Bunch Ride Etiquette

Bunch Riding   by Chris White  (Randwick Botany member)

As the Club evolves, attracting less racing and more recreationally oriented riders who may lack the necessary skills to ride with utmost safety in a bunch situation, it is vitally important to learn this art whilst out training on the busy and sometimes dangerous urban streets.

Racing on a closed circuit such as Heffron Park is great for your bike handling skills, but will not equip you with those skills necessary for bunch training and recreational rides.

The only way you can learn the skills is to practice. However, I am sure that practice without basic knowledge of the responsibilities of bunch riding will get you no where. So here is a list of ‘do’s and don’ts’:


The correct formation

Riders should pair off in 2 by 2 formation. You should not sit directly on the wheel of the rider in front. Try to maintain about a 30cm – 60cm distance off the rear of and slightly off to the side of the rider in front.

The reason you offset slightly is to get better vision down the line, giving you more time to react to any problems.



Sitting the wheel

You should not focus on the rear of the wheel of the rider in front. By focussing on the person you will be more aware of what is happening in the bunch.

Try it. It wont take you long to judge the distance between you and the rider in front.



Position on the road

There is no way that motorists will ever become more courteous towards riders, however, we have clearly defined rights that in simple terms allows riders to occupy a full lane, ride in pair formation and have the same responsibilities as motorists.

Riding too close to the gutter also can create problems for riders. Slipping off the roadway into the gutter can bring you down as you try to get back over the lip of the gutter. Great skill is required to hop out of the gutter, so if you find yourself in this position, slow down and stay in the gutter until it flattens out. Then exit at an angle.



The lead riders

The two riders on the front have a huge responsibility. They must set the pace, call all road obstacles and warn the bunch of any traffic changes.

When approaching a set of lights the lead riders have sole responsibility in making the call. It will either be “lights…stopping” or “rolling”. Remember that the bunch is one vehicle so if the bunch is committed to roll don’t make decisions in the middle of the bunch to suddenly stop. This will cause heavy braking towards the back of the bunch.

 When entering a roundabout or turning at an intersection the lead riders must call “clear” or “car coming”. All calls should be relayed down the line.



 The tailenders

The riders on the back also have a huge responsibility, particularly the rider on the right hand (outside) side. This person must call the bunch across lanes or warn of trucks, cars etc that are approaching when on narrow and/or single lane roads.

When crossing over lanes the call is either “wait” or “over”. It is important that the instruction is relayed up the line and when crossing over the bunch moves as one and does not fragment. The rider on the outside rear must maintain a distinct hand signal until the maneuvre is completed.

 On a narrow single lane road the last rider must warn of cars behind. A call of “car up” is a simple call that all should understand.



Rolling over

The lead riders should not attempt to stay on the front too long. Five kilometres is plenty. This gives every one a chance to go to the front. If you feel that you are not fit or strong enough to do a turn, go to the front, advise your partner and both immediately roll off. Do not suddenly pull out of the line prior to getting to the front. This only leaves gaps.

The roll over procedure is simple. The two front riders, on a safe section of road, move out approximately a metre. This will leave a gap for the following two riders to move through. The two riders rolling over will simultaneously wave the following riders through. They then soft pedal until the bunch has passed them, whereby they slot in at the rear.

If you are in the line and must pull out, advise your partner and both should drop to the back of the bunch.



Pace line

When coming back from Waterfall the pace usually picks and a pace line forms. The formation is similar to a chain, where the rolling off the front occurs at speed by the lead rider.

The way the rider rolls off is usually dependent upon the direction of the wind. The rider always rolls off to the side the wind is coming from. In the case of a head or tail wind rolling off to the left towards the gutter is generally the best way.

 The rider rolling off immediately starts soft-pedaling dropping speed. The rider coming through does not pick up speed. Surging through by the lead rider only strings the field out making it hard for those moving back down the line to move back on to the forward moving line.

Riders in the slower pace line must stay on the wheel. Do not stop pedaling. This causes huge gaps in the line and can drop riders off the back.

If you cannot do a turn stay out of the pace line. Too many times weaker riders position themselves 4th or 5th wheel and do not come to the front. This is infuriating to those wanting to keep the line moving. We appreciate the fact that you do not want to get dropped, but there is a better place to stay.

Those riders not able or wanting to join the pace line should stay slightly off the back of the line containing the riders coming off the front. You will get good cover here, plus not disrupt the riders in the pace line.




 Avoiding holes, rubbish, obstacles, other riders etc.

If you are following the wheel properly and the riders in front have identified an obstacle and given advanced warning then nasty incidents should be avoided. However, we as a Club continue to come to grief. This I believe is due to the following reasons:

  • We generally do not ride as a bunch until weekends, therefore when we get together the ride becomes a talkfest, with riders more concerned with the local gossip and news rather than a disciplined training ride. All riders should be more aware in a bunch situation and less inclined to socialise. If you do wish to talk to your partner, speak, but continue to face the front down the line.

  • Riders are not confident of the rider in front and tend to ride off the wheel creating disorganisation in the bunch.

  • The rider lacks the bike handling skills to adequately respond to a call in time or with safety.

 The concentration and fear factor are easily overcome, however the lack of bike handling skills can only be done over time with practice and support from the more accomplished riders.

One of the most obvious faults that I have noted is the way riders sit on their bikes. There is a tendency for riders to ‘choke ‘ their handlebars. By gripping the bars tightly with locked straight arms moves the bike control to the front of the bike away from the hips. If you all attempted to ride with hands off the bike, the steering would come from the hips.

By moving your centre of gravity away from the hip region and as such the rear wheel onto the front wheel, you are prone to oversteer the bike. Instead of gently avoiding a hole moving a few centimetres to the side, riders are overreacting, exaggerating the avoidance. This causes a domino effect throughout the bunch as other riders are now following your wheel on an untidy line.

Skilled riders should be aware of less experienced riders in the bunch. For example do not ‘bunny hop’ an obstacle. You may avoid a problem but you may lead others into one.

Another problem involves the ‘roll back’ when getting out of the saddle, particularly up an incline. Do not stop pedaling during this action since you will fall back a fair way, straight back into the rider behind who generally has to break hard or undertake a sudden swerve. Prior to getting out of the saddle make sure you are at the top of your pedal stroke and keep the pressure on the pedal.

In summary, being fit and capable to hang onto the bunch is not enough. Without taking away the enjoyment of the ride it is imperative that every rider hones his or her skills. If you want to improve ask one of the more accomplished riders. If you are not sure stay down the back until you are confident enough to join the bunch. If you are nervous or lacking confidence, consider the safety of the other riders first before joining the bunch.

The Club is developing as a recreational/racing club, where riders have a wide range of ability and levels of fitness. Everyone should be tolerant, responsible and be prepared to accept criticism if you do not come up to scratch. Those more accomplished riders should devote part of the club ride to helping the beginners, rather than zooming off into the distance.


Riding in a bunch can be the most enjoyable experience if done correctly. The advantage of riding as a bunch or Peleton (French word for an organised group of riders) is that as an organised group you can ride further and faster than individual riders or a non-organised group.

You will expend up to 30 per cent less energy by riding sheltered in a bunch, as riders in front of you overcome the wind resistance. By taking turns at the front, all riders can share the effort and longer distances can be covered.

However, bunch riding can also be a huge pain especially if people in the group don’t understand the rules or don’t do their fair share of the work. Everyone needs to know these rules for the safety of all riders.

Below are some tips for bunch riding (visit ride strong for the full article)
Below explains what to do while riding in a large group or Peloton, however from time to time you maybe riding in a smaller group which will require you to take your turn leading the group by yourself, not with a partner as described below, however the same rules apply.

Be predictable with all actions
Avoid sudden braking and changes of direction and always try to maintain a steady straight line. Remember that there are riders following closely behind.  To slow down, gradually move out into the wind and slot back into position in the bunch when you have less speed. By putting your hands on the hoods on your brakes you can “sit up” and this will allow your body to slow you down by utilizing the wind resistance.

Brake carefully
Ride safely and try to stay off the brakes. If you are inexperienced or a little nervous about riding too close to the wheel in front of you, stay at the back of the group, gain confidence and practice your bunch riding skills.

When the pace eases, don’t brake suddenly, instead ride to the side of the wheel in front and ease the pedaling off, then ease back into position again on the wheel. Practice on the back and soon you will be able to move up the line with a partner.

Rolling through – swapping off – taking a turn
The most common way to take a turn on the front of the group is for each pair is to stay together until they get to the front. After having a turn on the front (generally about the same amount of time as everyone else is taking), the pair separates and moves to each side (left and right or the right side if your riding at the front alone), allowing the riders behind to come through to the front. To get to the back of the peloton, stop pedaling for a while or ease off to slow down, keep an eye out for the end of the bunch and fall back into line there. It is safer for everyone if you get to the back as quickly as possible.

Be smooth with turns at the front of the group
Avoid rushing forward (surges) unless you are trying to break away from the group. Surges cause gaps further back in the bunch which affect the riders at the back as they have to continually chase to stay with the bunch.

No half wheeling
When you finally make it to the front, don’t ‘half wheel’. This means keeping half a wheel in front of your partner. This automatically makes your partner speed up slightly to pull back along side you. Often half wheelers will also speed up, so the pace of the bunch invariably speeds up as the riders behind try to catch up.

Choosing when to come off the front
You and your partner need to do some planning when you get on the front so that when you roll through you come off at a place where the road is wide enough for the group to be four-wide for a short time. With some planning, it is often possible to come off the front a few hundred meters earlier or later to avoid a dangerous situation and avoid unnecessarily upsetting motorists.

Always retire to the back of the bunch
If riders push in somewhere in the middle of the bunch rather than retiring to the back after taking a turn, cyclists at the back will not be able to move forward and take a turn of their own.  Remember that riding in a bunch is about all riders sharing the workload and accidents happen down the back of the bunch as well.

Pedal downhill
Pedal downhill when at the front of the bunch as cyclists behind you will want to ride with their brakes on consistently.

Point out obstacles
Point out obstacles such as parked cars, loose gravel, broken glass, holes, rocks or debris on the road, calling out “hole” etc as well as pointing is helpful in case someone is not looking at your hand when you point.  It is just as important to pass the message on, not just letting those close to the front know.

Hold your wheel
An appropriate gap between your front wheel and the person in front is around 50cm. Keep your hands close to the brakes in case of sudden slowing. Sometimes people who are not used to riding in a bunch will feel too nervous at this close range – riding on the right side is generally less nerve-racking for such people as they feel less hemmed in. Watching “through” the wheel in front of you to one or two riders ahead will help you hold a smooth, straight line.

Don’t leave gaps when following wheels
Maximise your energy savings by staying close to the rider in front. Cyclists save about 30 per cent of their energy at high speed by following a wheel. Each time you leave a gap you are forcing yourself to ride alone to bridge it. Also, riders behind you will become annoyed and ride around you. If you are in the bunch and there is no one beside the person in front of you, you should move into that gap (otherwise you will be getting less windbreak than everyone else will).

Don’t overlap wheels
A slight direction change or gust of wind could easily cause you to touch wheels with the rider in front and fall.

Do not panic if you brush shoulders, hands or bars with another rider
Try to stay relaxed through your upper body as this helps absorb any bumps. Brushing shoulders, hands or bars with another rider often happens in bunches and is quite safe provided riders do not panic, brake or change direction.

Riding up hill
Many riders, even the experienced ones, freewheel momentarily when they first get out of the saddle to go over a rise or a hill. When doing this, the bike is forced backwards. Many riders often lose their momentum when rising out of the saddle on a hill which can cause a sudden deceleration. Following the wheel in front too closely when climbing may result in you falling.

Look ahead
Do not become obsessed with the rear wheel directly in front of you. Try to focus four or five riders up the line so that any ‘problem’ will not suddenly affect you. Scan the road ahead for potential problems, red lights etc, and be ready.

Obey the road rules
Especially at traffic lights – if you are on the front, and the lights turn orange, they will definitely be red by the time the back of the bunch goes through the intersection. You will endanger the lives of others if you run it.

Lead in front
Remember when you are on the front, you are not only responsible for yourself but everyone in the group. When you are leading the bunch, try to monitor potential problems and give plenty of warning of impending stops or changes of pace. Make sure you know where you are going.

Don’t use your aero bars in a bunch ride
Never use your aero bars in a bunch ride – not even if you are at the front. Using aero bars means that your hands are away from the brakes. Aero bars are for time trial use only.

Being aware of our own actions and those of other riders in the peloton. So please take note of the following: [Port Macquarie Cycle Club]

  • “Call out” hazards (left/right/middle) such as potholes, sticks, glass, etc as soon as you see them.

  • The front riders should slow or stop the bunch if necessary at junctions etc and “call out” slowing or stopping.

  • Do NOT look over your shoulder unless on the front of the bunch, you may touch wheels & fall.

  • Do not “half wheel” (overlap the wheel in front) as you may touch wheels & come down.

  • Keep abreast of the rider next to you when in two lines. Do not drift back, it extends the whole bunch.

  • Maintain safe even spacing in the bunch. Not too close to or “drifting off” the wheel in front.

  • Brake gently not sharply and call out “slowing” if necessary. Just stopping pedalling may be enough.

  • There may be nominated sprints or climbs on some rides, find out where they are, well before hand.

  • Don’t try to prove yourself in the bunch, that’s what racing is for. You don’t have to join in the sprints.

  • “Roll over” / “swap turns” safely. You may be used to a different method to ours, so check if you are not sure.

  • Stop and wait to assist riders who puncture or experience a “mechanical” or who get dropped.

  • Obey ALL road rules, lights, crossings, stop signs etc. A bike is a vehicle in law & subject to RTA/Police fines.

  • It is legal to ride two abreast but common sense dictates that in some places single file is safer.

  • Racing on a public road requires a Police & LGA permit, this can be interpreted to include bunch sprints.

  • The “last wheel” should look for following traffic and call “clear” or “over” for lane changes, then relay the call.

The training needs of some riders do not always accord with the requirements of the peloton so riders in training must be conscious of this and may need to make separate training arrangements to the usual bunch rides.