Reprint of cycling column from New England Sports Magazine
Good Manners Can Lead To a Great Ride
by Tom Catalini
You give up your seat on the train for elderly or pregnant passengers. You put your cell phone on vibrate at the movies. You even help little old ladies to cross the street. But, how is your behavior on the bike?
Cycling etiquette can be a difficult to learn. After all, mom and dad probably didn’t spend a lot of time teaching you about group riding skills. And, observing other cyclists’ behavior can often lead you to the wrong conclusions. Let’s go over a few of the basics of group riding etiquette, which revolves largely around two issues: safety, and working together.
If you’ve ever been on a group ride you’ve probably noticed that hand signals are used heavily in cycling. It is courteous, and necessary for the safety of the group, that riders in the front clearly point out obstacles and signal upcoming turns, stops, and the need to slow down. If you’re behind those riders, you should not only heed those signals, but repeat them for the benefit of those behind you.
As riders rotate through the group, you’ll eventually make your way to the front. When it’s your turn to “take a pull” at the front, avoid surging forward. When taking over the lead it can feel like you should start pedaling really hard to do your part, but surging forward causes a chain reaction. Everyone else in the group will need to expend a lot of energy to match that surge when they should instead be resting up for their turn at the front. To avoid the surge, simply note your speed as the lead rider in front of you pulls off and maintain that same speed as you take over the lead position.
When you’re on the front, envision the group as a snake. You’re the head, leading the way, but you also need to make sure the rest of your body travels along safely behind you. This is not the time to try to catch a light or beat a car through an intersection, bunny hop potholes, or swerve suddenly around some broken glass. As the leader, your riding should be smooth and predictable so that others can easily and safely follow along. Use a wide, sweeping path to travel around obstacles. Anticipate upcoming hazards further in advance and start reacting to them earlier.
As the head of the snake, you should also approach hills a little differently. Go uphill a little slower than you would normally, and come down faster than you would normally. In a line of riders, everyone doesn’t hit the hill at the same time so slowing down a bit on the uphill can help riders behind you avoid surges to keep up. On the downhill side, the riders behind you are not only benefiting from riding in your draft, they’re also now going downhill. They’ll quickly bunch up behind you and need to use their brakes a lot unless you keep the pace high.
When it’s time to pull off the front, maintain your speed and move off to the left while you signal to the rider behind you that you are pulling off and not avoiding an obstacle. Flicking your right elbow or waving your right hand forward usually does the trick. As you approach the back of the group, the last rider should let you know he or she is last by saying “last rider.” This will help you to prepare to latch onto the back of the group more smoothly. Similarly, you should call out “last rider” for the next rider who comes to the back after his or her turn at the front.
As the ride goes on, it’s ok to take a short pull at the front if you’re getting tired. Pulling off the front is better for the group than slowing everybody down. Also, when drifting to the back, fill in a gap if one has opened up in the line due to a surge or tired rider. There’s nothing rude about pulling into a gap in the middle of the line rather than heading all the way to the back. You’re actually helping to keep the group together by helping to close that gap in the line. Just signal your intentions so folks know what to expect.
You and your group will have more fun if everyone pays attention to safety, works together, and communicates hazards and intentions consistently and clearly.