It is said that cycling is an endurance sport. Whether this is a 4km pursuit race on the track, or an overnight race, the concept of ‘endurance’ remains true. In short, if you can find a way to reduce any unneeded expenditure of energy, then you are gaining a competitive advantage.
Bunch cycling (opposed to triathlon) allows for cyclists to take turns at the front of the group. With everyone taking turns, the group as a whole benefits, with weaker cyclists able to ride further at that speed, and faster cyclists fresher at the finish. As with all things ‘cycling’ there is an etiquette that should be followed, and it is usually expected that you arrive armed with this knowledge before the group sets off.
Firstly, the golden rule is this – know where everyone is. Everyone. Those next to you. Those behind you. Those in front of you. The traffic. What is coming up that may disrupt the group’s flow. And importantly, where you are in all of this. You job in the group is to act as a shield for everyone else from time to time, with you making your way (anti-clockwise) through the group as smoothly as possible while getting back to the front again one cyclist at a time.
The right side of the group is the ‘faster’ side, with the cyclists moving past those on the left. When you get to the front right, your job is to hold a smooth speed (as those behind you are going to follow your speed), watch for anything on the road that may break up the group or create a risk (glass, potholes, or a larger object – point and communicate as these item get closer), and finally you are also well advised to keep an eye on your fatigue (you are going to remain on the front of the group when you move to the front left, and if you start to struggle it will break up the flow of the group).
When you move from the front right to the front left the main focus is keeping the movement smooth. A slight (reads “slight”!!) increase in speed allows you to pass the person on the front left, and as you pass them you are fully aware of where their bike is. Once they are passed your back wheel is 1 to 2 feet in front of their front wheel. (If you are 10 to 15 feet clear of them, then you are breaking up the group). You will then allow the speed to go back to what it was, and you are in front of the person you were next to. The cyclist who was behind you, is now next to you.
When on the front left of the group, you have lost some control over the rotation of the group. (This is effectively decided by the person on the front right). Thus, you are obligated to tell the person on the front right if you are getting tired, and need them to go in front of you. When they do, let them know when they are clear of your front wheel, and they will move to the left. (They should also be looking).
The flow will continue like this, and you’ll find that a cohesive group will achieve a lot more than a group of individuals. Communication is key, and if speeds start to differ amongst individuals later in the ride, then it needs to be discussed. (Generally speaking, the 2 problem areas are starts that are too fast, and later in the ride some individuals being too tired to keep a smooth pace when on the front).
The time spent on the front differs. Some groups will encourage 3 to 5 minutes for each rotation. This will generally be an easy to moderate paced ride, with chatting (and mileage) the central focus. In faster groups the time on the front can be less than 30seconds, with some preferring a constant flow of rotating. Ensure everyone knows what is expected.
Like anything, communication is key. If you feel uncomfortable, then voice this, and see what the response is. It may be that the group has a specific goal they are training for that differs from yours. Or maybe they are just used to a specific approach to the cycling, and haven’t tried anything different. Keep it friendly, and you will all be fine.