For those that be thinking about investing in one more bike…
After a fair bit of investigation and research, mostly online, I purchased my gravel bike a few weeks back. Since then I have had the chance to test it on gravel in the Otway ranges and on the road at the Friday Friendly BRL. After the big reveal on the Friday ride several riders said that they were considering a gravel and were curious as to how I ended up with mine. So here ’tis…
The gravel bike is an emerging and, apparently, increasingly popular trend. There is an enormous range and variety from the traditional road bike manufacturers through to mountain bike specialists and pretty much everyone in between. The gravel bike is being positioned as the ’do everything’ bike in your garage by some manufacturers – commuter, bike packing, gravel trails, single track, coffee… Others are targeting it is a special purpose bike to fill out your stable.
I am not an expert in the space! I received some great input from Justin M, Gavin R, Kym T, Phil Sh, Gary D, Herb, plus a couple of bike shops that actually had some stock. It was an interesting research project and I am very happy with the end result.
- What did I want the bike for? I wanted to add rail trails, gravel roads, and easier (!) single track trails to my riding mix. I was not in the hunt for a pure mountain bike and wanted reasonable performance on road and good trails. My road bikes (Canyon Ultimate carbon, Condor Classico steel) are both limited to a maximum tyre size of 700×28 limiting them to paved road and maybe very good rail trails. Implications:
- The bike needed to allow for tyre size in the 700×38-45 range. This would allow for a knobby tyre for gravel and single track and also for a slicker skinnier tyre, if needed, for road/rail trail.
- Plus I needed the bike to be robust enough to engage with some single track but light, smooth and comfortable enough for 100km+ mixed road/trail rides.
- Budget? The $64 question. Bikes in the gravel category ranged from $1,000 to $10,000+. If your are after high end gravel bike perspectives this is not the place to look! Given that I am not racing it, it’s recreational only and likely to get ridden 1-2 times per month and perhaps 2-3 gravel outings per year (Otways etc) I set my budget at $3,000 +/- 10%, (in line with the rest of my ‘stable’) reckoning that I could get a reasonable mix of components, frame and wheels at the price. Implications:
- Pretty much ruled out carbon frames; both Giant Revolt and BMC URS started at around $4,000. The Merida Silex 4000 carbon was under the $3,000. Some reviewers and manufacturers suggested that the lower end carbon frames were more susceptible to wear and tear in the gravel environment and pointed towards aluminium or steel.
- Titanium frames ruled out; Lynskey was starting at around US$3600 before any spec changes. Pity as I did not have Ti frame in the stable.
- Steel framed bikes for gravel were getting great reviews for compliance and robustness but again were generally north of $4,000. (eg Bombtrack)
- And suspension was out… Also a pity as the Cannondale Topstone Lefty looked very interesting.
- This meant looking at primarily Aluminium framed bikes often specified with a carbon fork; relatively light and robust.
- Components? This was the next big question as the component specification was driving the prices and would also impact the riding experience based on shifting feel and braking capability.
- Hydraulic disc brakes were a mandatory requirement for me. Feedback from some of our riders suggest that mechanical discs work well, but I opted for additional capability and modulation of the hydraulic brakes.
- Groupsets in this bracket tended to be Shimano GRX – their gravel specific set, SRAM – mostly APEX but some RIVAL. Some feedback seemed to suggest that while the APEX was ok they preferred the higher versions in SRAM.
- Shimano GRX tops out at an Ultegra equivalent GRX800 (Di2 capable but too expensive for me), with the GRX600 aligned to 105 (800/600 are both 11 speed), and GRX400 aligned to Tiagra and 10 speed. Being familiar with Shimano shifters, already having Campagnolo in the stable I did not want another shift style in the mix. I targeted the Shimano GRX.
- Interestingly very few bikes in the price segment had 100% of a particular Shimano GRX group set, often having a GRX800 derailleur, GRX600 shifters and GRX400 hydraulic brakes (there are no GRX600 brakes). The mix and match no doubt aimed at hitting the right price point. The difference between GRX800 and GRX400 brakes seem to be the cooling fins. The difference between GRX800 and GRX600 shifters seem to be the texture of the hood materials. The difference between GRX800 and GRX400 derailleurs primarily being 11 speed vs 10 speed.
- 1x vs 2x? I found this to be an esoteric and religious topic that contrasts the simplicity and marginally lower weight of a 1x chainring favoured by mountain bike riders with the marginally greater range and more ratios of a 2x chainring favoured by road bike riders.
- The 1x configurations were mostly 42 x 11-42. What does this mean?
- The lowest combination of 42 x 42 yields a gear ratio of 1.0, gear metres of 2.22m (1 pedal rotation to metres travelled), and a speed of 8.0km/h at 60rpm. ie a very good low gear
- The highest combination of 42 x 11 yields a gear ratio of 3.8, gear metres of 8.47m, and a speed of 50.8km/h at 100rpm. ie pretty quick with potential challenges for a fast decent, certainly ok for cruising.
- The 1x has, of course, only 11 ratios (10 on the GRX400), has no overlapping ratios which occur on the 2x, but does have larger steps between each gear.
- The 2x configurations were typically 46-30 x 11-34. The GRX800 can be pushed to a max of 48 on the front and 17 tooth range. What does this mean?
- The lowest combination of 30 x 34 yields a gear ratio of 0.9, gear metres of 1.96m, and a speed of 7.0km/h at 60rpm. ie a very good low gear – slightly lower than the 1x.
- The highest combination of 46 x 11 yields a gear ratio of 4.2, gear metres of 9.3m, and a speed of 55.7km/h at 100rpm. ie pretty quick except for very fast decent, certainly ok for cruising, slightly higher/faster than the 1x.
- The 2x has 22 ratios (20 on the GRX400) of which you lose, say, 2 each chain ring due cross chaining, and 1-2 other due to overlapping ratios, providing 16-17 unique and accessible ratios, and providing smaller steps between each gear.
- Having more ratios meant smaller steps between gears. This broke the religious deadlock for me as I am an avid gear changer so I was now targeting Shimano GRX800 2x configurations.
My short listed bikes:
- Focus Atlas 6.8 – “our first gravel bike … made for adventure”
- $3,100, Aluminium frame/carbon fork, GRX800 F/R derailleur (46/30 x 11/34), GRX600 shifters, GRX400 hydraulic brakes, 700×45 tyres compatible with 650×50, weight ~10.8kg
- Received some great reviews. Challenges on availability.
- I liked this because of the Focus reputation, good flexibility, and great looks.
- Marin Gestalt X11 – “a mountain bikers drop bar bike”
- $3,299, Aluminium frame/carbon fork, GRX800 R rear derailleur (42 x 11/42), GRX800 shifters, GRX400 hydraulic brakes, 700×40 tyres compatible with 650×50, weight not listed
- Received some great reviews, appealing at the MTB end of the spectrum. Dropper seat post (allow you to drop the seat by 50-100mm to assist in control on single track riding. Challenges on availability.
- I liked the Marin for its MTB orientation plus its looks!
- Canyon Grail AL7 – online only
- $2,950 + shipping, Aluminium frame/carbon fork, GRX800 F/R derailleur (46/30 x 11/34), GRX600 shifters, GRX400 hydraulic brakes, 700×40, weight 9.4kg
- Received some great reviews. Arguably best price/specification. Online only Challenges on availability.
- Canyon quality, lightness, and price/performance were the attractions
- Norco Search XR S1 – Canadian MTB firm
- $3,300 ($3,600 list), Reynolds 725 steel frame/carbon fork, GRX800 R derailleur 105 F derailleur (46/30 x 11/34), GRX600 shifters, GRX400 hydraulic brakes, 700×42 tyres compatible with 650×50, weight 10.4kg
- Received some great reviews. Steel frame. Dropper seat post. And available!
- I saw the Norco early on and cut it from the list as I thought the steel frame would be too heavy. Further research and seeing it in the flesh changed my mind.
The long list also included Merida Silex (both 400 Aluminium, 4000 Carbon) and the Polygon Bend R5 – Indonesian manufacturer who, after manufacturing for other brands has decided to launch their own under the Polygon brand. All the majors have released or are releasing excellent gravel bikes in a variety of frame materials and component specifications across multiple price points. As I was working to a budget a lot of the big names were cut from the shopping list (Cannondale, Specialised, BMC, Trek, Giant to name a few).
My answer: Norco Search XR S1. [bought at BikeZone Smith St Fitzroy]
Having had a great experience with my Canyon roadie I was very tempted by the Canyon Grail. The Focus Atlas looked very good too. Very similar geometry and specifications (as with Trek Checkpoint and Specialized Diverge aluminiums). Unfortunately neither bike would be available until the second half of the year at the earliest. I was actually able to see the Norco Search in store. The steel frame felt lighter than expected and the steel flexibility and robustness really appealed to me. My Condor steely has always been a very comfortable ride. A number of the reviewers were very positive on steel frames for the gravel setting and finally feedback from Herb, who had been servicing the Norco for a client, was also positive – all pointed to the Norco Search for me, plus the bonus of it being a little bit quirky.
The first gravel ride was through the Otway ranges with Phil Sh, Kym T, and Stephen G. Fair to say the Norco Search fully met my requirements and expectations; held pace and line well on tarmac – Great Ocean Road and fast descent from Erskine Falls back to Lorne, excellent ride on the gravel Wye River-Forrest-Lorne – the 700×42 tyres were ideal for the surface, brakes excellent, the gearing was well suited to the climbs, and handling was good on the single track – albeit a relatively easy single track (I am a beginner!).
I have some video footage (17min!) from the Otways adventure if you are interested in more about the attractions of gravel riding.
All bodes well for some more off-piste fun rides on trail, gravel and track over the coming months and years.
[After I get through some of the initial setup and fit teething issues 🙂 ]
- What do you want a gravel bike for – what surfaces and distance? Will a relaxed roadie/Endurance/Gran Fondo bike and fatter tyres meet the requirement (eg Trek Domane, Cannondale Synapse etc)?
- What’s the budget? The $64 (or $10,000) question?
- What component mix; hydraulic vs mechanical brakes, 1x vs 2x, 10spd vs 11, 12, 13…?
- What frame/fork material; aluminium, steel, carbon, titanium?
- AND … availability – can you actually get one?
For an enjoyable and safe ride with an ARC bunch the following principles should be courteously followed:
- If on the front you are the eyes of the bunch – warn of traffic or hazards ahead.
- If last outside rider, warn of traffic behind.
- Always check intersections/roundabouts for traffic.
- If changing the route, warn the bunch well ahead.
- Listen for shouts and watch for hand signals.
- Don’t half wheel your partner; keep your handlebars even with theirs.
- Don’t surge, it’s tiring and causes gaps.
- Watch the rider in front, not just their back wheel.
- Maintain your pace and your separation.
- Merge left rider behind right if ‘single file’ is called.
- Ride side by side and use up one whole lane.
- Don’t abandon a puncture or other mechanical victim until they can cope.
- Don’t brake suddenly, it shocks the rider behind and you could end up wearing them.
- Don’t use aero bars, ‘bunny hop’ or leave gaps.
- Take sadly inevitable corrections with a smile.
- Lastly, be tolerant, responsible and supportive.
BUNCH RIDING is a unique phenomenon that allows people from many diverse backgrounds and levels of fitness to train and socialise together. Regardless of your level of fitness and capacity, it is crucial that all of us understand and practise the basics in bunch etiquette.
NEW TO THE BUNCH?
- Take time to practise your bike and bunch skills; attend skills sessions, or ask advice from more experienced riders.
- Take corrections with a smile.Good bunch skills improve your safety, that’s worth a smile!
- Be courteous to other road users, many are protected by steel.
- Get help from experienced riders, or a properly trained cycling coach.
SOME BASIC POINTS
If everyone can remember some basic points it will be a lot easier to have trust in your riding partners and have a more enjoyable outing.
- When you are on the front of the bunch you are the eyes of the bunch. Always remember roughly how many riders you have with you!
- Point out obvious dangers, pot holes, car doors, pedestrians etc
- Ride at an appropriate speed – remember that’s why you are in the bunch to ride with them! If you want to hammer it, then do it solo or in designated rides. (aka smashfest)
- Keep an eye out for wind direction and try not to spread out into traffic, it’s 2 abreast!
- Pass the calls up and down the bunch, so that everyone knows about the call.
- And NEVER, EVER overlap the wheel in front!
Sharing the Road
Practising courtesies and our etiquette within the bunch is important; furthermore, responsible, non-aggressive cycling in the bunch is important to gain mutual respect and harmony on our roads. To improve safety and consideration, when sharing Melbourne’s busy roads, members on club rides are asked to adhere to the following guidelines:
- Obey the road rules, including traffic signals.
- Respect other road users – be courteous and anticipate mistakes(that we can all make).
- Be predictable and always indicate your intentions – use hand signals from the front of the bunch to the tail.
- Ride two abreast (in a bunch), but be courteous if the road narrows riding single file when necessary and when the bunch is small.
- At lights and intersections, stay in position behind queued vehiclesrather than rolling up the side of stopped traffic.
- Wear a helmet at all times.
- Use lights when riding in low light conditions.
Following the notes will help you and your riding buddies, get the most enjoyment out of bunch rides in the safest possible way.
Riding tips on Bunch Etiquette
(Tanya Bosch – Cycling Coach)
Why ride with a bunch? Some do it to motivate themselves to get up and train, others do it for safety in numbers on the road or simply for social reasons. Many friendships have been forged while spinning away the kilometres. Some view bunch riding as a personal challenge: if only I can keep up with them going up this hill then I know I’ve really made it.
So how do you join a bunch? If you join on the road, keep on the back unless you have permission to move towards the front. Some bunches are groups of cyclists who are paying a coach and others are not keen to ride with a cyclist that they do not know. Don’t join a bunch unless they show some kind of support. Some will support slow riders by waiting at the top of long hills or having some kind of recognized short cut on the course. Others support faster riders by having some fast sections for them that don’t break up the bunch too much.
There should also be some support for those suffering punctures or mechanical breakdowns when either the whole bunch stops or one or two people stop and help. Most bunches ride two abreast as it is safest to take up one lane of the road.
ACCELERATING: Accelerating away from lights and across lanes should be done in a more dignified manner than when you are on your own, so that other cyclists are not dropped.
BRAKING: Avoid braking as much as possible and give warning beforehand. When stopping for lights, do so gently without slamming the brakes on. The same goes for stopping pedalling suddenly, which can cause an accident.
CORNERING: Give your partner plenty of room in the corner and keep level with them. Corner at a safe speed so that everyone behind can keep up and hold your wheel. If you find that you are continually ‘losing wheels’ then it is time to do some cornering practice.
DOWNHILL: If you are at the front of the bunch, keep pedaling down gentle gradients. If you don’t everyone else will be putting on their brakes.
HALF WHEELING: Half-wheeling is one rider always riding in front of his partner, which then puts the whole bunch out. It is essential that you keep level with your partner if at the front: keep your handlebars level with the handlebars of the rider next to you, rather than your front wheel level with theirs.
SITTING ON: Keep reasonably close to the cyclist in front of you and again keep level with your partner. If too much of a gap is left the bunch is always playing ‘catch up’. Keep your head and eyes up. Don’t watch the gap between bikes. Scanning ahead will give you early warning of changes.
UPHILL: In some bunches everyone splits up and goes up at their own pace while other bunches try and stay together. If that is the case and you feel like dropping off, pull off quickly so that others don’t get caught behind you. When climbing a hill and deciding to get out of the saddle do it in one continuous flowing movement. Otherwise the wheel slows momentarily and can hit the wheel of the cyclist behind, causing a fall.
Warnings and hand signals
Standard Bunch Calls
Bunch riding means all members of the bunch need to make calls. Calls need to be passed by all riders through the bunch, so that a call from the back makes it to the front etc.
Below is the list of ‘Critical calls’. These are the standard for ARC and no other variation should be use in an ARC bunch.
|Arm straight up in the air
|Wanting to change lanes. Signalled by lead rider until a call of ‘wait’ or ‘over’ is made from last rider on the right
|It is not safe to change lanes.
|It is safe to change lanes. It is not safe until all vehicles have passed all riders at the front of the bunch. (‘over-1’ followed by ‘over-2’ used when multiple lane changing is required.) The rider calling ‘over’ should be safely in the lane before calling thebunchover.
|‘hold the lane’
|When you want the bunch to stay in the lane they are in and not move left.
|The bunch needs to change from 2 a breast to single file.
|It is safe for the bunch to go back to 2 abreast riding.
|When the bunch needs to come to a stop.
|Made (preferably before it happens) when the group changes speed.
|Used when traffic lights change to amber and lead riders make call that the entire bunch can make it through safely. (see other use below)
|Made when turning corners or through roundabouts to signal it is safe. (Also ‘clear left’ and ‘clear right’)
|Pointing towards the hole coming
|A dangerous hole in the road is approaching. Made by the first rider and passed through the bunch by all riders. (Includes ‘left’ ‘right’ and ‘middle’).This is not for every tiny bump in the road.
|Pointing towards the obstruction coming
|A dangerous obstruction is on the road and approaching. Made by the first rider and passed through the bunch by all riders.
|Left arm bent and placed behind back
|The bunch is approaching and passing an object that may need you to move off your line to avoid. eg a parked car.(see also ‘car up’)
|Passing a car with potential occupant set to open or has opened door.
|On a narrow street a car coming the other way presents a potential risk so stay tight to the left.
A car parked in the riding line requiring the bunch to move to the to move off your line to avoid the parked car.
|A car is behind the bunch wanting to pass or a car is over taking the bunch
|Left arm out
|Bunch will be turning if road is clear, be alert. (Also ‘turning right’)
|Used when riders on the front are pushing too much and breaking the bunch up.
|Used when a rider or number of riders are dropped from a bunch. The front riders reduce speed such that those dropped can regroup. The goldilocks principle applies; Not too much, not too little, just right.
|‘re-group at the top’
|On a climb the front rider will crest the top and find a safe spot to pull over for the entire bunch until all members have finished the climb.
|Made from the front riders to ask if the bunch has regrouped.
|Made from the back to signify that the bunch is back together.
|Problem with a rider which means the group needs tos top. (Use this for all issues including punctures as puncture is sometimes confused with ‘bunch up’.)
|With bent arm and
|Also used when the riders at the front of the bunch change, to provide for a fresh rider at the front. Right front moves into front left position. Do not surge!
|Used to get people to group near a quick changing set of lights
|Used by frontriders when stopped at traffic lights to signal ‘lights are about to go green so get ready we are about to move off’
|When Pace lining or Rolling Turns.
|‘paceline’ or ‘rolling turns’
|With bent arm and
|Bunch begins paceline effort. Steady and smooth movements. (movement is from right lane to left lane on the front)
|Used by the front left rider to signal that it is clear for the right rider to come in front
|Used by last rider on right to indicate to the rider on the left they will need to move across. Note: Riders still need to check it is all clear to come across.
DOs AND DON’Ts OF BUNCH RIDING
The only way you can learn bike skills and bunch skills is to practice, but without basic knowledge of the rules and responsibilities involved, practice alone will get you nowhere. Here is a more complete list of the Do’s and Don’ts of Bunch Riding.
FORMATION – THE BUNCH IS ONE VEHICLE
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 30-50cm distance off the rear tyre and ride slightly off to the side of the rider in front. Newer riders may need to leave a larger gap, up to one and a half wheels behind (1-1.5m).
The reason you offset slightly from the wheel in front is for better vision down the line and to allow more time to react to problems. If single file is called to allow a car or truck to pass, the rider on the left slots in behind his partner on the right.
Use one whole lane and ride side by side, even with your partner, slightly offset by a tyre width off the wheel in front.
Single file – may be called to allow other vehicles to pass the bunch.
SITTING ON THE WHEEL
You should focus on the rider in front and continue to scan ahead. By focusing on the person (not just the rider’s wheel!) you will be more aware of what is happening in the bunch. It won’t take you long to judge the distance between you and the rider in front. ~50cm is a reasonable distance, up to 1.5m for newer, less experienced riders.
POSITION ON THE ROAD
Cyclists have clearly defined rights that allow riders to occupy a full lane, ride in pair formation and have the same responsibilities as motorists.
It is dangerous to ride to the far left of a lane. This exposes you to greater danger from cars trying to squeeze past. A car must give you a full metre when passing. When possible give parked cars – with or without an occupant – a one metre clearance. Ride a metre out from the gutter to avoid glass and rubbish.
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. 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 new 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, then don’t make decisions in the middle of the bunch to suddenly stop. This will cause heavy braking towards the back of the bunch.
If the lights are turning orange on approach, the lead riders must be aware of the size of the bunch and make the appropriate call. It is better to be more cautious than gung-ho!
When entering a roundabout or an intersection the lead riders must call clear or car coming. All calls should be relayed down the line.
Passing other riders. When the bunch approaches to pass other riders the Lead Riders should call ‘Passing’ to let the riders know they are about to be passes. The Lead Riders should stay ‘out’ or to the right of the passed riders until the entire bunch has passed the riders. This is often accompanied by the call ‘stay out’ or ‘stay right’. The intent is to stay well clear of the passed rider(s). Moving back to the left too quickly is dangerous and may trap the passed rider(s) within the bunch.
INSIDE THE BUNCH
Maintain your separation far enough from the rider in front to avoid any risk of touching wheels (an almost certain crash for the rear rider who touches if it happens) but stay close enough to stay in the wind shadow of the rider in front – less than half a wheel diameter separation for experienced riders (30-50cm), up to 1.5 wheel diameters for newer, less confident riders.
Watch the rider in front – not just their back wheel – it’s easier to maintain your separation that way and there is valuable knowledge for you to be learned from those in front of you.
Warn those behind (and in front) of hazards coming their way. ALWAYS point to and/or describe crisply and loudly any holes, broken glass, or anything likely to endanger those behind you – they may not be able to see the danger and at pack speeds you come on them quickly. Typical calls are ‘hole (left/centre/right)’; ‘glass (left/centre/right)’, ‘car (back/right/left/front)’. Once warned those behind need to watch for the item called and look for the path that clears the problem – Do not look at the problem or you will travel there!
THE BACK MARKERS
The riders on the back also have an important 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 especially 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 manoeuvre is completed.
On a narrow single lane road the last rider must warn of cars behind.
A call of ‘car back’ is a simple call to understand.
Only call ‘over’ when the passing vehicle has passed all riders not just back markers.
Backmarkers also have the responsibility to watch for riders being dropped, the bunch being split at lights and intersections. They should call out to the lead riders that the bunch is splitter riders have been dropped, allowing the pace to be slowed for re-grouping.
ROLLING OVER – ROTATING WHEN 2 ABREAST
The lead riders should not attempt to stay on the front for too long; five kilometres is plenty, sometimes 1 minute is enough. This gives everyone a chance to go to the front. If you feel that you are not fit enough 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 rotate / roll-over procedure is simple. ARC uses the ‘chain gang’ method, where every rider in the bunch moves position, similar to a paceline (see below) with a period of ‘hold’ at the front.
The two front riders make a signal with their hands, and/or call, to indicate that they’ll rotate. The rider on the right moves ahead slightly, and moves to the left side, in front of the previous team mate. The rider who was behind him on the right side moves forward to take the lead position on the right side.
At the rear of the bunch, the rider on the left moves across to the right side of the bunch.
PACE LINE – LINKED ROLLING TURNS
When heading down to Mordialloc a ‘Pace Line’ is often formed. The formation is similar to a chain, above, with continuous rolling off the front and at speed by the lead rider.
ARC almost always has the lead rider rolling off to the left. However, the way the rider rolls off can also be dependent upon the direction of the wind, with the lead rider rolling off to the side the wind is coming from.
Keep the speed constant, do not slow down as you roll off; wait until you are well clear. The rider rolling off immediately starts soft-pedalling 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. It also makes for a continually accelerating pace line rather than the objective of a smooth constant speed.
Riders in the slower pace line (usually the left line) must stay on the wheel. Do not stop pedalling. 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.
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, in the left line in single file, thus not confusing the pace line which may think someone on the right may be coming through. You will get good cover here, and you won’t disrupt the riders in the pace line.
When the pace line is joined at the rear by other groups it is helpful for those not in the pace line rotation to also cover the right line to prevent uninvited non-ARC riders joining the pace line.
AVOIDING HAZARDS, RUBBISH, CAR DOORS
If you are following the wheel properly and the riders in front have identified an obstacle and given advance warning, then nasty incidents should be avoided. Always pass warning calls down the bunch. Wherever possible ride one metre clear of parked cars and the gutter. This stops motorists pushing past and also avoids most of the glass and rubbish on the side of the road.
Common Reasons for Accidents
|A Possible Solution
|Lapse in concentration
|To help you stay alert at all times when riding in a bunch, carry enough food and liquids so you don’t get hungry or dehydrated.
|Lack of bike control
|Don’t freewheel if you are forced onto grass or gravel, keep pedalling to keep control of your bike. Brake when you have control of your bike.
|Lack of proper communication
|Talk if you must, but watch what is happening within the bunch and up ahead of you. Listen for calls and always pass them down the line.
|Lack of proper bike and equipment maintenance
|Attach your pump securely with tape/velcro. Check your bottle cage for fit, and bend it back if needed, so bottles stay put.
|Choking the handlebars leading to poor control
|Learn to ride your bike without your hands. Steering with your hips rather than choking your handlebars will give you better control.
|Lack of bike skills such as the ability to ‘bunny hop’
|Skilled riders should be aware of less experienced riders in the bunch and not ‘bunny hop’ an obstacle.
|Rolling back into the riders behind as you get out of the saddle up an incline
|Keep pedalling as you get out of the saddle, otherwise you will slow into the rider behind, making sure you are at the top of the pedal stroke and keep the pressure on the pedal.
|Sudden panic braking in the middle of the bunch
|To slow without braking, sit up to increase wind resistance, pedal softer or pull slightly out of the line. If you must slow down yell ‘slowing’ or ‘stopping’ loudly to warn others.
|Getting caught in the gutter leading to falls
|Wait until the gutter flattens out, and then exit at an angle.
Surviving Road Hazards
(Fred Matheny and Ed Pavelka of www.RoadBikeRider.com)
Cycling is a unique sport because its arena is the open road. That’s the same place frequented by traffic, potholes, snarling dogs and absent minded pedestrians.
But sometimes we’re our own worst enemy. Inattention and poor technique can put us on the pavement as fast as any hazard. Use these tips and you’ll be less likely to take a tumble.
Always ride with your head up. While cruising along, it’s tempting to stare at the whirling pattern of the front spokes or fixate on your cycle computer’s numbers. A momentary downward glance that lasts just a second too long can mean riding into a problem that could easily have been avoided.
Focus. The smooth and rhythmic motion of pedaling can have a hypnotic effect. Daydreaming cyclists have crashed into the back of parked cars, wandered far into the traffic lane or blithely ridden off the road. Don’t let yourself be separated from the outside world by the vivid canvases created by your imagination. Keep your head in the game.
Keep your bike in top mechanical condition. Repair or replace faulty parts sooner rather than later. It’s a loser’s game to milk “just one more ride” out of worn brake pads, a frayed cable, or tires with a threadbare tread or bulging sidewall. Your first line of defense against the challenges of the real world is a bike with all parts in good working order.
It’s every rider’s fate to flat but it’s relatively easy to limit the frequency.
Choose your line with care. The best way to avoid punctures is also the easiest: Steer around broken glass, road rubble and potholes.
Use tires with a Kevlar belt under the tread. Kevlar does a good job of stopping nasty things from penetrating. Inspect the tread after every ride for embedded debris. Remember, most punctures are caused by something sticking to the tread and working through during numerous wheel revolutions. Replace tires before they become so thin that they’re virtually defenseless against pointy things.
Check inflation pressure every couple of days. Tubes are slightly porous and may lose several pounds of pressure each day. Soft tires slow you down, corner poorly, wear fast, and don’t protect your rims against metal-bending impacts.
Hitting potholes can bend your rims beyond repair. If the chasm is deep enough, it will send you hurtling over the handlebar when you bury the front wheel and the bike suddenly stops. Here’s a primer on pothole evasion.
Note where potholes lurk on your normal training routes. Plan your line well in advance to avoid them. Don’t expect the road to be in the same condition every day. Potholes have a habit of sprouting up out of nowhere, especially in the winter and early spring due to the daily freeze/thaw cycle.
Treat potholes like glass. Ride around them, first checking behind for traffic.
Be mindful of riding partners when you change your line. Newly minted potholes present a double hazard—the chasm itself, and the chunks of shattered pavement around it. If the pothole doesn’t bend your wheel, the sharp bits of rubble might puncture your tire. Give these highway craters a wide berth.
Jump your bike over a pothole, if you have the skill and are unable to ride around it because of traffic or adjacent riders. Learn this move on a grassy field. Level your pedals, crouch off the saddle, then spring up and lift with your feet and hands. Start by jumping over a line on the ground, then graduate to higher but forgiving objects such as a rolled- up towel or a shoebox.
Unlike most dangers, tracks can’t be ridden around. You can suffer an instant crash if your tires slip on the shiny steel rails. Ride with extreme caution and follow these safety tips.
Slow down! Tracks are rough, and even if you don’t crash you could get a pinch flat. This happens when you ride into something abrupt, like a rail, and it pinches the tube between the tire and rim, slicing two little holes in the tube.
Rise slightly off the saddle. Have equal weight on your hands and feet. Let the bike chatter beneath you. Use your flexed arms and legs as shock absorbers. Cross tracks at a right angle. If the rails are diagonal to the road and you cross them at an angle, your front wheel can be twisted out from under you. A perpendicular passage is essential in the rain. Wet metal tracks are incredibly slippery. The slightest imbalance or abrupt move can send you sprawling.
Jump if you’re really good. Racers who need to cross tracks at maximum speed will jump them. They use the same technique that works for potholes, but with more speed and lift because they must clear two rails. Coming down too early means the rear wheel will hit the second rail, guaranteeing a ruined rim or a pinch flat. In most cases, jumping isn’t worth the danger. It’s better to slow down, square up, and creep across.
ADDITIONAL SLICK SPOTS
Painted lines. These can be slippery, especially the wide markings for pedestrian crossings at intersections. The paint fills in the asphalt’s texture, producing a surface that’s uncertain when dry and deadly when wet. The danger is worse when the paint is new.
Dry oil slicks. These may be nearly invisible, but you can spot them as darker streaks on a gray pavement. Be really careful in corners. You aren’t safe if you ride through oil on the straights. The greased tread might slip in a corner just ahead.
Wet oil slicks. If it rains, a small oily patch can grow until it covers the whole lane. Be on the lookout for the tell-tale multi-colored water. There’s no pot of gold at the end of this rainbow, only a black-and-blue meeting with the pavement.
Wet metal. If it’s been raining and you come upon anything metal in the road (manhole cover, steel-deck bridge, road-repair plate), it’s as treacherous as riding on ice. Cross it with the bike absolutely upright. Even a slight lean can cause the wheels to slip. Smart riders walk their bikes across wet steel bridges.
Wet leaves. Be very careful in the fall, or you will. Even if the road is dry, there can be moisture trapped between leaves littering the pavement. When you see leaves in a corner, slow down and round the bend with your bike upright, not angled.
Sewer grates. Some old ones have bars that run parallel to the street and are wide enough to let a bike wheel fall through. If this happens, you can look forward to plastic surgery and possibly a lifetime of lawsuit riches. Many municipalities have replaced such grates with bicycle-friendly versions, but be careful in case a town hasn’t gotten the message yet.