Cycling Etiquette

The president of the cycling club I belong to usually takes the lead in organizing club rides. He traditionally starts the Sunday morning ride, which is our “main” ride of the week. He’s got years of riding experience under his pedals, and is happy to share his ideas about cycling with anyone.

Last week, he posted on our club Yahoo group some points of cycling etiquette. He gave me permission to use them on the blog. “They may or may not work for you,” he wrote, “but at least you will know why I am doing what I am doing the next time we ride together.” Here they are:

•Passing other cyclists on either the right or left is OK as long as you can safely get by. Corollary: if there is no room to pass on either side then passing is not OK.

•You are responsible for your own behavior: as opposed to “I ran the red light because someone else on the ride did it too.” If your friends all jumped off a bridge would you do it too? (Sorry, I forgot who I was speaking to. Of course some of you would!)

•If you hit someone from behind it is primarily your fault.

•If someone hits you from behind it may still be just a bit of your own fault (esp. if you vary your well established line abruptly), but it is still primarily the person behind you who didn’t give enough room for your unexpected behavior who should bear responsibility for the crash.

•Calling our “On Your Left,” etc. will more often than not cause the person you are planning to pass to turn his or her head that way. As goes the head so goes the bike. If you do that nine times and get by safely and then once you come to grief, well then it is still mostly your own fault and memories of those other nine safe passages will fade before your road rash.

•Among riders who are very familiar with each other, a gentle touch on the passing side hip will alert the rider in front to the fact that you are coming by and it all should happen like clockwork. (Warning: Don’t touch strangers; they may not like it.)

•If you come upon a group of riders in single file you must make absolutely sure that:

A. You are welcome in that line,

B. You have the skill and ability to negotiate your turns in the line (ride along behind and to the side for at least one whole rotation of the line to be sure you aren’t getting in over your head), and

C. There is adequate room for you to slide in safely (that means a gap of ~1.5 bike lengths if you are all experienced riders: give more room if any of the affected parties are less experienced in pace line dynamics).

•Under no circumstances should you assume any of the above. Make darn sure it’s a fit before you throw your personal monkey wrench into their gears. If you cram into a line of riders unannounced or unwelcomed, or unsafely, you should expect to get an earful. Cyclists are not generally well known for self-editing.

•If you hear this complaint more than once you should assume you are guilty and fix your problem.

•Most Bikes don’t have brake lights to let riders behind know that you are going to suddenly slow down (If yours does, trust me, nobody knows what they are for).

•Good riders can pick up on the audio and visual cues when someone in front takes pressure off the pace but if you hit those brakes you will rapidly find very close company from the rear about whom you may have been, until just then, blissfully unaware.

•When you are planning to hit the brakes you should make that announcement orally and, if you can do so without increasing the risk, with a hand signal (hand raised, palm forward, like a cavalry captain for the entire peloton, or held palm facing out behind your saddle for just the rider immediately behind you).

•If you need to touch your brakes suddenly you should be well aware that the person behind you will find your deceleration problematic and you may want to consider first altering your own line (if you can do that safely without cutting off an overlapping wheel) to give all of you more room to breathe.

•When you are in a large group on a narrow winding road it makes sense to stay together to establish a substantial visual impact on passing motorists.

•However, if you find cars stacked up behind the group you will find it easier to wave them past if your group is not so large that it blocks visibility of the road ahead. Consider breaking into more, smaller groups to give cars a chance to get by safely.

•On this same topic, if the group is too large for a following car (or even cyclists at the back of the group) to see the front rider waving a left arm for a safe pass then the group may need to be broken into smaller segments.

•And if the riders in the middle are too far from the rear of the group to even know there is a car looking to pass, then your group might be too large.

•It’s not about rights or owning the road, it’s about not causing a problem situation in which you will be severely disadvantaged. Car>>Bike in terms of F=M*A. That’s higher math for “OUCH!” and “OH NO, MY COSTLY BIKE IS DESTROYED!”

He continues: “You probably have your own set of rules for keeping safe. Please share them. Making sure others around you know how you plan to behave in tight circumstances can only help those rules to do their intended job, i.e. keep you safe.

“If your personal rules differ from mine I’m happy to hear it. If your logic is convincing I’ll most likely steal your ideas and claim to have invented them myself.

“But, if your plan is to take unwarranted chances, exposing yourself and others around you to needless risk, then you should not expect willing company in that adventure except as it may involve others who could represent a hazard to themselves and you with their own Brownian Motion bike handling skills.”

Your thoughts, Bike Noob readers?


  1. says

    First, living in New England, I’m envious of anyone who’s still riding. I haven’t quite put my gear away yet, hoping for a sunny day, but I see the end of the season coming.

    That said, this is helpful. I have not done any group rides, but once over the summer I happened to meet up with a guy who was obviously a veteran. We rode together for about 15 or 20 miles, and I noticed that he would make little hand signals, would drop back at certain points, pull up at others, etc. I didn’t get a chance to ask him about the signals, but I’ve discovered that local rides drill people in how to use them so there’s no mass confusion when the newbs join in.

  2. says

    I marvel at you all that can ride a “pace line”, not for me, I can barely handle riding in single file on a Social Ride. I like lot’s of space and since I’m not race traning, I don’t care to draft or have someone draft me. I understand the rules listing but to me, it’s just a accident waiting to happen. Jmho, ymmv, have a most excellent day!

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