Riding in bunches is dangerous. I have put together these key points that will help you stay upright in fast moving bunches and increase your chances of finishing your ride without crashing. This article is a must read for anyone that rides or intends to ride or race in fast moving bunches...
Always ride close to the front of the bunch:
Most accidents happen in the middle or to the rear of the bunch. To stay out of trouble always move as close to the front as you can. Usually the most experienced riders ride at the front so you are usually riding with guys that know how to handle a bike.
Ride on the left or the right hand side of the bunch:
Avoid the middle of the bunch. Probably the most sheltered but also fraught with the most danger. The idea is not to get boxed in and have nowhere to go. Most accidents happen to cyclists that ride in the middle because they get closed down or are over lapping wheels (see below). Also, if a cyclist sits in the middle and a fall happens in front of them they will have nowhere to go. If you are on the road then sit on the right or left hand side of the bunch. Then you'll have an escape route if something happens. The right (furthest from the curb) is better as long as you stay in your lane and don't ride into the passing or oncoming cars! The left hand side (closest to the curb) sometimes has fewer options and more chance of being boxed in. NOTE: If you ride on the left you also have to watch that the edge of the road doesn't run out on you!
Avoid crazy riders:
Yep, those are the ones that want to hit the brakes hard when something happens, dangerously overlap wheels, zig zag from left to right or try to ride through gaps that aren't really there. Usually they are riding in the middle or down the back. Or they are trying to zoom up on the inside of the bunch. If you ride up the front then you usually stay away from them anyway.
Don't cut in on the corners:
In criterium races while you and the bunch are riding through a corner taking the natural line from the outside of the corner, through the apex and then back out to the outside of the corner you sometimes find riders trying to dive in and cut under you by coming in close on the corner. This short cut manoeuvre is very dangerous. The big problem is that these rogue riders then have to come out of the corner wider and cross over you and the bunch's natural line or, worse still, meet you and the bunch on the apex, all at high speed.
Don't cut off other riders:
When going around corners and riding alongside riders there is always some movement in the bunch but be mindful of the riders that may be to the left and right and slightly behind you. You don't need to physically look for them but as you get experienced you'll be able to feel them. If the bunch moves to the left and you think that you might cut of a rider try to hold your line and ensue that you give them enough road to ride on too.
Don't overlap wheels:
This is an accident waiting to happen. If you are overlapping wheels then you only need the rider in front of you to move across and they will take out your front wheel. If you are on the right or the left of the bunch then you might have somewhere to go but if you are riding in the middle of the bunch you'll have nowhere to go. This is something that you will almost never recover from. You will go down and bring a whole lot of riders down with you. In cross wind situations, when you are all strung out it's a little different. But, in big bunches there is no need to do it at all! Especially if you are riding in the middle of the bunch. There is no need to put yourself and your fellow riders in danger.
Keep your like straight when you are sprinting:
When sprinting at the end of the race hold your line and ride straight. Many nasty high speed crashes have been had when cyclist have deviated from their line and either ridden someone into the gutter or hooked or crashed into a rider as they zagged across the road.
Hold your line through rough patches in the road.
It always amazes me when I’m riding in a tight bunch and I come across a rider that decide that it’s safer to weave around a rough patch in the road than to hold their line and ride through it. While I understand that some pot holes you can’t ride through and I’m not saying that you should do in these cases. These are the large holes that should be pointed out by the front riders anyway. What I am saying is that the majority of rough road can be ridden over and this ensures that you hold your line and make it safe for everyone in the bunch. So when you are out on the road practice the art of riding through the rough sections and get use to knowing what you can ride over and what you can’t.
Remember that with club racing people have to go back to work on the Monday. Keep it safe and ride with the safety of all the riders in mind at all the races you attend.
Some people new to the sport may need some guidance as to safe riding etiquette. In a lot of cases most bad riding behaviour can be corrected quickly as these people are eager to learn. One of the best way to deal with this is to either report it to the officials at the end of the race and have them deal with it or, if you want to have words with them yourself, do so discretely at the end of the race in a calm and controlled manner. When racing a simple yell of “hold your line” can be very powerful in the heat of the moment.