Road riding is growing in popularity, and this is a positive development. With the masses come an assortment of people and personalities, life experience, athletic ability.
Cyclists everywhere meet up at local parks, bike, and coffee shops to share their love of the sport. Group rides are a great motivator and fun, but there is an unspoken code of etiquette just like other social situations.
What makes up the code? And are you guilty of violating one or more of its silent rules?
Here is some important group riding etiquette that every cyclist should know.
- Do arrive early and introduce yourself
- Do say hello
- Do be self-sufficient
- Do stow your stuff securely
- Do ride in a predictable manner
- Do mind the gap
- Do move away to blow your nose or spit
- Do respect the group’s pace
- Do pull longer, not harder
- Do remember, it’s not a race
- Do use hand signals and point out road hazards
- Do keep your hands on the handlebars, always
- Do know when not to talk
- Don’t ride a noisy bike
- Don’t bring the aerobar, TT, and single speed bike
- Don’t ride more than two abreast
- Don’t freewheel
- Don’t half-wheel
- Don’t ride with headphones
- Don’t jump the red lights
- Don’t overtake on the inside
- Don’t be a whiner
- Don’t wear threadbare clothing
Do arrive early and introduce yourself
Whether you ride your bike to join the group or drive, be on time. Parachuting in at the last minute and rushing to get yourself and your bike ready while others wait is bad manners.
You hold up the group and the schedule. You may have nothing to do afterward, but what about the rest of the bunch?
Arrive early enough to introduce yourself and have a chat with the other riders. Take this opportunity to ask about the route, pre-assigned stops or waiting points, the general pace, etc.
Do say hello
I’m at a loss why some riders don’t say hello or acknowledge other cyclists or groups. If you are passing someone or being passed, say hello, wave your hand, nod your head, something. Try at least.
A broken-down cyclist on the side of the road?
Check if they need something. Maybe they have a flat tire, or their chain broke, and they don’t have the right tool. A little help can go a long way.
We are all in this sport together and should act like it.
Do be self-sufficient
Road rides require a certain amount of clothing, tools, water, and nutrition to make them successful. The longer and harder the ride, the more you need to be prepared.
Don’t rely on others for a gel, a spare tube, borrow their pump or CO2 Inflator, ask for water, or a jacket to get you through. Once in a while is fine when you get caught out, but don’t build a rep!
Do stow your stuff securely
Are your things securely stowed in your pockets? Is your saddlebag hanging on a thread? Are your water bottle cages tight and lights properly installed?
They may seem like a small thing, but objects that fall when riding in a group can cause damage to other people’s bikes, or worse, provoke an accident.
Do ride in a predictable manner
Road cycling involves riding in a straight line unless diverting your path to avoid obstacles or descending a twisty road. It’s vital to ride predictably to keep the group safe and together.
The person behind you is following your lead, so don’t brake suddenly, swerve unexpectedly, or otherwise ride like a squirrel.
Keep it straight and steady.
Do mind the gap
Maintaining a tight formation when you’re riding in a group is important for speed and efficiency. The larger the gap between riders, the slower and the least efficient the group will be.
Do your part by not opening a gap between you and the rider in front, especially when everyone is working hard. If you’re out of gas, safely move out of the pack to the back.
Do move away to blow your nose or spit
For anything involving bodily fluids, don’t afflict it on others.
If you don’t have a tissue and you have to blow your nose, use your clothing. If you’re going for the forcible blow method, please, please, please move out of the paceline first, and then drop off to the back to do what you have to do.
The same goes for spitting. If you’ve swallowed a bug or have to spit, raise your shoulders like a shrug, raise your left elbow a bit, and do the deed under your arm, practically grazing your armpit. This will send your spit directly towards the ground and not in the wind or onto someone else.
Do respect the group’s pace
Different groups ride at different levels and for particular reasons (i.e., beginners, recovery ride).
If you find the speed isn’t your liking, drop out and ride on your own or find another group instead of pushing the pace. You don’t get to set the group speed; the group does, so get with it or be on your way.
Do pull longer, not harder
We feel stronger on some days than others. If today is that day, do more work at the front by taking longer pulls.
Riding at the front takes about 30% more energy than being in the group. Your job is to keep the pace steady, avoid unnecessary braking, and lead the group. Pulling longer and not harder is a great workout, and you’ll earn respect from the rest of the group.
Do remember, it’s not a race
You’ve been riding in the back all day and have taken no turns up front, but now the group is in the final stretch back to the barn, and you’ve attacked, guns blazing.
It’s not a race, and if you have that much energy at the end, you weren’t doing enough during the ride. It’s called a group or bunch ride for a reason.
Do use hand signals and point out road hazards
You may not know the official hand signals, but you can communicate the direction you intend you go.
Hand signals aren’t just for left and right turns. When moving out of the paceline, they’re essential to show you’re slowing down, red lights and intersections, pointing out slower riders and other obstacles on the road for others to avoid.
If someone is behind you, you’re the responsible party.
Do keep your hands on the handlebars, always
Riding in a group requires being in close quarters, and others are inches away from your handlebars and rear wheel. Removing your hands from your bars may cause your bike to stray just enough to strike a rider around you.
If you need a free hand(s) for something, plan ahead and safely move out of the group instead of potentially bringing it down.
Do know when not to talk
Having a conversation is a great way to pass the time when on a group ride, especially if it’s a long or flat route. Chatting is a fantastic way to learn something, get to know others, and share a joke or a story.
However, there is a time and a place for everything. When and if things get down to business, it’s time to clam up.
Some cyclists use their time on the bike to reflect, work out certain problems. Constant chatter and banter can be annoying, especially when you’re not fit and try to keep up. If the person next to you isn’t too chatty, take the hint, try silence, or move next to someone else.
Don’t ride a noisy bike
Most road cyclists have little tolerance for phantom noises and rattling coming from their bikes when they’re riding alone. The irritation amplifies when out in a group.
Lube your chain, stop those brake pads from rubbing or squealing, tighten loose bolts and pinpoint the source of that mysterious creaking or knocking.
Don’t bring the aerobar, TT, and single speed bike
Time trial bikes and aerobars don’t belong on group rides because their handling can be sketchy, and the rider position impairs braking.
While it is possible to ride a single speed in a group successfully, take a good look at your single speed skills to evaluate if you’re up to it. If not, you’ll constantly be blowing the group apart as your lag at some points and surge on others.
Don’t ride more than two abreast
A large group can be a road hazard, a swarm of cyclists destined to annoy the heck out of some drivers. Keep it tidy and ride only two abreast for the group’s safety.
Two is also often the maximum allowed by local road regulations. And double-line groups are more visible to oncoming traffic and easier to overtake by cars when the opposite lane is clear.
A peloton works as a group, so it’s essential to keep the rhythm going.
If you sit up (stop pedaling) while the others are pedaling, your bike goes backward. It can kill the tempo and be detrimental when climbing, especially when you catch others off guard.
Freewheeling also leads to half-wheeling from behind, which is dangerous and can cause crashes.
A rider next to or behind you that is half-wheeling is a major pain for everyone, except the person doing it.
It’s a constant message they don’t think you’re going fast enough for them and pressures everyone to ramp up the pace. It’s rude and dangerous too, so pay attention to your front wheel and don’t do it.
Don’t ride with headphones
No headphones. Ever.
Cyclists need all of their concentration and 100% of their available senses to ride safely in a group. If you want to rock out, not miss any calls, or catch up on that podcast you like, then ride on your own.
Don’t jump the red lights
Bicycles are considered vehicles and are required by law to respect red lights and other traffic signals. If you want to ride through a red light when riding alone, that’s at your own risk.
When in a group, safety comes first, so don’t do it.
Don’t overtake on the inside
If you need to overtake a slower rider in front of you, do so to the outside, which should be in the same direction as the traffic flow.
Before you overtake, look behind you and verify that no vehicles are on coming. Then signal to the rest of the group and make your move.
Don’t be a whiner
We don’t ride in a group solely for exercise; it’s supposed to be fun.
Don’t be a wet blanket by complaining about the speed, climbing hills, the weather (if it’s yucky), or anything else. If you’re feeling down, concentrate on being out in nature and focusing on the positive things in life instead of being a sour puss.
It’s a better use of your energy and won’t bum out others either.
Don’t wear threadbare clothing
Wearing unwashed clothing that stinks to high heaven is not okay. The odor doesn’t linger around you; it wafts to those behind you.
No one wants to be a victim of your nasty B.O. And let’s talk about those threadbare, see-through shorts. Others don’t want to look at your caboose in that much detail for the entire ride.
Cycling shorts have a life. Get some new ones!
Alex Lee is the founder and editor-at-large of Mr. Mamil. Coming from a professional engineering background, he breaks down technical cycling nuances into an easy-to-understand and digestible format here.
He has been riding road bikes actively for the past 12 years and started racing competitively in the senior category during the summer recently.