Cycling road etiquette part 1

As a cyclist you probably know basic road safety and the rules of the road when it comes to sharing the way with drivers and pedestrians. But are you sure you know how to ride safely on group rides? 

Cycling etiquette

What is road etiquette?

Cycling etiquette is basically about being predictable on the road and occupying the space other people expect you to be in. It’s of far greater importance to road cyclists than gravel or mountain bikers because off-road there is no left or right side.

Why does etiquette on group rides matter?

road cycling etiquette

Pro Cycling Outlet owner, Dave Walsh has seen it all over the years of leading group rides pre-pandemic when he’d take 1500-2000 people a year out on the roads around Girona on the Costa Brava. At first, as a Brit, he was surprised how culturally different cycling road etiquette is.

“In the UK,’ he says, “road bikers generally ride through the club system but less so here [in Spain]. Saturday or Sunday group rides with your club is a big deal and how to behave on the roads is drilled into you by someone who’s usually called Clive or Nigel.” 

When you think that a big group could easily occupy a kilometre of road, a lot of accidents can happen as a result of not giving or not understanding the hand signals. Or, worse, riding in ways that are fine as an individual but potentially deadly in a group. 

Group riding in an individual sport like cycling requires a completely different mindset, not just for safety, but so as not to be “that” rider. “You’re not going to make any friends if you half wheel the leader,” warns Dave. So if you’re wondering what to do and not do on a road ride, read on.

What is half wheeling?

road cycling etiquette

Riding next to and slightly in front of another cyclist, about half a wheel ahead, is really annoying. It makes it look like you’re trying to dominate and makes them feel like they’re playing catch up. If you’re doing it to the leader, it inevitably makes them pick up the pace, forcing everyone to go faster. 

Instead, on roads where it’s OK to cycle side-by-side, like B-roads, stay handlebar to handlebar. Otherwise everyone will hate you but they won’t necessarily tell you what you’ve done wrong. 

Plus, overlapping wheels with the rider in front means you’ll get knocked off your bike if that rider changes direction, causing a nasty pile up.

Leading the group

road cycling etiquette

Just like at a packed bar where everyone knows who’s next in the “queue” and takes their turn appropriately, group rides have unwritten rules about turn-taking at the front. 

On rides where there’s a designated leader, you shouldn’t half wheel or pass them. But where there's no leader, etiquette means everyone should lead part of the time because the front rider is working as much as 30% harder than everyone else.  While they’re battling wind resistance, the group collectively conserves energy by tucking into the rider in front of them. When the leader gets tired, they will drift back and allow the next rider to lead, and so on. 

As far as the unwritten rules go, it’s better form to shorten the time you take in the front position than to slow down and affect the speed of the group. So, if you’re tired, peel off to the side as soon as you need to, and drift back and you won’t be “that” rider. Likewise, if you’re super-fit and full of energy, take a longer turn rather than set a faster pace that everyone is then obliged to match.

For more on safety, have a read of Part 2 of this article where we look at vitally important hand and verbal signals on group rides.

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