Moving through the pack in a race

What is the trick, or underlying method/thinking for moving around in the pack in a race?

I’m pretty new to racing (and obviously done none this season) but one of the things which i worry about when watching the various Norcal videos or TR race analysis videos is how to safely move about in the pack.
For instance - Do you need to look over your shoulder and signal every time you move an inch or 2 to one side or the other or does the whole thing work like a shoal of fish and, as long as you don’t suddenly swerve, you just put your bars where you want them to be and it’s a matter of everyone takes care of themselves?
What’s going though your mind in the pack? does it become 2nd nature pretty quick? How about when the hammer is down and you’re working really hard and you get tunnel vision?


I have also wondered this.

Should i pay attention to the wheels behind me? I assume ideally people won’t be “half wheeling” you anyway but do I need to consider the line of people behind me if i want to move left/right? Is it the person behind me’s duty to react to my movement themselves?

I’m sure there is a standard “don’t be a douche” unwritten rules and I shouldn’t change course unpredictably or suddenly but apart from that can i do what i want?

Really, you’re responsible for your front wheel. You can’t really control what others are doing behind you, and they should also be focused on and controlling their own wheel. So don’t worry too much about what’s going on behind, but yes don’t make any harsh moves especially in a tight bunch. A periphery glance should usually spot if there is a gap to move into, and whether anyone is already moving into that spot. Sometimes a little hand signal can help, but it’s usually not necessary.
The only way to really learn is to get amongst it. You do pick it up pretty quickly, and you’ll find your mind can become very alert, even when the hammer is down. But, people do make mistakes, even the pros (regularly! :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:) so there will be crashes. You learn from them.
Just remember though, unless you’re a pro, you’re probably just racing for fun, so there’s not point taking unnecessary risks to move up in a race which could hurt yourself or others. Get out there and have some fun!


Definitely don’t need to look over your shoulder or signal, and if you do then by the time you look forward again to make your move then the gap you had your eye on will almost certainly have gone!

Moving up (and just as importantly staying there once you’ve got there) is about having constant positive intent and alertness to grab every inch that you can and then not let it go. Contact is frowned upon - though it happens - but if somebody leaves a big enough gap for you to get your bars in there in front of them and then inch your way across then that’s generally fair game though you’ll get shouted at occasionally. You should also avoid big swerves or braking, that sort of behaviour tends to get you marked out as a liability.

Personally I’ve never found that moving up through a pack comes very naturally however many races I do, it’s something I always have to force myself to do. I’m a confident enough handler and do plenty of fast group riding, so I have no issue cornering in close proximity to others. I’m just not a particularly confrontational person - I’m also a Brit, as a nation we have a fairly strongly engrained affinity for queueing and people waiting their turn, moving up always feels to me a bit like pushing in on a queue! I’m better at maintaining my place, since that queueing mentality works in my favour and I will quite happily deploy every passive aggressive technique in the book to stop other people from “queue jumping” in front of me. If the course allows, then my preference is therefore to look for opportunities to move up the pack without having to fight for every inch - e.g. braking later into a corner, or going wide on a corner and carrying more speed round the outside then cutting back in while the pack is stretched out and there are plenty of gaps as everybody gets back up to speed. Or looking out for riders who are more aggressive than me and jumping on their wheel as they move up - northern Europeans are great for this, the Dutch and Belgians seem to grow up doing elbow to elbow racing on technical courses! I also tend to avoid courses that I know don’t suit me - events with large fields and fast narrow courses where there’s minimal opportunity to move up round the outside aren’t really my thing. I much prefer either a wide course where there is space to make some moves, or one with enough climbing and corners to break the pack up and give me gaps to move into. Though narrow with climbs can also be a problem as if you’re not near the front you can easily find yourself blocked in when a gap forms or a break goes on a climb.

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I love the analogy to queue jumping: I can picture us British moving up the pack going “Excuse me, sorry, sorry, excuse me” :grin:



Sadly the reality is a little more 18 certificate!! Not many niceties exchanged in a bunch going full gas in a British road race!!

If this is something you’re new to, I’d suggest watching the British Cycling RaceSmart series of videos. Also do some club runs and chaingang rides if you can. There’s lots of etiquette involved in riding safely in a bunch and lots of ways people communicate - from hand signals to shouts. The bunch generally appreciate how dangerous road racing actually is and look after one another. The more experienced the field, the safer I’ve felt racing.

I’d suggest looking for some races with smaller fields, closed circuit/crit races to try and learn the skills needed. Make sure you have some bunch riding experience beforehand though. Expect to be shouted at, but also expect it to all be forgotten once the race is over!!

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conversely, I have found that moving backwards through the pack came to me quite easily.


The school of fish analogy is actually a pretty good one. Somehow it just seems to work out and everyone manages to not run into each other or crash 99.9% of the time.

A big tip is to look for opportunities to move up when the pack is slowing down. It is often possible to make a huge move just by pedaling a few seconds longer than everyone else or even while coasting. Be safe of course, but have the mindset you’re going to be the last guy to slow down. Most courses will have parts where the pack tends to slow. Identify those and be ready.

I have seen riders give another rider a little pat/tap on the bum, just to let them know that they’re there. Usually this is well received and I’ve even heard one rider shout ’I could do with a push too’. This isn’t a shove or in anyway aggressive.

The closer you are to the front, the easier things seem to get. Most riders want to be off the front/out of the wind and they’ll happily let you move up.

If you’re really not feeling it, sit towards the edge of the pack. You’ll have room to adjust, a good line-of-sight and be in a great position if you fancy burning a match or two :+1:

I see people do this and absolutely hate it. Leave your hands on the bars. If you need to touch/push someone to make space you’re doing it wrong and by taking your hands off the bars you’re opening yourself to additional risk

As others have said - you’re in charge of your own front wheel, as is everyone else. This means if you can’t see someone in your peripheral vision while looking straight ahead they are behind you and it is their job to protect their front wheel from you.

Don’t make sudden lateral movements, be predictable, and constantly be trying to figure out how you’re going to move up a spot or two because everyone behind you is doing the same thing.

The easiest ways to move up in lower categories are often on the side of the pack as people won’t pedal through a turn or slow down too soon going into one. Having the fastest open line is often better than having the fastest optimal line because people on that line may be caught by inexperienced riders in front of them slowing down unnecessarily


You develop an awareness of the movement of the riders surrounding you and the pack in general. Being predictable is what keeps everyone safe.

Books are probably written about this but, the best way to learn is by experience. With that said, looking over your shoulder generally leads to you swerving the way you look which is a very bad thing in the middle of a group. Since it’s impossible not to overlap wheels just remember you are responsible for your front wheel always. Riders in front have the right of way so-to-speak. Not that that gives them cart blanche to do what they want but, if they are predictable and smooth they can move left, right etc…as needed.

Agreed, if you’re trying to make space. If however you’re trying to let someone know you’re there, I don’t have an issue. Rather that than hitting the deck.

I know, this made me chuckle as well. If you are moving up on the outside though its definitely helpful for safety purposes to say ’ 33, just on your left’ to stop rider 33 moving out and putting you on the grass for example.

the outside line thing. So true and you can move up a bunch WITH NO EXTRA ENERGY!! this is what you want to be trying to do again and again and can be a nice thing to focus on to take your mind off the burning legs and lungs.

  • Generally spaces open up naturally, I keep an eye out for them and use them as an opportunity to move up safely.
  • Sometimes an opportunity arises to move near the front for free (sub-threshold watts), I take it.
  • When it gets a bit tight I avoid sudden movements, and I have ocassionally pointed/signalled that I intend to move laterally. I sometimes get a shout back to acknowledge.
  • I have sometimes glanced over my shoulder to have an idea of what’s behind me.
  • I’ll shout inside or outside if I’m moving up on the inside/outside or if I think the rider to my left might not be aware of my presence.

I alluded to this in the thread about taking pulls, but if you want to move up, never do it by sticking your nose in the wind (unless absolutely 100% necessary). If you want to move up, chances are that others do to…just wait until someone else starts to move up and grab their wheel. Patience is key…trust me, someone will come along. They always do.

Also keep your eyes up the road…as someone else noted, by reading the race, you can move up without expending too much energy. Don’t focus on the rider in front of you, watch the front of the race for clues to upcoming moves and how you can react.

I was a decent crit rider back in the day (25 years ago). It took me about 3 years to master riding in the top 10-20 for the whole race.

First, always get to the start line a few minute early so you can be on the front at the start.

For me the most effective thing was to learn how to surf the front of the pack. Usually that was coming through the middle, taking a short pull and then moving down the side of the pack. As soon as you find an opening in the top 15 get back in and repeat. It’s way easier to take a short pull than to try to move up a pack from 80th back. If you are 80th back, your race is probably over as it’s almost impossible to get back to the front.

I raced in Northern California in the 90s. The fields were big. You had to have good pack riding skills to even have a chance to sprint at the end. If you are in a smaller area with packs of 25 riders and/or wide open roads then you have many more options. If you are stronger than average you can sit on wheels the whole way and then come up at the end.

I did some races in France where the roads where so narrow that the race was practically won/lost on the start line. If you weren’t at the front at the start, forget it. You’d be two or three turns behind the lead group within the first 5 minutes of the race.

Just checked out British Cycling RaceSmart series, great set of videos.