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.

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 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.

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.