changes formation to accommodate a cross wind. Wind is a significant factor which can slow a paceline down and rarely can a bunch rely on a perfect head-wind, tail-wind or no wind.

In the echelon formation, riders position them self in the wind-shadow and it may mean that the bunch becomes further spread across the road. If it is a double-paceline, the riders in the wind-shadow will all be protected while the cyclists facing the wind all have to work harder. The bunch can protect a rider and help them to save energy by positioning them well inside the bunch.

 

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

Smart Cyclist Bunch Riding Who is in Charge

Who’s in charge in the bunch?

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.

Smart Cyclist Bunch Riding Guide

Free Bunch Riding Guide to Increase Rider Safety

Safety for bunch cyclists is paramount, Smart Cyclist has just released the free Bunch Riding Guide which covers bunch riding etiquette, responsibilities and safety.

The safety of all riders is at risk when bunch riding, a single error can set off a chain reaction causing serious injury to others. Crashes in bunches are often the result of inexperience and inadequate knowledge of bunch riding etiquette.

The Bunch Riding Guide provides clear and concise information, illustrated with graphics for the benefit and safety of cyclists and cycling clubs.

Bunch Riding Etiquette

The Bunch Riding Guide is the first guide in the Cycling Essentials series and is available for free for individuals and cycling clubs. Cycling clubs can also apply for a free version of the Bunch Riding Guide branded with their club logo.

> Download the Bunch Riding Guide here