Riding in a peloton can be a scary proposition and dangerous for less experienced riders, but there are strategies to keep yourself safe and in a good position. You can use the same techniques pros use to stay safe in the peloton, whether you’re racing, participating in an organised fun ride, or just out on the local group ride the following 10 Rules will serve you well.
Rule 1: Keep Your Head Up and Eyes on the Road
Dropping your head while you’re in the peloton is a recipe for disaster. A moment of inattention can see you end up in on the ground writhing in pain, not to mention destroying all your preparation and training and in bad fall weeks of future training! Keep your head up and make sure you are looking around constantly, using your peripheral vision is best to keep tabs on movement on both sides, keep your forward vision focused on the riders ahead of you. You only have split seconds to react to a problem.
Rule 2: Don’t Overlap Wheels
Overlapping wheels is a part of cycling and one that you don’t want to experience. Unfortunately — it’s not always your fault. Touching, rubbing, bumping or buzzing wheels requires a defensive skill that can prevent you from hitting the pavement.
Wheel contact happens suddenly in pace lines or group riding. It happens when two wheels get too close and overlap each other. One of the riders, typically the one in front, swerves just enough to hit the other wheel, and wham — you’re down. Touching wheels is the major cause of crashes in the peloton. It’s crucial to know how to react to keep the rubber side down when wheels overlap.
Panic is one of the main reasons that overlapping wheels cause crashes. Remaining calm and relaxed, don’t fight it.
Steer Into the Wheel in Front of You
If you lose focus and overlap the wheel in front of you and the rider in front brakes or swerves, it can instantly deflect your front wheel to the side and cause you to crash.
A strategy to use to try and avoid crashing when overlapping wheels and the wheels start to rub is to instantly turn your wheel into the wheel you just touched. It sounds counter-intuitive and goes against your instinct of veering away, but steering back into the wheel is one of the methods for regaining balance.
As you do this shift your body weight in the direction you are steering at the same time; toward the front rider’s rear wheel. This will help re-center your balance as to not fall. This allows for that extra split-second to slow and un-touch wheels. Don’t bang into the front cyclist’s back wheel in panic mode, try to just use their back tyre to brush or tap against and then steer smoothly away without crashing. Keep your composure and use the opposing tyre to regain your balance.
Depending on the experience of the riders, stay within 12-to-6 inches of the wheel in front of you. Don’t make any sudden movements; riding in close proximity takes practice and focus. It doesn’t take much to cause an overlap that may result in an accident.
Rule 3: Don’t Drift Backwards
Standing up on the pedals can cause you to drift back as your pedaling slows mid-pedal stroke, especially when you start a climb. When standing, stand the same time as you are powering the front of a pedal stroke. If you don’t, it can cause you to slow and your bike to drift back a few inches or more, depending on speed and slow down suddenly causing the rider behind you to hit or overlap your back wheel.
Rule 4: Keep your line
Don’t weave across the road; keep your relative position from the edges of the road even when cornering as a bunch. Remember that it may mean that you may need to go through a pothole – a sudden swerve could take out the whole bunch behind you.
Rule 5: Stay Off the Brakes
Braking causes sudden slowdowns and makes it more likely that someone will run into your back wheel. Adjusting pedalling speed and using the wind and the draft to control your speed is a lot smoother. You slow your pedalling stroke, move out of the draft a little, catch some more air resistance to slow down gradually, and then tuck back into the draft.
Rule 6: Learn who is a Safe Rider and who is not
You won’t always know everyone you’re riding with, but, observe how people are riding and the decisions they are making and you’ll quickly recognise riders who continually put themselves and the riders around them at increased risk.
In a race, avoid those riders completely. In a group ride, try to help them develop their pack-riding skills in a controlled environment, starting at the back of the peloton and slowly introducing them to mid peloton riding. Riding in a peloton is a learned skill and unless riders are taught in real life they will never learn.
Rule 7: Have an Exit Strategy
Regardless of all the riding skills and plans to prevent falling you also have to have a moving plan for where you’re going to go if the riders ahead of you suddenly fall. Be aware of traffic coming up behind you, you don’t want to be swerving in front of cars, is there a deep ditch on the side of the road, also not your first choice.
Be extra aware when entering an area that looks like a likely place for a crash, like a sudden narrowing of the road, sharp bends or damp/wet roads. You are better off leaving a little room between you and the riders ahead of you to give yourself a bit of room to move. Not all strategies will prevent falls, however, with experience, you’ll learn to minimize the risks and evaluate escape routes without consciously thinking about it.
Rule 8: Don’t look back
The most common novice mistake is when riders look back causing them to change their line and speed causing chaos and also don’t see what’s about to happen in front of them. If you hear a crash behind you, keep looking forward and the bunch will naturally slow and stop.
Rule 9: Announce Hazards
There may well be occasions where situations demand that you call out a hazard to avoid incidents. Bear in mind that there could be riders several metres behind you who cannot see the hazard. This could be anything ranging from a dog or horse running out in front of the bunch, to accidentally dropping a bottle in the middle of the bunch. Call “Dog”, “Horse”, “Bottle” and if you have dropped a bottle don’t stop.
Where there are situations that need pointing out such as turning, stopping, potholes, glass, train tracks, you can do by signalling by hand. The signal is passed from rider to rider going back.
Rule 10: Puncture
When this happens raise your hand so that riders behind can see that you are an obstacle and can avoid you. If it’s a front tyre that has punctured keep both hands on the handle bars and let someone else signal for you, especially when going downhill.
It is very dangerous to take a hand off the handlebars when you puncture in the front. Use the back brake predominantly and don’t stop or move to the side of the road until the bunch has completely passed you.
Remember to ride to the conditions and when on public roads during training rides, ride no more than two abreast.
Now that we have that covered, get out and take care of business people, get the show on the road. When it comes to world class sporting apparel we have you covered, no matter your discipline.
The Element Twenty Two Team.