"Must Do" Cycling Etiquette
Do these things on your next ride to make you a better cyclist and human being.
To the untrained eye, observing and watching cyclists is pretty straightforward. It’s just an individual or group pedaling somewhere. At best, it’s inspiring and liberating and at worst, well the worst of humanity emerges with hate, disdain and impatience. When riding solo or in groups there are many layers to be pulled back to reveal a new pattern of behavior you never noticed before. Once you have bought into the cycling culture, the learning curve seems to never end. In fact cycling is one of those sports that turn into a rabbit hole of information learned and then practiced.
Unfortunately, cycling seems to get a bit of a bad reputation because of all of the unwritten rules that go along with the sport that are there exist for other people to judge you. In many cases people often view things as elitist with someone on the bike for not having the right amount of stem spacers or wearing a team kit that they are not on. There are helmet evangelists, fashion divas, weight weenies, power dorks and grumpy MAMIL’s (Middle Aged Men In Lycra) all with their own sense of etiquette and values but there are many things in cycling that apply to anyone that pedals.
What we are covering is a universal code that cyclists can and should share with others around them. Call it etiquette, manners or just plain rules. While most behaviors are relative, I think we can all agree that there are just some things we should and shouldn’t do while we are out there. There are a million protocols but here are a few of my favorites.
1. Acknowledge Other Cyclists
Whether you are passing someone (on the left) or seeing someone on a bike, unicycle, tandem or time trial bike, wave, nod your head, lift your head, stick out two fingers. You are both out there getting exercise doing something you love. Cycling is a community and by letting someone know you share a common bond, in the form of the bicycle the world seems in that moment like a better place. Try it next time and don’t worry you won’t lose any watts.
2. Ride Your Ride
There is always that moment when you are riding along and someone goes whizzing past you. In that moment, do you shift gears and get out of the saddle and pursue? Do you get behind their wheel and draft an inch off? Stop it. You probably don’t drive that way so don’t do it on the bike. You have to fight that inner competitor to ride your own ride and also let other people ride theirs. You don’t know their skill level and fitness and they don’t know yours. Maybe you got mad they passed you too close or they didn’t acknowledge you or worse you are just way to aggro. Ride your ride, stick to your plan, don’t be swayed but what everyone else is doing. IF you want to draft, ask first and then take some pulls and say thanks. No need to challenge everyone and go home and flex in front of the mirror. Your significant other will thank you.
3. Pack Your Trash
You would think this is a no brainer right? In SoCal you would be amazed at the amount of bar and gel wrappers, tubes and even bottles I’ve seen on the road. This isn’t the Tour De France and little kids aren’t begging you to toss them an empty bottle as a souvenir. In fact even at the World Tour level, race organizers are trying to make the races more environmentally friendly. One time I was riding along and a particularly mad driver had pulled over, stood on the road, had an flat inner tube in his hand and shook at at me as he yelled “I’m picking up your trash!” I didn’t have the time to explain how flawed his logic was as I passed him at 25 MPH but the bigger point is that groups of people tend to lump other groups of people (especially one’s they don’t like) together. It’s all about public perception and doing your small part helps with the perception.
4. Ask Before You Push
We’ve all been on that part of the climb or set of rollers where we are losing contact with the wheel in front. We’re suffering and have people behind us. You see it and maybe you want to help. Maybe you want to just touch someone’s butt too. I’ve pushed and been pushed. Sometimes I’m thankful for it and sometimes I’ve swatted the hand away like a rider to a crazed fan at the Tour De France trying to get on TV. Let’s assume your intention is good and logic for doing it is sound. Don’t do it unless you ask. A quick “need a push?” is all you need to do to figure it out. You never know what is in someone’s head in that moment unless you ask. It’s way better to ask than to not and apologize for it later. So what if you get gapped? More exercise for you. No group is going to stay together one hundred percent of the time. Not to mention, no need to be perceived as a perve. There is this one guy who seems to push every woman half his age on every group ride. I wonder why he’s never pushed me?
5. Queue Up Behind Other Cyclists at Lights
I’ve seen this a thousand times and happened to me a thousand times. You are at a light waiting for it to turn green and the sound of someone’s free wheel from behind is getting louder and louder. They roll up right next to you and then get right in front of you and unclip. You are in full view of their sweat stains and kit. The light turns green, you pedal, clip in and pass around them putting yourself in front of a car in many cases before they even get started. WTF? I have no idea why this happens but I swear next time I’m going to ask. It’s dangerous and inconsiderate. Again, would you do this at a light with your car to other drivers? Best practice is to line up behind the cyclists even if you think you are faster than them. Wait for the light to change, wait for a safe spot to pass and then get on with your ride.
This is by no means a full comprehensive list, in fact this is just scratching the surface. As long as you ride with a little self awareness and know you aren’t the only cyclist out there and maybe even not the fastest, it becomes better for everyone. While you’re reading this and thinking “This is just common sense.” You’d be surprised at the sheer amount of carelessness, ego, pride, machismo and lack of self awareness that exists out there. Be above the masses and ride with purpose and intention. It’s better for you and the rest of us.
Brian Co is the founder of SoCal Cyclist and runs the SoCal Cyclist Podcast. He is a professional life plate spinner and tries to help the cycling community one cyclist at a time.