What to expect on your first bunch ride

I had seen the bunches riding down Melbourne's Beach Road before, and I would be lying if I said they weren't intimidating!

In hindsight—having just joined my first bunch ride—I think this was due to not understanding how group riding worked. By finding the right group to join, it can be an incredibly enjoyable experience!

I had been riding solo or with a friend for a few months and finally plucked up the courage to join my first organised group ride with Bicycle Network's Womens Community.

I had so many questions running through my head prior to the ride – What do I wear? Will I be able to keep up? (and What if I can’t?) Will I be getting in the way? What happens if I get a flat? Just to name a few! But I had made the commitment, was meeting with a friend and was determined to not back out.

Here's what you can expect when joining for the first time...

The briefing

We arrived early and were welcomed to the ride by the SKCC (St Kilda Cycling Club) ride leader, Alison. I immediately felt at ease as she introduced us to what to expect from the ride.

Alison led the ride briefing which included; outlining the route that we would be taking, introducing other ride leaders who also knew the route and covering the basics of how to ride in a group (very handy for us first timers).

There was clearly a lot to consider whilst riding in ‘the bunch’, from being predictable and looking up (rather than getting fixated on rear wheel of the rider in front) to being in constant communication with the other riders.

Key calls to communicate included identifying hazards, moving to single file if required, letting the group know of cars approaching and most importantly stopping/slowing calls.

Check out our ‘group riding basics’ article to learn more on calls and hand signals.

We quickly learnt that what the riders at the front of the bunch do affect those further back – it's essential for them to keep pedaling consistently, oh and to take off easy from the lights (Phew!).

The average pace of the ride was 20 – 25km/h and this was always respected. It was a no drop ride with ride leaders at the front and back so nobody was left behind.

The ride

Once the briefing was done and all questions answered, we rolled-out at a social pace. We formed ‘the bunch’ riding two abreast and started very social (aka slow) ‘rolling turns’ (these are when the riders at the front rotate). But don’t worry, as a newbie I wasn't expected to take a turn at the front. This also means that you move through the bunch and get a new rider next to you each time. I found myself to be concentrating a lot so I didn’t chat much but everyone kept me in the right place and gave me some good tips. After feeling a bit shaky at the start I soon settled into a good rhythm.

Fast forward to our turning point and bakery stop and here I took the opportunity to chat to some of the other newer riders, there were so many ‘firsts’ being achieved on the ride it was great to hear everyone’s stories:

  • the longest ride they had been on
  • the first time wearing cleats
  • first time on a group ride and many more.

I certainly wasn’t the only newbie! Equally the experienced riders in the group all wanted to share their knowledge and let us know about other club rides, different paces, breathing techniques and how to get up the hill we were about to ascend (for every down there sure is an up!) Some of us stopped a couple of times on the way up the hill but that was no problem and everyone waited at the top.

On the way back we split into two groups, one who would continue riding 'no drop' and a second group who wanted more of a tempo pace. I went with the latter and the experience of the riders really showed, I felt very lucky to be able to ride in such a smooth group, they were clearly used to riding together. The return ride was a fantastic experience. I felt very safe surrounded by experienced riders and was amazed how fast we went! As I moved up the bunch I even took a short turn at the front towards the end of the ride – I think I could smell the coffee!

Post ride coffee

A post ride coffee and pastry is a bike riding tradition and one I wasn’t going to miss out on! I had done the hard yards and for the last few kms coffee and cake had certainly been on my mind.

Apparently drinking coffee post ride has its benefits (you don’t have to ask me twice) and it was just great to chat to the others on the ride, laugh about the morning, share our experiences, and arrange the next ride!

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