August 18th, 2021
Group Ride Etiquette: A Concise Guide
As your riding fitness and skills improve, you might be looking more into joining a cycling club or doing regular rides with a group of other cyclists. Group rides have many benefits, including the fun and camaraderie of being with like-minded individuals, polishing your riding skills and developing your fitness further by rubbing shoulders with more experienced riders. There is also team aspect of cycling in a small and friendly peloton (the French word for a group of cyclists in a race situation), such as the aerodynamic advantage gained by being shielded from the wind by other riders and thus being able to ride more efficiently and maintain a higher average speed.
Our goals from cycling can vary. Some of us might be looking to get fitter and compete in a cycling events and races, while others just want to be out enjoying a ride with friends while enjoying the scenery and fresh air. Group rides offer something for cyclists of all abilities and goals, given that you find the right group, and more importantly, observe a set of guidelines, or do’s and don’t’s, that serve as the general etiquette for cycling in a group.
Group rides offer something for cyclists of all abilities and goals, given that you find the right group, and more importantly, observe a set of guidelines, or do’s and don’t’s, that serve as the general etiquette for cycling in a group.
Key qualities of a good group riders
There are two key qualities that make for good group riding. The first is being attentive to and aware of what’s happening around you while on the bike and reacting accordingly by communicating clearly and in a timely manner to other riders in your group. The second is being courteous to other riders and considering how your actions may affect them while out on the group ride.
Safe riding should be a priority for any group. Sometimes, group rides tend to cause distractions that may cause momentary lapses in concentration – e.g. a chat with a fellow rider or looking at a beautiful roadside scenery – and the shortest of drops in situational awareness can result in some undesirable consequences. Riding in a large group of riders carries a larger responsibility when it comes to being observant to your surroundings and obeying the rules of the road. Familiarizing yourself with local traffic laws, especially those pertinent to riding a bicycle on public roads, will allows you to practice safe riding and become not only responsible for your own personal safety, but also that of others in your group.
Not all group rides are equal. Knowing what to expect on any group ride you have intentions of joining is very important. Joining a ride blindly, without knowing what the planned route/distance/average pace/difficulty is can often be a recipe for disappointment and frustration. Ride leaders will often post these details on whatever platform the club/group uses to communicate ride plans, so do seek this information out.
Many cycling clubs will have “no drop rides” where no rider will be left behind regardless of whether or not they are able to maintain the average pace or experience mechanical issues with their bike. These types of rides are a fantastic way to get into group riding because they are less intimidating than rides with faster group, or those that are more athletic or vigorous in which a slower rider (or someone who gets, say, a flat tire) might be left behind. Determine what type of ride would be more appropriate to your current goals, fitness and the extent to which you would be willing to push yourself before joining.
Casual and no-drop rides have a slower average space and sudden surges or “attacks” are usually unwelcome because it disrupts the pace in a way that beats the social nature of these rides. It is important to clearly signal any changes in pace. If you get out of the saddles, call out “Up!” to notify those behind you of the pace change. Conversely, if you join a more spirited or aggressive rides, attacks and surges are part of the fun and completely acceptable. If you are unable to maintain the pace of other riders when riding in the front, or “pulling”, it is OK to signal that you’re dropping back to ride at a slower pace. Again, know the type of ride you will be joining so that you’d be well aware of what to expect on it.
Show up on time and well-prepared
Showing up late to a group ride is a big no-no. So is coming unprepared without your roadside repair kit, enough nutrition or hydration. We’ve all forgotten our spare tube or pump once or twice, but it shouldn’t be a frequent occurrence. It is important to be both punctual as well as self-sufficient. Keeping some of your kit on your bike (such as in a saddle bag) can be a good way to ensure not forgetting your ride essentials.
Call/point out road hazards
If you are riding near the front or the middle of the group, minimize the risk of other riders hitting road debris or potholes by pointing out those hazards on the road in way that allows those behind you to avoid riding over/into them. You can use hand signals and even shout out verbal warnings to your group mates, and the signals should travel through the group all the way to riders at the very rear. The riders in the back often have the responsibility of calling out incoming vehicles so that the group can get into single file and make room for other road users to pass safely.
Learn how to brake safely
Adjusting your speed within the group should be done with consideration for other riders behind you. Sudden or abrupt braking can be a big safety hazard and risk riders immediately behind you crashing into you or dangerously swerving to avoid a collision. Learn to look further ahead to anticipate when you’d need to brake. Look up the group pace line and do not fixate on the rear wheel immediately in front of you. If you hear something happen behind you (a crash or someone calling out a mechanical problem), do not brake or turn around suddenly, but keep riding while looking ahead until it is safe to come to a stop. Get used to how the brakes on your bike behave. Modulating your braking is a key riding skill and especially critical in group ride situations.
Avoid unpredictable riding
Nobody likes an erratic rider. Frequently straying from your line without a proper signal to your group mates can make everyone around you uneasy and will earn you a reputation for being an unsafe rider. Hold your line and don’t make sudden changes to it unless necessary, like in an emergency situation. Otherwise, it is perfectly fine to make line changes as long as you first signal your intentions.
Make an adequate buffer space and don’t overlap wheels
Drafting (or riding in the low-pressure area behind another cyclist) is fun, but be mindful of leaving adequate room to react should a sudden change in their speed occurs or they have to emergency brake. Maintain a space you are comfortable with between you and the wheel in front of you. In wet conditions double this distance to allow adequate space for safe braking.
Half-wheeling, or overlapping your front wheel overlap the rear of the rider in front of you, is a very risky practice and is also annoying to riders to your side or immediately in front of you. If riding two-abreast, ride handlebar to handlebar with your partner. Know if your group rides in a pace line and be prepared to take your turn on the front to pull.
Don’t invite yourself into others’ group rides (without asking first)
It is sometimes tempting to jump into a group ride you meet on the road, but it is not the best way to make cycling friends. Introduce yourself and ask politely if you can join. If they decline, it’s OK. Some groups have a more formalized way of inducting new riders especially those with more experienced riders, or well-established cycling clubs.
Where to find a group ride
There are many platforms to find people to ride with, but you just need to know where to look. The most obvious one is Strava. You can use the ‘Club’ feature and search by location to find active groups near you. The second would be Facebook Groups. You can find a lot of local cyclists by looking for local cycling group pages. Also, join the local buy/sell groups to find other cycling enthusiasts. The third option would be looking for registered events on Bikereg.com. These are mainly organized events that may cost a bit to participate in. However, with the rise in popular of gravel events, you may be able to find some non-race oriented events near you on that platform.
(Aid station at the Hilly Billy Roubaix - an example of a fun gravel event to join)
Each group has its own dynamics, and getting to know these dynamics will allow you to behave in a manner appropriate to the group and having an enjoyable time joining its rides. Group ride etiquette should not be complicated. Get information on the ride plan ahead of time, show up on time, be prepared and self-sufficient, respect the rules of the road and look out for your fellow riders by riding responsibly and being aware of your surroundings. In a group ride, the main priorities should be to ride safely, encouraging each other, leading by example and offering (and listening to!) advice intended to help other riders ride safely and improve their riding skills. Remembering these simple guidelines will ensure that you always have a safe and enjoyable group riding experience.
Written by Aero Tech Designs