How to get bunch riding experience

I just registered for the Tour of Cambridgeshire Gran Fondo in June and I’m very excited. I can get my fitness to a point that I’m satisfied with but because of the pandemic I’ve never ridden with more than 8 other people and I’m totally clueless about bunch riding or working together. There’s an older thread on here describing the start in particular as carnage. Should I just accept that it’s my first one and treat it as a learning experience or is there something I can do in advance to at least prevent myself from making stupid or unsafe mistakes?

Hi. Where are you based? Is there a local club you could join so that you can go on a few club runs. They would provide a good opportunity for training as well as getting some group riding experience. There is usually some knowledgeable wily riders who will be willing to dish out tips and share their experience.

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Thanks! I’m based in Cambridge and I’m doing my local club runs but we’re not more than 6-8 people in one group. I guess there may be more people as we get towards summer, but the club has been very cautious about large groups up to now.

I think even a group of 6-8 is good prep as it will help develop awareness of how to ride smoothly in a group, hold your line round corners, be looking at what not just the rider in front but the rider in front of them are doing, etc. Don’t think I’ve ever ridden in a group bigger than maybe 10 people on UK roads other than in races, just not enjoyable (or considerate) with the amount of traffic. That would be your other option - get a license and go enter some crits!

FWIW I did quite a few big closed road events like ToC, Ride London and Etape Caledonia before I ever did a race. Never had an issue with the big groups. Yes the start will probably be carnage but there’s really nothing you can do that is going to replicate that short of another closed road mass participation ride.

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Race Smart

These video’s are very helpful. Try and get as much experience as you can, and read as much as possible. There’s also some really great threads on here about first races and what to expect. Have a quick search and you’ll dig up some helpful tips.

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If it’s in June, maybe find a few smaller races before that to get a feel for it? And ask your club if they do chaingangs or training rides?

Thank you! That’s super helpful

At the moment I’m not fast enough for the club chaingang. I hope to improve, but I doubt I’ll ever be fast enough for that. I guess it’s possible that more opportunities will come up locally, because other people are bound to want to train for it as well. Having started during the pandemic I just don’t have a sense of what was normal before.

I did some sportives before joining a club, so had just ridden with one other person, and it was absolutely fine.

Honestly don’t worry about it, you’ll be more than fine. Most sportives will be full of beginners, and the more competitive types will go off in their groups, so there likely won’t be massive groups.

If they set off large groups at the same time, then just be cautious with turns and wobbly wheels ahead etc, and if you have the fitness just pedal away from them at your own pace.

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That’s kind of encouraging… :sweat_smile:

Reassuring. I guess it’s so long that I really will get a lot of experience just from doing it.

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You’re doing the right thing asking questions of more experienced riders and trying to figure out what might happen. I did a similar thing last year (thanks @AndyGajda) and started out on Saturday club runs with two columns where there is a rotation every two minutes. This developed into chaingang practice, then into chaingang sessions, and finally into a race in September. I made it clear to people I was inexperienced and asked for help when I wasn’t sure. When new situations arose I asked experienced riders about how to manage them. While the race format (Australian Pursuit Race) in September didn’t lead to a large group, it was fast and we were being chased by stronger riders.

My main bit of feedback would be - what you are talking about is skill acquisition and riding in a group will seem at first like sensory overload. If you’re trying to ride in a group and your eyeballs are popping out too, it might seem like a negative experience. Try to have a development path towards your event where you can gain more experience without it seeming overwhelming. The first time I did a chaingang session with a fast group I felt like I needed a drink afterwards, it was very intense and I was right on the limit for a long time. However, come the race, it felt more exciting and enjoyable. There will likely be some club stalwarts you can meet and ride with who will be keen to pass on knowledge to new riders, and I certainly benefitted from this.

The point someone has raised about the event expectations is important too - if it’s a social sportive you might not need as much experience group as you think to finish safely with a smile on your face. My local sportive had 4,500 participants in 2019 (the last year for useful comparison) and a small number of them will have participated in formal races. Keep an eye out for people wobbling all over the place, taking their hands off the bars regularly, overlapping wheels and give them a wide berth. Have fun!

Are there others who might be interested? Maybe you can start a B group chainy. You could even ask one of the faster guys if they could help out and coach everyone through a first few rides. (I’d give it a month or two though)

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So are 90% of people doing it and any other big sportive but if you want get better join a club and get used to riding/communicating in a group.

Well I am in a club, but because of the pandemic I’ve only ever ridden in very small groups (up to 8 max). They had mass meet-ups in pre-pandemic times but not recently.

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This is very helpful. Thanks! I know what you mean about sensory overloads. My first goup rides took a lot of cognitive energy and my group is not fast. I’ve heard of a few chaingang options since I’ve asked on here, but they may be too fast for me. I’m a woman, and chaingangs of men in their 20s on carbon bikes are not quite where I’m at. But I’ll keep asking.

Sportives are not races - they’re supposed to be fun.

Having ridden a few what will happen is that groups will form quite quickly but not for the first few miles, The properly fast lads will ride off the front and it will all string out with so many different ability levels in the field. Keep your wits about you for the first five miles, if that, and it will all start calming down, You’ll probably end up a in few groups throughout the course of the day as other riders tends to flit around until they find a group of similar speed to what they’re used to - may take a bit,

I once spent about 35 miles in a local sportive/ride with a bunch of complete strangers and had a blast based of only a few previous club rides. Main thing - relax, stick to the basics, keep a safe wheel and you will be fine…

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Good place to start. It’s a real shame about big groups not happening. It’s the same principles but scaled up. It’s the other riders though that you have to watch for. The last time I did the ToC there was me and 2 others doing the work and a dozen or so sitting behind. Hey ho, if that’s what they need to do that’s their choice. However after 20 or so revolutions of us 3 on the front someone came through. Great I thought, he’s going to share the load. He got as far as me in 2nd man and muttered something like ‘oh sh1t, I’m getting to near the front’ and suddenly cut in on me. Thankfully though I stayed up but the morale of the story, you can be as good as possible but stay alert for the folk you can’t control. But the main thing though is to relax and enjoy, good luck :+1:

The other thing is, you don’t have to ride in a bunch for this. It’s totally possible to just ride on your own. Most likely, you’ll just end up in a small group, and it’ll feel like a club ride.

One thing even experienced riders forget is when they are on the front how they ride affects everyone behind them. They are, in affect, responsible for those behind.

How you apply pressure to the pedals, point sh!t out, lead into and out of corners, anticipate cars, lights, etc…being smooth and predictable all affect how calm or stupid the response behind will be.

I hate this saying, “Expect the unexpected” but, it’s sort of true. Stay away from the know-it-all loud mouth telling everyone what to do. 9 times out of 10 they have no clue and probably just use the group ride to make themselves feel better about whatever insecurities that haunt them.

Lastly, take forums with a grain of salt. Even what I write. We all think the way we did it is best or truth when in fact it may be the worst advise ever.

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