Popularity of Bunch Riding

The website, BunchRideFinder, lists hundreds of Bunch Rides across Australia. 

Why do some road cyclists like riding in a bunch?  Why is bunch riding becoming popular?  Why do others shun cycling in a bunch?  Is there an age correlation for Bunch Riding which is affected by youthful hubris, chutzpah and testosterone?  Why is bunch riding in Melbourne more popular than in Sydney?

Annual Popular Professional Bicycle Road Rides have contributed significantly to the increased popularity of road cycling and Bunch Riding

A cyclist must be a strong hill climber to win an annual national 21 days circa tour rides because conquering the famous mountain stages is integral, whereas sprinters can often win the one day Classics over flatter, but often cobblestone roads.

Recreational cyclists will often lean towards either climbing or sprinting, which often depends on the terrain of roads where they live.

A journal article cited in the Monash University Accident Report, “Real cyclists don’t race” by O’Connor and Brown lists three reasons some cyclists opt for Bunch Riding:

(a)         Opportunity to cycle at a steady pace with like-minded people

(b)         Increased visibility of a large group

(c)         Build social networks whilst riding or at a café at the end of riding

Experiencing (a) and (c) above is not limited to bunch riding. 

Other motivating factors include:

(d)         Aerodynamic benefit of being “blocked from the wind” referred to as ‘drafting’ or ‘slipstreaming’.

(e)         Challenging sensation of pushing oneself to the limit amongst contemporaries.

(f)          Acquiring the discipline, concentration and focus of riding in a well-organized bunch.

The greater popularity of Bunch Riding in Melbourne is largely due to its flatish topography.  Within a 50km radius of Sydney’s GPO, there are approximately twenty 'beaut' steepish climbs (averaging about 4km in length) in the North, South and West (including Bobbin Head, Akuna Bay, Kurrajong, Razorback Mtn Picton, Royal National Park) which road cyclists climb and visit local cafes each weekend.  The Illawarra and Southern Highlands contain even ‘beauter’, longer, steeper climbs.

The majority of road cyclists, at least in Sydney, do not Bunch Ride. These are often older cyclists whose bones are more brittle, reflexes slower and better know that the road surface and cars always win.  Others will ride in a ‘loose bunch' of, say up to five if they know the others well, and more importantly know they will give requisite risk warning signals.

One well known Bunch Ride in Sydney is the Coluzzi Riders.  "Furious driver takes out 50-strong cycle pack" explains that one motorist snapped after confronting a 50 strong bunch of Coluzzi Riders and slammed on the brakes immediately after passing a large Bunch Ride.

Flower power Coluzzi death ride - change of route  June 15, 2009, 11:05:42 AM includes:
"I saw a couple of near misses, not from menacing motorists just from the fact that a three lane 80kmh area means a lot of traffic doesn't see a group of cyclists until the last minute.
I can tell you in the dark on that flyover in the mornings I have been dead set scared a few times and seeing it from another perspective has reinforced that view. Mark Grenfell was seriously hurt not long back and I fear a much more grievous accident is only a matter of time.
...... , but I would rather arrive alive if you know what I mean. Even if the flyover route was only done on Saturdays this would lessen the danger of the Tuesday and Thursday flirt with death.
There are also a few regulars on that ride that to be blunt are just shit bike handlers and wobble, don't know how to sit on a wheel, chop everywhere and leave gaps, particularly when the pace is high, two in particular have nearly brought me and a few others down. That is not a criticism just a statement of fact. A fall on the flyover due to someone in the bunch not doing the right thing could also have potentially disastrous consequences. I have been to enough fatal accidents. Don't want to be involved in one again.
Sorry about this long post but also been to enough bike riders and triathletes' funerals.  I feel strongly about this."

By comparison, Melbourne is predominantly flat with the nearest hills 45km to the east in The Dandenongs.  Nearby Beach Rd is a 21st Century colosseum where today’s would-be gladiators don colourful battle dress, climb aboard their modern day chariot with the latest bells ’n whistles and run the gauntlet challenging contemporaries and peers up close and personal to savour the adrenalin rush.  Seemingly many of the ‘Hell Riders’ bunch suffered those illusions prior to the death of 77-year-old, James Gould on Beach Rd in Aug. 2006.

Up to 10,000 different cyclists riding Beach Rd (each fine weather weekend) during the warmer months which has 'normalised'  the above described Bunch Riding on Beach Rd as evident in the You Tube movie clips in Beach Rd.  It has become 'tribal' and 'territorial', with Beach Rd being Bunch Riders' territory, much to the chagrin of local residents who have evidenced their neighbourhoods along the 27km east coast strip of Melbourne convert to a 'colosseum' each fine weekend.

Is Bunch Riding materially more dangerous?  Website “aboc cycle coaching, Vic” reported, “At aboc, we have long held the belief that the Hell Ride was an accident waiting to happen, and our worst fears were confirmed.”  No Bunch Ride organiser would want a coronial enquiry to deduce that its weekly Bunch Ride was “an accident waiting to happen”. The aboc website recommends a maximum of 15 riders in a bunch.

Cycling fast in a bunch appeals to some cyclists who enjoy the 'adrenaline rush' from travelling fast in a Peloton that is being 'sucked along' in a vacuum by the inertia of the cumulative mass and diminished air pressure. 

However, the majority of road cyclists do not Bunch Ride.  These are cyclists who prefer to 'break their own wind', some climbing steep hills.  The choice to Bunch Ride is influenced by the landscape (ie. Sydney has a plethora of nearby hills which enables cyclists to ride hills accessible to them, whereas hills in Melbourne are further away with the closest in The Dandenongs).

KOMpm.com enables interested hill climbers to log their climb times for over 60 tough climbs in Sydney and the Gold Coast Hinterland, appraise their times against other climbers and access a record of improved performance in “Climb Times”.

For over 16 years Muggaccinos.com BUG has attracted endurance cyclists to a +100km ride each Sunday which visits over 30 cafes annually around the perimeter of Sydney.  Its 1st Commandment is “Hills are your friends! Mountains are your mates!”  One of its toughest cyclists, Resolute Diehards, is 76 year old, Harry aka KayakMan, who completes the 200km Audax Alpine Classic each January from Bright in Victoria. Participant endurance riders do not ride in bunches, preferring maximum peripheral vision from “breaking their own wind”.