There are codes of behavior that are somewhat unspoken yet understood in the cycling community. If you are a new rider or your riding is done mostly solo, you may be unaware of this protocol. To avoid embarrassment, it’s a good idea to know the rules of the game before stepping out onto the field so I’m here to give you a primer on the do’s and don’ts of cycling etiquette.
Safety is the number one priority when riding solo or with a group. Behaving predictably is the best way to make this a reality. When other road users can anticipate your next move, you go a long way toward ensuring everyone’s safety. Bicycles are considered motor vehicles and are beholden to all the same laws of the road. I once read somewhere “same roads, same rules, same rights”. We have the right to use the roads and are obligated to obey all the rules. This means cyclists are required to ride “with” traffic not against it. It might seem safer for you to ride facing traffic, if you assume that you are fast enough to get out of the way of a moving car, but it is not where drivers would expect to find you. Riding toward a car would also increase the potential impact.
To explain further, when a driver is making a right onto a road, they won’t expect that anyone will be on that road coming toward them. Picture yourself driving your car out of a parking lot onto a divided highway. You look left, see no traffic and proceed to enter the highway. Now imagine a bicyclist coming out of nowhere and being right in front of your car. Of course, you should have looked right, too, but… This is more likely on a road where all the traffic is going to the right. It is a very dangerous scenario and proves that riding with traffic is more sensible and safer. Another interesting example of riding correctly despite how questionable it might seem is when making a left-hand turn, you must get in the left hand lane, signal your intentions and turn when clear. Even on a multi-lane road. This is predictable behavior and the safest way to ride. Whenever possible, make eye contact with drivers so you know they acknowledge your presence.
Stay in control of your bike at all times. Releasing both hands from the handlebars or hopping the bike over objects in the road, for example, can cause a dangerous loss of control. Riding on your aerobars, an extra bar mounted to your handlebars that allows you a more forward “aero” position, is not acceptable on a group ride as you are less in control of your bike when steering with your forearms. You’re even less in control when steering with no arms, so keep those hands on the bars, please!
Ride defensively and with a group mentality. If an intersection is only clear for a moment, don’t lead the group to believe it is safe to go across. Try not to do anything that wouldn’t be in the group’s best interest. Be aware of what’s around you and have a plan for what to do in any circumstance.
A cyclist should ride as far to the right as possible barring parked cars, gravel and those pesky drainage grates being in your path. When passing other riders, do so on the left. If you are a slower rider, move to the right so others can safely pass you. Staying out in the lane on a hill, for example, forces faster riders to move further into the lane to get around you. Riders should never cross the yellow line putting themselves in the way of oncoming traffic.
Communication is key on group rides. If you see an obstacle such as a hole or glass that might endanger another rider behind you, it is important to call it out or motion for riders to move out of the way. On group rides, the riders are often close together and need a warning. When not in the front, it is difficult to see everything in the lane. A parked car can be especially dangerous for a rider who is tucked into the group. Use hand signals to let other riders and motor vehicles know where you plan to turn. If new riders are with a group, they might not know the route or be prepared for riders braking for a turn.
Since group rides involve others, there are a few expected behaviors based on courtesy to them. Know your ability. Establish what you are capable of doing before showing up for a ride. Determine what ride category suits you best and go to rides which are your level. If you are a fast rider, it is better not to attend a moderate paced ride and try to speed up the pace. If you are a slower rider and aren’t yet capable of holding the established pace, ride on your own or with friends until you are able so you don’t detain the group. Be on time. The group shouldn’t have to wait for you. Plan on having enough time before the ride to get yourself together so you are ready to go at the prescribed time. Don’t wait until ride time to remember that you need sunscreen. Be prepared. Your bike should be in good mechanical shape, your tires pumped and your water bottles filled. Your flat fix bag should have a spare tube, patch kit, tire levers and an inflation device. If you don’t know how to fix a flat, take a class or ask someone who knows how if they will teach you. Be responsible. If something happens on the ride and you need emergency medical attention, other riders should be able to get that info out of your flat fix bag. If there is a sign-in sheet at the ride, be sure to get your name and emergency phone number written down before joining the ride. Make sure your helmet fits well, is correctly adjusted and doesn’t have any damage. Helmets should be replaced every few years even if they haven’t been crashed and should be replaced immediately if they have.
Show your respect for other cyclists and the drivers with whom we share the road. A smile and a wave go a long way if a driver has waited for a cyclist to get through an intersection. Say hello to other cyclists on the road as you pass. We are kindred spirits, connected by our passion. Oh yeah, never spit when other riders are too close behind you.