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Bunch Riding

On this site we have been touting the numerous benefits of indoor cycle training on a bike like the Concept 2 Bike Erg. There is no doubt that a structured, quality training session is so much easier, and safer, to achieve indoors than out on the open road. Something that we cannot learn in the safety of our cosy pain-cave however, are the skills required to safely and confidently make the most of riding in a tight pack of cyclists.

There is no disputing the advantages of sitting on another rider’s wheel. The draft-effect is said to reduce required effort by up to 30%. Now put yourself in the middle of a bunch with cyclists all around you and you can imagine how much energy you will be saving. As we head into the racing season in South Africa, leading up to the big one at the 947 Cycle Challenge, we thought it would be a good idea to provide some tips, tricks and skills that will make riding in a group, easier, safer and therefore, more rewarding.

Don’t look down

Don’t look down – It is every novice’s first instinct to look down at the wheel they are following. The problem with this is you seriously narrow your field of vision and limit your ability to react to what is coming up on the route. We also want to sit as close to the wheel in front of us as possible and, looking down at it, will cause us to react too dramatically, to even the slightest changes in distance. This causes us to not sit as close as we could and therefore minimises the amount of shelter we are getting.

What we want to do is look over the back of the rider in front of us. Your peripheral vision will take care of the gap between your wheels and will do so in a much less erratic way than if you were concentrating hard on the small gap between the wheels. Looking over the rider also allows you to see the road ahead. You can anticipate changes of gradient, pre-plan gear changes and prepare for braking and cornering. It also allows you to foresee any potential problems like crashes that you would need to avoid, or if the rider you are following is letting the wheel go in front of them. Allowing you to react quickly and go around.

It is not something you achieve the first time you try it though. The best thing to do is work on it in a small training group. You will find your eyes keep wandering down to the wheel and you constantly have to tear them back up. Gradually you will do it more and more consistently. Then find a bigger training group where the bunches are larger with riders all around. That again will take some practice and willpower but it will come gradually. Finally, put yourself into a race and work at it again. You will see that you consistently stay tighter on the wheels and become less and less nervous riding in the bunch.

Don’t overlap wheels

Don’t overlap wheels – In a bunch situation you want to avoid, as much as possible, placing your wheel close and to the side of the rider’s back wheel in front of you. It will only take a slight alteration of direction for that wheel to come into contact with your front wheel and, if that happens, it is very rare that things don’t end up in a crash. Your front wheel is able to turn and both the wheels in contact are spinning, this results in an almost magnetic attraction and one which is very difficult to break once it has been established. So always try to stay behind the wheel in front of you. We say ‘as much as possible’ because there will be changes of speed and overtaking in the bunch which will cause an overlap but try to limit these as much as possible and if you decide to go past the rider in front of you, do it assertively so that your shoulders quickly get up next to their hips, thus keeping the wheels away from each other.

Read the wind

Read the wind – If the wind is coming from the side, the most shelter will be found behind but to the side of the rider in front of you. Sitting directly behind a rider when the wind is blowing diagonally from say, the front left, will actually have you exposed to it and you might as well be on the front. So, continuing this example, you would want to position yourself to the right of the rider in front of you, still being careful to not overlap your wheels. This is especially hazardous in crosswinds because gusts will cause sudden, jerky changes of line to the rider you are following. You should drift slightly from side to side to feel for the optimum positioning and remember that as the road changes direction, so will the sweat spot.

Do your bit

Do your bit – Now we don’t want to encourage any freeloading here. So when riding in your group, everyone should roll through and do their bit in the front. Watching World Tour professionals going ‘through and off’ as it is known, can be like watching poetry in motion. It also does take some practice though. The biggest difference between novices and professionals in a paceline is that the pros will ease off at the front once they have done their turn. Novices tend to accelerate through from second wheel when they think it is their turn. Doing that will open up gaps behind you and the effort starts to resemble an interval session rather than a cohesive unit.

So follow the rider in front of you and wait for them to ease up on the pedals and move over. Then maintain the pace that you were going and take your place at the front. The more riders in your group, the shorter your pull needs to be. In a bigger group you will just get to the front and swing off, hence the term, through and off. So the line of riders moving forwards in the group will ride at the constant speed that group is travelling at. The riders dropping back will ease up.

The rider in front should always swing off into the direction the wind is coming from. So that the riders dropping back are shielding the riders that are going forward from the wind. Be careful not to ease up too dramatically though or you will find the last rider zooming past you so quickly that you are required to sprint like a madman to get back onto his wheel. You will only be able to do one or two of those before you miss that wheel completely.

There are few things in cycling more exhilarating than whooshing along in a fast moving pack. Being confident and relaxed in a group will make minutes difference in your next big race and it is essentially free speed as it not only requires no extra energy but it also reduces the amount of nervous energy you expend.

Concept2 BikeErg

The flywheel uses air resistance to create a smooth, quiet ride that responds to your efforts. The damper is your “gearing”, allowing you to adjust the feel of your ride. Unlike most stationary bikes, the BikeErg has a clutch, so just like a real bike, when you stop pedaling, the flywheel keeps on spinning.

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