Road Cycling Etiquette

with SANDRA WALTER, Liv Racing Collective

Although my primary cycling discipline is mountain biking, I have an extensive background in road cycling and road racing. Much of my training takes place on the road and I was extremely lucky to have great guidance from strong, organized road cycling groups when I first started in the sport that taught me how to ride on the road safely. Check out my cycling etiquette tips below!

Solo Road Riding Etiquette

Before you tackle riding in a group, you’d probably like to gain comfort on the road and on your bike on some solo excursions. Even when you’re riding alone, there are some important pieces of etiquette to follow:

  1. Follow the rules of the road. Where I live, cyclists are required to follow the same rules as motorists, so check the law where you’re riding to find out what rules apply to cyclists.
  2. Signal your intentions to other road users. Practice riding with one hand when you’re on your own, so you’re comfortable signaling once you start riding in a group.
  3. Wave/nod/smile to your fellow cyclists – this is just a basic and polite acknowledgement that you’re all out there doing the same thing.
  4. Be aware of your surroundings – It’s important to be aware of what’s going on around you at all times to stay safe on the road and in busy areas. Keep your head on a swivel.
    • Always assume motorists don’t see you and make deliberate eye contact with drivers when making turns.
    • Avoid wearing earbuds while riding on the road, as you need all your senses in order to stay safe and aware.
    • Shoulder check when making turns, keep an eye on the turn signals of vehicles in front of you, listen for vehicles coming up behind you.
  5. Avoid being a tag-along. Sometimes you’re riding by yourself and you suddenly find yourself with another rider or group of riders (maybe you caught up to them or they caught up to you). What do you do?
    • Say “Hi!”
    • If they caught you, let them pass. They were clearly going faster.
    • Don’t speed up and try to match them or jump on their wheel without asking.
    • Don’t just assume they’re looking for a riding buddy. Always ask if you can join someone and don’t be offended if they say “No”.

Group Road Riding Etiquette

Riding in a group is desirable, because you can ride farther faster. Plus there’s a great sense of camaraderie and motivation that comes from crushing big miles in the company of others. Group riding is not easy and beginner riders often don’t know the standard etiquette and practices that will keep everyone safe and happy on the road. The best way to learn is by joining a group with strong leadership, but to get you started, check out some of the best practices that I’ve identified as key to road riding.

  1. Respect the ride leader - Most organized group rides have a designated ride leader. This person is usually one of the most experienced riders in the group and is in charge of keeping the group together and harmonious. If you’ve been invited on a group ride, make sure you respect the leader’s instructions and take your cues from them, as different group rides may have slightly different practices.
  2. Get the info in advance – Before you join a group ride for the first time, make sure you reach out to the rider leader to find out how long the ride will be, average speed, what the route like, if fenders are required, if there are planned refueling stops and other important info. Make sure the ride is a “no-drop” ride. If it isn’t and you’re new to road cycling, you may want to reconsider joining this group as this means you’ll be left to find your own way home if you can’t keep up.
  3. Come prepared – Make sure you have adequate hydration and snacks for the whole ride, as well as a spare tube and the tools you need to deal with roadside mechanicals. Look at the weather forecast and make sure you have the right clothing for the ride. A fully charged cell phone and cash are always good to have on hand as well, along with the ride route uploaded to your Garmin.
  4. Communication - the most important thing about riding in a group is communication. In a group ride, the goal is to keep all riders close together for riders to benefit from the drafting effect, plus a tight group is safer on the road, as it’s more predictable and easier for other vehicles to maneuver around. Talking and signaling to group members about your intentions and possible obstacles is important to keeping the group compact and predictable.
    • Signal upcoming turns or stops. If you’re uncomfortable taking one hand off your handlebar to signal, speak up and use your voice to communicate to other riders. Remember, everyone in the group must signal, not just those at the front.
    • Point out and vocalize obstacles on the road that could cause flat tires or crashes if not avoided.
    • Communicate if you need to stop for any reason.
    • Let the riders around you know if the pace is too high. If they’re respectful, they will back off slightly to allow you to stay in the group. Another trick is to “sit in”, which means that you won’t go to the front of the group and take a “pull”, because being at the very front takes the most energy due to wind resistance. If you intend to sit in, communicate this to your fellow riders and give them space to maneuver around you as they rotate off or go to take a turn at the front.
  5. Positioning – When riding close together, it’s important to position yourself and your bike properly to keep everyone safe. Here are some key positioning rules:
    • Never overlap wheels with another rider. This is dangerous and could lead to a crash.
    • Keep your front wheel even with the front wheel of the rider beside you to avoid a staggered group, which could lead to overlapping wheels and a greater chance of crashes. If you’re not comfortable following the rider in front as closely as the rider beside you is, communicate this to them so they can adjust their following distance to line up with yours.
    • Don’t half-wheel. Half-wheeling is when one rider constantly rides with their front wheel slightly ahead of the wheel of the rider beside them, even if the rider beside attempts to draw in line with them. This leads to a constant upping of the pace and is extremely annoying to the person who is being half-wheeled. If you’re doing the half-wheeling because you want to go faster, perhaps it’s best to ride solo that day.
    • Hold your line – don’t make any sudden movements, changes in speed or deviations in your trajectory. The key is to be predictable, so the riders around you feel comfortable and everyone can ride more compactly and safely. If you’re predictable, you will gain cred as a safe wheel to follow.
    • When you need to eat, drink, remove clothing or spit/snot rocket while riding, move to the back of the group to do so.
  6. Being a good group member is like being a good teammate.
    • Give your riding partners positive reinforcement. Telling your riding partners “Good job” when they pull off the front of the group after taking a pull creates a sense of team and working together. Even if they’re the weakest rider of the crew and their pull was the shortest, your encouragement will acknowledge that they made a meaningful contribution.
    • If you need to pee, there’s no problem with stopping. Just communicate it to the ride leader and allow them to choose a suitable and safe location for the entire group to stop and have a “nature break.” Chances are, you won’t be the only one who needs it!
    • If someone in the group has a mechanical issue, the understanding (unless otherwise specified before the ride) is that everyone stops and helps with the repair. If someone doesn’t want to stop, they need to communicate it to the group and be content to finish their ride solo.
    • If you made plans to ride with someone, communicate your ride plan with them ahead of time, especially if you’re doing a specific workout or have a set goal, so they’re not caught unawares when you suddenly rocket away as you try and set a PB on a climb or do an interval set. If that is part of your plan, communicate how, when and where you will regroup after.
    • If you invite someone to ride with you, be aware and respectful of their abilities and needs. You inviting them means that you actually want to ride WITH them, even though they may be less fit than you, for example. This may mean you take more pulls at the front, you set a slower speed and you take more breaks than you normally would.

I believe the best way to learn how to road ride safely and efficiently in a group is by joining a club that hosts organized group ride with strong leadership. If you ever want to try road racing or enter a mass start road event, like a Gran Fondo, it’s essential to have good group skills to keep yourself and all your fellow riders safe and help you get to the finish faster with less effort!