Although I’m partial to the title of this article, another, possibly more descriptive, option could be, “how to ride with anyone with the grace, knowhow and skill of a pro.” I won’t be the first to write about riding etiquette, nor will I be the last, but these are practices that often need repeating and there is no better than the begining of a new year to talk about them.
These are observations that I’ve recently made as well as ones that I’ve compiled throughout my many years riding a bicycle. I’ve been fortunate enough to have many great teachers beat these rules into me and some infractions occur too often to ignore. This shouldn’t be read as rules to be enforced by a cycling dictator, think of this as a series of hints and tips to make you a classier and more respected cyclist.
The first observation I would like to make, and one often left out of similar articles, is that people need to be aware of how hard they are pedaling. This may seem obvious, but the vast majority of people ride much too hard up hill and not nearly hard enough down. If your ride is based around intervals dictated by the road, you can ignore this, but for nearly every ride, individual, small group or large, this is important.
First, this is important because it helps you maximize your training time and particularly for winter riding, when you’re aiming for a steady ride, it helps ensure you are doing the riding that you are supposed to. Steady doesn’t mean a steady speed, it means a steady effort, steady heart rate, or steady power, all of which gauge how hard you are working. This is one instance in which I wish everyone had access to a power meter because they will tell you exactly how imbalanced your riding is. 200 watts up a climb feels like child’s play and will regularly get you dropped out of a group, but 200 watts down a hill will often have you streaking away from said group.
Without a power meter, the easiest way to implement this is by feeling the force going into your pedals, sounds easy enough. When you’re riding up a hill, think about the weight and pressure going through your feet, now try and replicate that feeling on flats and downhill. On your next ride, try to keep an even pressure on the pedals the whole time. You’ll find yourself riding quicker across the flats and scorching the downhills. You’ll also find yourself going quite a bit slower up the hills.
The other reason this is important pertains to the etiquette of group riding. To begin with, remember the basics of drafting. The faster you are going, the more important drafting becomes. Riding extra hard up a hill doesn’t benefit the group; it makes everyone work nearly as hard as the leader, riding hard down ensures that everyone still gets to pedal. When I’m on a group ride, I typically try to ride at a higher wattage down the hill, because those behind me are getting an even larger benefit than normal, and a lower wattage up, to ensure that the group remains in tact.
The next observation I’d like to make also brings us back to the basics, turning. Watch any good rider and they look fast, fluid and effortless. Now think about that next time you see the lead rider skittering through a turn on your group ride. It’s not impressive, it’s a little embarrassing and quite simply, reckless. When riding on an open road, slow to whatever speed you need to guarantee that you and the rest of your group can safely pass through the turn, stay in your lane and look good while doing it.
Next, let’s talk about a big one, pointing things out and announcing them. This is a good habit and welcomed by all. What isn’t welcomed is screaming “Braking!” Panic is not a particularly useful way to convey your message and that is often what comes across when cyclists try to indicate obstacles to each other.
When you point to things, point to where the object is, don’t lift you arm high and point in an arbitrary direction, that helps no one. Same idea, don’t yell, “Hole!” because once again, that helps no one. Unless, of course, your goal is to make sure everyone’s sphincters are puckered when hitting the hole.
Branching off that, try not to ride super close to what you are pointing out. If there is a dead animal in the road, you pass by it two inches away and point, you aren’t very helpful. Remember that those following you follow in the general vicinity but you have to give or take a foot or so on each side. So, if you nearly run over something, someone behind you probably did.
The next thing to remember is that attacking or even going fast through stop signs makes you a jerk. It’s the equivalent of attacking during a pee break. No one likes you.
Similarly, after a sprint point, let the group reform, don’t ride at a moderate pace and complain how long it takes for everyone to get back. The point is to give everyone a finish line to go fast toward and then once you’ve crossed that, you reset and let the group start over. This encourages people to “go for it” and if they blow up, so be it, they won’t be left behind. If you are one of the people that does not want the group to reform, why are you on a group ride?
And here is one of the finer points I was taught by an Irish pro back when I was a junior. Hold onto your bars. Sounds simple but countless people rest their hands on the tops or worse. Always have a grip on your bars and this includes wrapping your thumbs around the back when on the tops. It may seem a small detail, but when someone’s hands slip off you can be glad that you’re not the fool that forgot to hold on.
And a final point, when you see someone getting tailed off the back of the group, help them back on. Even if that means dropping off the back of the group to give them a wheel and tow back up. That shows true class and is much more impressive than winning the sprint.