Group Ride Etiquette

Last week I posed the question, “What is the purpose of a group ride?” and talked about what you can do to try to be ready for group rides. Sure, there are a lot of questions you can ask as a new rider at a group ride, and groups could do a better job of being organized, but every group ride adheres to some basics that you should know. With these largely unwritten rules in hand, you may find you have less questions on your next group ride.

Ride right
The first set of skills to getting along with your fellow cyclists at any group ride is to master the basics of riding in a group. Primarily, this is for safety and to demonstrate your competency as a cyclist. Mastering the skills of riding in a group is a long-term, ongoing effort, but the basics of riding a straight line, not overlapping wheels, pulling through smoothly, and not letting gaps open that others have to close are ones to start with. Check out Pacelines, Part 1 and more paceline posts to come for more details.

One of the things that most helps other riders stay safe on a group ride is pointing out or announcing road hazards such as holes and cracks, road debris, and vehicles to avoid. “Car up!” “Left turn!” and similar announcements are important to make sure that everyone in the group knows about major changes in direction and key hazards. Especially as the rides get longer and faster, announcing things is important because tired riders tend not to pay as much attention and more accidents happen at these times.

Be nice to cars
This isn’t about baking cookies for the commuters at your local stop light. This about building goodwill with motorists and simply staying safe. Generally, motorists don’t know what to do or expect when they encounter a group of cyclists. Generally, it is a good idea to move as a unit, as if the pack was just a big semi that takes a little longer to cross intersections, a little more space to pass, but follows the same rules of the road and traffic patterns as all other vehicles. This makes the situation more comfortable for drivers as they can better anticipate your actions and what they should do.

As a group, stop at stop signs. Signal to motorists as you cross an intersection—wave to say “Thanks” or have them go ahead before the group goes. Avoid holding up traffic when an easy alternative is available that won’t hold up traffic, and minimize your traffic impact when it is not plausible to stay out of the way.

If cars yell or gesture rudely at you, simply wave and smile. Don’t antagonize motorists. Like Rock, Paper, Scissors, riding on the road goes something like Car, Bike, Pedestrian (except the Pedestrian never wins).

Getting aggressive
Treating the motorists nicely is an easy rule. But putting the hurt on other riders, that’s just a part of many group rides. When to ramp up the pace, attack, or sprint is often a question. Many group rides are open to people attacking, some even encourage it, but some group rides are intended to have a structured paceline throughout. If you are unsure, ask someone. The following cues will help you know when to drop the hammer—or keep an eye out for it.

Nearly every group ride starts with a warm up. This can sometimes be pretty quick but is, never the less, seen as a neutral part of the ride. Attacks are frowned upon. The warm up often consists of the group riding a double paceline with two riders sitting on the front for a little before dropping back together. If you don’t know what part of the ride is the warm up, feel free to ask.

After the warm up ends at the usual town sign, intersection, or other land mark, there is usually a bit of a roll up as the ride quickens and takes on a rotating paceline. My experience is that this part of the ride usually has the expectation that the pace is fast but no one attacks. This part of the ride usually ends with a sprint.

After the roll up and sprint, the group is usually open to people attacking. For some groups, the rest of the ride is a mock race and breaks try to stay away. Other groups will come back together at certain locations on the remainder of the ride, even if someone goes up the road. So if you want to attack—or simply be ready when others do—this is the time in the ride to keep your eye out.

Last, remember that group rides are just training. While they can get competitive, it is not the time to be aggressive in taking risks to move up in the group, slide through a gap, take a corner at high speed, or otherwise endanger yourself and others. Keep it safe.

General etiquette
Aside from the dynamics and skills for riding in a group, it is good to be aware of what qualifies as a faux pas. First, be sure that you are prepared for each ride. This includes carrying the basics with you for every ride; just because you are riding with other people doesn’t mean you can leave your supplies at home. Second, help out others when they have a mishap. They may have supplies to fix a flat, for example, but that doesn’t mean the group should leave that person behind. They might run into one of those annoying situations where the simple flat turns out to be a double flat, or come across something where they have the tool but not the know-how yet to fix it. Think of helping as good karma.

Third, you don’t get bonus points for attacking during the warm up, on the way through the turns and stops of that small town, by running stop signs, or other means of trickery. Keep the attacks for the open roads. Fourth, gapping a rider, taking someone into a curb, bumping someone out of line for a spot before the sprint, or otherwise being physically aggressive is not cool on a group ride. That just leads to having a bad reputation.

Last, say “Hi” to the new rider. You want him to come back next week.

Those are the basics. Is there anything left out here that you think every rider should know? Any lingering questions you have?