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Team WNT ride out technique for road cyclists

Road Cycling Skills

Corners, Cobbles and Obstacles: Jo Tindley of WNT on Bunch Riding Skills

Feel nervous about riding with others around you? We've got some expert advice...

Bunch riding can be nerve racking – feeling scared when riding in close quarters is an experience most cyclists can understand, even if it’s not something they suffer from themselves.

However, if you want to take part in group rides, join a train of fast moving cyclists on a sportive, or even try your hand at racing, then it’s essential to develop the skills required to sit safely in the bunch without causing concern or disruption to the peloton.

People often say the best way to learn is to get stuck in and do it, but it’s always a good idea to back up your practical learning with a little theory.

We caught up with road racer Jo Tindley to get her tips for dealing with the top three obstacles that we come across when riding in a pack. Tindley has been on and off the race circuit for close to fifteen years and rides for the Team WNT Cycling UK, an elite women’s outfit formed in 2014 and supported by metal cutting company, WNT, as well as Specialized bikes and Pearl Izumi clothing.

Photo 08-06-2016, 18 28 26
Team TWC editor Michelle with Team WNT and guests on Portsmouth sea front

Obstacles in the road

Obstacles in the road – traffic islands, drains, pot holes – can cause problems if riders don’t communicate them to those behind. However you can’t always rely upon the person in front of you.

Road Cycling Hand Signals and Calls for Group Rides 

As Tindley points out, most road furniture is removed before a criterium race – many take place on closed circuits that are well maintained. However, that’s not the case on sportives which see a larger rate of participation.

Popular sportive Ride London, for example, features a lot of road furniture over the first 20 miles in the form of traffic islands, as well as consisting of many riders not used to the bunch format – so it’s well worth making sure you are in the know.

Point out the dangers

Even in a race, riders will try to protect those behind, and on a sportive or group ride it’s expected that you will gesture what’s ahead. Tindley says: “In crit races you rarely get road furniture, but the first few laps you’ll signal out drain covers and so on. You’re courteous to those behind you. By the time it gets nitty gritty you learn the course. In big road races, people signal to be cautious to people behind. In a group ride, it’s basic riding etiquette to do so.”

Look ahead

Ideally, the rider ahead will make you aware if there’s something to be wary of. However, it doesn’t always happen – so you also need to be conscious of what’s going on in front of you.

Tindley said: “If you’re in the middle of the group and looking forward you’ll see the bunch move [if there’s an obstacle]. Don’t look at the wheel ahead, I’m generally looking about 4, 5 or 6 riders ahead. Any sharp movements should be seen as a warning – it’s like when you’re driving your car and see brake lights ahead of you, it sets off warning lights in your head. It’s the same thing, if you see any sharp movement in a bunch it generally spells trouble, and you have to be able to react to it – so don’t grab a handful of brakes.”

She adds: “I don’t particularly focus on anything – you need to have an awareness of what’s around you more generally.”

Corners

Corners can present a major obstacle for beginners. The ultimate way to improve is to practice – ride with people you know can corner, and sit on their wheel, following their movements and asking for advice.

How to Corner a Road Bike at Speed 

However, there are some lessons that you can learn on paper (or screen) – Tindley takes us through the basics.

Relax

It might seem counter intuitive to relax when you’re at your most nervous – but actually so much cornering technique comes from how you use your body weight, and restricting yourself by tensing can be detrimental. Tindley says: “The first thing I see a lot is people not relaxing at corners. I noticed at a recent race there was one lady who would tense up as soon as we came into any corners. Relaxing is a really big thing, relax the arms and be low on the bike.”

Look where you want to go

The saying ‘look down, and that’s where you’ll go’ is based in truth. How you hold your body weight massively affects how you take a corner, and of course if your eyes aren’t on the road ahead you have problems. Tindley says: “Looking ahead to where you want to exit the corner [is important too]. When you’re coming in, you need to be looking ahead, and going as wide as you can to hit the apex, to try and make it as straight a line as possible.”

Be aware and move with the bunch

The ideal way to take a corner is to enter wide, hit the apex, and exit wide. However, in a large bunch that’s not always an option: “I know the lines I want to take, the best line is a straight line, but in a bunch you can’t always do that. You have to corner with everyone else, it’s like you’re on rails, you have to be aware of everyone around you, who is on your inside, who is on your outside – and you have to be looking ahead as well in case someone brakes ahead of you. You have to move with the bunch.”

Get in gear

Finally, when keeping all of the above in mind, it’s easy to let gearing go out the window – but you will make your life more difficult. You’ll lose speed as you corner, meaning if you’re still in the same gear, you may find you meet with more resistance than you’d like on the exit.

How to Use Your Gears Efficiently 

Tindley says: “You need to be thinking about your speed coming into the corner, and thinking about your gearing as well. For example, if I have a sharp corner before a hill, I’d drop down two gears so that when I exit I can be ready to kick out, then once I’ve got momentum going I’ll change up the gears. If you over-gear yourself coming out of the corner, it’s a lot of effort and do it a lot of times, and you’ll fatigue yourself. Think forward – you know something’s coming up – so change down the gears in advance.”

Cobbles and uneven roads

Whatever your level of experience, you’ll no doubt have come across a section of road that made you feel distinctly unstable. Cobbles are probably the worst, but gravel stretches or even sections with lots of pot holes can be hard to negotiate.

The video above shows just how much the bike is affected by a rough surface – so it’s clear you’re going to need to adjust your riding…

Higher gear

Tindley shares her tips: “You need to be pushing a bigger gear, and pressing on a little bit over them, if you start spinning you start bouncing all over the bike and you’re not smooth.”

Hand position

Hand position is crucial to comfort and security – but it’s personal too: “A lot of people if you watch the pros, they sit on the tops, but you’re not near your grips and have less control, so personally I prefer riding on the drops. I’ve got speed shifters [extra shifters on the drops] so I can change gear if I need to, and can use my brakes if I need to. A lot of our first early season races were in Belgium and there were cobbles, and personally I prefer being in the drops in a bigger gear. You get riders coming past on the hoods, but then they have less control.”

Look out for alternatives

Finally, of course it makes sense to look out for alternatives – Tindley says: “Always be looking ahead, and look for the smoothest line. Sometimes there’s a gutter, which is quite smooth, so you ride in the gutter.”

You light also like: 

Sigma Sport Women’s Race Team: Warming Up and Juggling Double Race Days

10 Tips for Riders Thinking of Crit and Road Racing This Year

Loosen Up: How to Relax on a Road Bike

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