It's the first of March. I thought I would provide a long post to distract us from the implementation of the Minimum Passing Distance "safety package". Here goes..
Back in the day, Mother Nature was playing around with some vortices, the repercussion of aerodynamics and the symbiosis of teamwork. The results were quite remarkable and she decided to create a worthwhile pursuit that would capitalise on this happy intersection of phenomena. Guess what she came up with: bike riding! Specifically bike riding in a group. Mother Nature being what she is abhors entities lacking structure and purpose, so "the bunch" was born.
It is our responsibility to respect the laws of nature and the beauty of creation by making our bunch rides as Mother Nature intended them. In the most part we will also observe the laws of the NSW Police.
It is important to understand why the bunch works, and then we can cover how we can execute on the grand plan.
- The front rider, through a fair bit of perspiration gets the air moving. If the next rider is close enough, she does not need to expend as much energy. In fact she can use 29% less energy than the front rider. Down the line, riders can expend 36% less effort than the front rider. Unfortunately the benefits tend to drop off down the back of the bunch where compression/expansion makes the pace a bit on/off. The sweet spot in most bunches is about 3rd or 4th wheel. The Pros might find it in about position 7.
- Interestingly, the front rider can also get a 4% benefit from a following rider. If they are close enough they will create air pressure that assists the rider in front.
- a study in the U.K. Determined that 3 riders are 10 times more visible to a following driver than a single cyclist. By extension, they can't possibly miss a bigger group.
Enough of that technical stuff. The bunch just works so let's just execute well.
Sorry to say that a bunch ride has nothing to do with individual Strava segments. There is almost no point in going out for a ride with our buddies if they are spread for miles along the road. The word bunch means "to group together; make a bunch of", so let's cluster. In a functional bunch everyone knows that there are riders who can average several kph more than others. What makes it functional is that the strong riders are not there to prove it. If they have something to prove, then racing the Crits on Friday night is where it is done. They will be satisfied when they hjave done good work into the wind, or spent extra time on the front when needed or managed a pace that kept everyone together. On the flip side, the slower riders must not be afraid/embarrassed to call "ease up" to avoid a gap forming. The bunch can always travel further and go faster than the capability of the least experienced rider, but it's all in the execution and assumes the bunch keeps moving together.
- Riding close enough to get the aero advantage requires some practice and confidence. So be positive and practice. It also gets more comfortable as you understand how your companions ride. You won't enjoy the ride much with your eyes glued on the wheel in front so learn to judge the gap by looking at the jersey pockets of the next rider so with small eye movements you can glance either side to see what's coming up the road.
- Mentor anyone who is new to the bunch. Don't assume they know what to do.
- As in Real Estate, the key is position, position, position. Less than 3/4 of a wheel behind gives the best aero benefits. Ride in line behind the front wheel and you will miss everything the front rider misses. With the bunch in an alternating stagger of just a few centimetres left then right, everyone has optimal vision. We do not want successive riders staggering out to the right which is an echelon which we can cover another time. (Mother Nature never puts all the leaves on the same side of the stem)
- Rotate - give everyone a turn at the front including your slowest rider who also deserves the satisfaction of contributing to the teams effort. Everybody fails if everybody has not had an opportunity on the front (even if it was briefly)
- All riders contribute to the efficacy and safety of the bunch. Up front the pace needs to consider the ability of all riders, while signalling obstacles and traffic conditions. Down the back some skill is needed to monitor and "actively manage" following traffic. In the middle keep busy with hand signals and verbal communication and concentrate on keeping the pace steady and not letting gaps form.
- when you roll into small hills, everyone should hold their position, and maintain the pace to that of the slowest rider. The slower riders should continue the effort at the top to minimise gaps and the back riders advise "all on" and away we go again. If you don't have to regroup at the top your bunch's average speed really starts to go up. Of course on big hills everyone can do their own thing and regroup after the top in a safe place. It's best to make a call at the bottom.
There is so much more to cover about safe bunch riding, but this missive is more about beauty. Mother Nature's creations are usually gorgeous to look at, practical, efficient, enduring and adaptive. So it should be with the bunch. We know beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and most observers of our bunch are motorists. Drive a moment in their cockpit. What do you see? Is the bunch compressed, and aligned to take up a minimum of space. Does it portray order and discipline and so inspire confidence and respect? Are we nurturing our members toward a common goal.
Our mission is to make the bunch a thing of beauty. Make Mother Nature proud.