Cycling is a strange sport. There are as many unwritten ‘rules’ as there are written ones. As you get fit, join bunches to train or even enter a race you will find out either politely or not so politely which code of conduct you just broke. Stay calm and if you can set your ego aside for one moment, say sorry and let them know you are new to the sport. In 99% of cases the person will probably say sorry back and be more than happy to share the dark and mysterious world of riding etiquette. Next minute you will be sharing a coffee and have made a new friend. Next time you are on the road people will think you are Pro!
Cycling Etiquette boils down to SAFETY, your safety and the safety of the people riding around you. Its not always obvious why one thing is safer or less safe. Over a few hundred years cyclists have worked every possible angle on how to avoid skin being left on the ground, which is the perfect segway into the first rule:
- Respect the direction and advice of senior riders. While it might difficult to hear wise and sometimes blunt advice, that guy yelling at you has probably has enough race wins, miles under his legs, broken bones and falls that entitles him to be heard by you.
- Obey the road laws. There is no amnesty for cyclists.
- Be spatially aware. Everything you do has a knock-on effect on everyone behind and beside you.
These are the three golden rules and what follows is one way or another an expansion on these.
- Share the road wisely. Ride a maximum of two abreast and single file when there is less space.
- Be predictable with all your actions and communicate. Maintain a steady consistent line and avoid braking or changing direction suddenly. If you need to avoid an obstacle, do so smoothly and with grace. Maintain the same speed as the rest of the bunch without constantly surging or braking.
- Point out and call hazards ahead. These include potholes, drain grates, stray animals, opening car doors, parked cars, broken glass or other dangerous debris. Use “car up” or “car back”, for example, or “slowing” if you or the riders in front of you are slowing.
- When coming up to lights and they are amber or red call “lights”, to add effect call “stopping”. If very close to the intersection and they go amber call “rolling”. A long group may need to split and a responsible rider in the middle of the bunch will call “stopping” to prevent riders behind entering the intersection when red.
- Leave the iPod at home. If you can’t hear other riders, calls and traffic a fall is inevitable, though expect somebody to yank your earphones out beforehand.
- Half-wheeling is capital crime. When on the front of the bunch keep the bikes handlebar to handlebar. If one rider is half a wheel ahead then this is amplified through the bunch behind and disrupts the flow of the bunch. If you are paired with a half-wheeler, politely let them know!
- Hold a Wheel and Line. Maintain a 30cm (1 foot), or less, gap between you and the wheel in front and very slightly to one side. You will get a good draft, however if anyone should suddenly slow-up you will not ride into them. If you don’t hold a wheel expect riders to come around you. If you are not comfortable riding close to the wheel in front don’t ride in a bunch or go to the back.
- Do not overlap or cross wheels. A slight direction change can cause wheels to touch. Almost always the rider behind falls and then takes other riders down as well. Protect your front wheel.
- Keep left. Allow riders or another bunch to pass safely on your right. Pass other riders and groups on your left. If you come up to or are overtaken by a bunch and wish to join or ‘sit in’ join at the back of the bunch. Do not push in, it will force the outside rider into traffic.
- When climbing hills, avoid following a wheel too closely. Many riders often lose their momentum when rising out of the saddle on a hill which can cause a sudden deceleration. This can often catch a rider who is following too closely, resulting ‘crossed wheels’ and a fall.
- Time trial alone. Don’t ride down on your aero-bars in a bunch ever! Bike control is reduced about 90% in aero bars.
- If you want to spit or snot look around move out of the draft momentarily and return to the paceline when you’re done!
- Share the Love. A smile and a wave go a long way if a driver has waited for a cyclist to get through a junction. Say hello to other cyclists on the road as you pass. We are kindred spirits, connected by our passion and shared pain.
When a Bunch is Working and Rolling Turns
When a bunch is working (35-50km/h) the front riders will ‘roll turns’. The rules above apply but their are some important things which ensure everybody gets home safely and nobody bops you in the nose.
Rolling turns takes considerable skill and experience. Practice at a slow speed with friends and listen to the advice to the more experienced and local riders. Please, don't take offence if you are told to move through or given stern direction. This is all a part of learning and generally given to help the consistency, flow and safety of the group. Never join a bunch and enter the front riders rolling turns without adequate skills, confidence and experience. Assuming you are ready here are some simple rules:
- Do your fair share of work at the front. If you are struggling and can’t take a turn, stay at the back of the bunch rather than disrupt the rhythm of those who are working.
- If you are struggling to close a gap, wave the rider behind you through.
- If you are not confident of your bike handling ability, and the pace is too fast for you to take a turn at or near the front, put your pride away and learn how to sit on the back of the bunch. When the lead rider comes back after doing his or her turn, tell him or her loudly "yep" or "come in" to cut in, dropping back yourself to allow room to move back into the paceline.
- Do not panic if you brush shoulders, hands or bars with another rider. Try to stay relaxed in your upper body to absorb any bumps. This is a part of cycle riding and racing in close bunches and is quite safe provided riders do not panic, brake or change direction abruptly.