Drive the streets of Auckland on any Saturday morning, and you'll soon come across a bunch of cyclists out for their morning ride. I've been told it's important for me to get some experience at bunch riding before tackling the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge on November 24. After all, there can be anywhere up to 10,000 cyclists sharing the road around Lake Taupo on race day.
There are a number of benefits to mastering the art of bunch riding - which is basically cycling amongst a pretty tight group of riders, as opposed to going it alone. The main advantage of bunch riding is the opportunity to draft off other riders. What that means is tucking in behind the rider in front of you which helps reduce your wind resistance. Even on a mild day, drafting helps. Riders take turns cycling in front of the bunch and then drop to the back of the pack which enables them to rest. I'm told by my friend and cycling master, Jason Waterhouse, that drafting can reduce your energy usage by up to 30 per cent. That in turn, allows you to ride a much further distance at a faster speed.
Jason helps lead a Saturday morning bunch ride on Auckland's North Shore and recently I went along to join in, with a little trepidation. A speedster I am not, and to be honest I was a little worried they'd all leave me for dead. It's important to do your research when looking to join a cycling group. Make sure they suit your own ability, or at least find a group that is supportive of newbees. A good group will have a 'no drop' policy, which means they'll have an experienced rider who constantly sits at the back of the group, behind the slowest rider. The group should obey the road rules and only ride two abreast. The riders in front will keep a lookout for any obstacles or hazards they see ahead - they'll normally yell out or use hand signals to those behind. They're like one big family looking out for each other.
Jason's group was friendly and very welcoming and I instantly felt at ease. Just as I suspected though, most of the group did leave me for dead. However, Jason stayed by my side so he could give me a few tips on drafting and bunch riding. I quickly learnt there's a big difference between riding solo and learning to pedal closely to other people. I felt like one wrong move and I could end up causing my little group to collapse in a heap on top of me.
A few tips from Jason soon helped calm my nerves. He gets me to sit about half a wheel's distance behind the rider in front of me, and points out that I shouldn't be looking down at their wheel, rather to focus my attention ahead to the riders in front. That way, I'll be able to see any changes in direction, hazards, or changes to other cyclists in my group, and therefore be ready to respond accordingly. Jason's group navigates a 40km ride around the streets of Takapuna and Devonport, taking a small break at the top of North Head before tackling Mount Victoria. The hills might be killer but the view of our beautiful city on this bright sunny morning takes my breath away - and the pain from my legs too.