14 Group Ride Etiquette Tips: How to Avoid Being “That Guy” (or Girl)

I’m getting ready for the first event of the 2017 Bucket List Calendar, the California Coast Ride. Over in Europe and in the Southwest US, pro teams are getting together for team camps. And despite rumors of the death of the local group ride, athletes around the country are still meeting outside bike shops and coffee houses for their Saturday morning club rides. It’s early in the year, so there might be some new riders at the group ride, on your cycling team, or coming to camp. If you’re new to group riding or want to make the new folks feel more welcome, it’s important to remember good group ride etiquette. 

Point OUT hazards

Flat tires suck for everyone, especially when you’re in a group that stops to wait for the affected rider. Minimize flats by physically pointing to the holes, glass, and random car parts that litter the roadside. This hand signal needs to travel all the way back, so pass it on so the people behind you get the message. Different groups have different habits, but personally I reserve audible warnings for really dangerous situations.

If you run over debris, use your hand (preferably with gloves on) to brush the surface of your tire. On the front tire obviously do it in front of the fork. For the rear tire, hook your thumb on the seatstay and use your fingertips to brush the tire directly in front of the stays. Hooking your thumb prevents you from getting your hand jammed between your rear tire and the seat tube. Trust me, that’s an experience you don’t want to have.

Be proactive around safety and pacing

Nobody likes being barked at constantly, and certainly not during a nice group ride. But there are some times when it’s good to speak up. The riders at the back should let the group know when they need to single up to better share the road with cars, or when there is a particularly large vehicle coming around (like a dump truck).

The riders in about the 3rd row of a double paceline are in a good position to call for an adjustment to the pace. At this point in the group you can tell if the riders around you are struggling with the speed or the wind direction. Riders in the first and second rows can sometimes misjudge their pace and position relative to the rest of the group.

And of course, it’s everybody’s responsibility to watch out for potential bicycle-car collisions. If you see something, say something! 

Stay off the brakes

You’re going to need to make minor speed adjustments in a group ride, and you want to do this with air resistance rather than braking whenever possible. That means sitting up a bit and/or moving out into the wind a little to slow down, or tucking into the draft and pedaling a bit more to speed up. When you tap the brakes, you slow more abruptly and that signals the rider behind you to tap his brakes, and so on. Obviously there are times when you need to and should use the brakes, but try to make minor speed adjustments without braking to avoid a herky-jerky riding experience for everyone around you.

Pull longer, not harder

If you’re feeling like superwoman or you’re the fast rider of the group, don’t ramp up the speed when you get to the front. It’s not nice and it makes the pace uncomfortably hard for your friends. Instead, ride the group’s pace and stay at the front longer. You’ll get the training you want and give the rest of the group some extra time in the draft.

Pull shorter, not slower

If you don’t have the fitness to take a long pull at the group’s pace, you should still rotate through like everyone else, but just pull off quickly. There’s no rule that says you have to take a pull equal to the rider before you. The rule is that you need to pull at the group’s pace. Don’t slow down, because then everyone stacks up behind you. For a smoother experience for everyone, keep it short and pull off.

Pace the climbs for the middle of the group

When the pack hits rolling hills it can be hard to keep the group together, especially when “that guy” drills it on the front. When drafting is less of a help to the riders in the middle and rear of the group ride, it’s important for the riders at the front to consider everyone when establishing the climbing pace. On social group rides it’s typical to wait at the top of longer climbs, but to minimize the frequency of these softpedal periods or stoppages, try to set a pace that’s comfortable for the middle of the group. This may mean it’s a bit easy for the fast guys at the front and pretty challenging for some folks at the back, but this pacing strategy is good for keeping the group together over the majority of hills.


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Learn how to blow your nose

True story: In one of my first pro races in Europe I was riding along, middle of the pack, and I turned my head and hocked a lugie… right onto the legendary Francesco Moser’s thigh. A chorus of Italian curse words erupted around me and I slunk my way to the back of the pack for a while like I was in time-out. If it’s time to spit or blow a snot rocket, do it when you’re at the back of the group. If you have to do it around other people, aim down to the road not out to the side. Put your head down a bit and expectorate under your arm, almost as it you’re aiming for the end of your handlebar. 

Shift as you stand up

When you stand up to pedal your weight shifts and your cadence almost always slows. This can result in what’s known as a “kickback”, where your rear wheel seems to kick backwards toward or into the front wheel of the rider behind you. It not only freaks people out, but if you end up tapping or overlapping wheels it can cause a crash. To avoid this, shift up once or twice into a harder gear as you rise from the saddle. With your full bodyweight over the pedal you can push a bigger gear at lower cadence and maintain your speed without causing a kickback.

DON’T…

… pull so hard you drop yourself

Social group rides tend to wait for dropped riders, which is great, but try not to make them wait for you because you were riding like an idiot. If you take monster pulls at the front and then get dropped, you’re not making any friends. Learn to gauge your efforts and keep something in the tank to make sure you can latch onto the back of the group and stay on a wheel.

… show up late and unprepared

We’ve all been late to a group ride at some point, and we’ve all forgotten something important (like food) before. It happens, but it shouldn’t happen often. Be on time and be self-sufficient. This includes tools and a pump. We’re all nice people and we’ll give you a tube or a Bonk Breaker if you need it, but try not to need it.

… half-wheel your friends

The right way to ride in a double paceline is handlebar-to-handlebar, not half a wheel ahead of the rider next to you. Half-wheeling pisses people off, especially when you accelerate to maintain the half-wheel advantage despite your partner’s attempt to pull even with you. It also messes up the spacing for everyone in the paceline behind you.

… Sprint Away from Stops

When the light turns green, gradually build the speed back up to where it’s supposed to be. Don’t be that guy who does a standing start sprint at every traffic light. Depending on the size of the group, the folks at the back won’t even start moving until you’re 50 meters down the road, and then they’re going to be maxxed out trying to get on a wheel.

… run red lights

Just don’t do it. Besides being unsafe, against the law, and damaging to our collective reputation, it’s also disrespectful to all the groups who are working hard to convince communities to improve cycling infrastructure and enhance cyclists’ safety. Unless you’re in Idaho, which has had the “Idaho Stop” since 1982: cyclists can legally treat red lights as stop signs and stop signs as yield signs. Go Idaho!

… Get The Whole Group in Trouble or in Danger

When you decide to join a group ride, it’s like joining the Musketeers: all for one and one for all. For the safety and efficiency, the whole group needs to move with one mind. This is most important when you are at the front. Can the whole group make it through the green traffic light? Is there enough space in traffic for the whole group to turn left? Though everyone has to be responsible for himself or herself, try not to make riders at the back have to decide between a dangerous situation and staying with the group.

At some point on some group ride, a car will pass too closely or some unhappy person will yell at the group from a car. Escalating these situations can be dangerous, and during a group ride you are potentially endangering more than just yourself and involving other people in a situation they may not want to deal with. Individual cyclists and groups should absolutely defend the right to safely share the road, just remember that how you do that will reflect on the entire group. Be an adult, even when others are not. In the case of traffic stops, one hothead can get everybody ticketed instead of getting on with the ride.

In the long run most of these habits become second nature, and the longer you ride with the same group of people on a team or local club ride, the more you will be able to anticipate how the whole group is going to behave and the more comfortable you’ll be riding close together in a nice, tight pack or pace line.

Have fun out there!
Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach of CTS

19 Responses to “14 Group Ride Etiquette Tips: How to Avoid Being “That Guy” (or Girl)”

  1. Mal

    Hi, what would you advise your team riders in an aero line if the lead rider passes a lone cyclist – how long to maintain a straight line before moving back infront of the lone cyclist. Two bike lengths ? Three or four ? I see far too many clubs move in straight away as soon as past the lone cyclist.

    Reply
  2. Dave Crocker

    Great rules! On the standing, I always appreciate (and try to do) a verbal heads up. Doesn’t have to be shouted out since it’s really for the rider behind you but a simple “standing” lets you be prepared for any kickback and if you are looking for it, you are less likely to have a big overreaction and set off chain reaction. Especially helpful when riding with groups that aren’t familiar with each other.

    Reply
  3. Tom

    Not so sure about the advice of changing gears when jumping out of the saddle to prevent kickback . . . I give it a little gas immediately before and just ever so slightly as I am coming out of the saddle (essentially one motion) to prevent that by creating some instant space to offset any drop-off. Changing gears while rising from or out of the saddle places a little too much faith in components (which can and do break no matter how well maintained, etc.) I would rather avoid. I’ve seen people go down hard from a skip or broken chain changing gears while jumping/standing. Better to change gears in the saddle, especially given the reduced transition gaps allowed for by 11 speed cassettes out there. Just my experience and preference.

    Reply
  4. Howie

    I am 63 been riding my entire life stopped riding in groups 25 years ago. I ride mostly fixed gear. I don’t wear trendy cycling clothes. I don’t wear a helmet,I run numeral red lights every ride. I ride 5 times a week all year long in Michigan. I could care less what cyclists and motorists think of my riding. I love the bike and have a great time every ride and love my own company ?

    Reply
    • Bob

      If you care so little what people think of how you cycle why are you here talking about how you cycle? You ride a fixed gear but don’t wear “trendy” clothes lol. Fixed gears are the fashionably anti-establishment trend. They certainly aren’t sensible anywhere off a track. Do you hold your legs in the air to go downhill? Yet you think the clothes are all about form and not function? You don’t have to have to have clothes in my opinion and I didn’t always ride kitted up. The only one using it to show off who they are though is you, not me. I use a jersey now because they have a pocket in back for my phone and the front zips down to cool off. Your reason for wearing your clothes though appears to be related to defending your image of yourself. An image that you project by working hard to let everyone else know how much you don’t care about it.

      Reply
      • Concerned Cyclist

        Thanks for that reply Bob! Like in life, people too often only think of themselves and not others. 1 cyclists’ actions could not only have an immediate impact on them and/or the group they’re riding in, but later effect how motorists perceive and treat other cyclists in the future.

        My 2 cents.

        Take care EVERYONE!

        Reply
      • Concerned Cyclist

        Thanks for that reply Bob! Like in life, people too often only think of themselves and not others. 1 cyclists’ actions could not only have an immediate impact on them and/or the group they’re riding in, but later effect how motorists perceive and treat other cyclists in the future.

        My 2 cents.

        Take care EVERYONE!

        Reply
    • Boom

      Next time cut the BS and simply say your an Ahole out ridding your bike.

      Reply
      • anonymous

        Howie rides solo for a reason…

        Reply
    • Boomerbeginner

      Wear a helmet. It’s not fashion. It’s common sense. Enjoy your safe solo rides.

      Reply
  5. Cheryl Parrish

    Thank you, Chris. I have learned and am aware of these rules from attending several CTS camps. But it is a lot to remember and I needed to be reminded. I have to admit, that I am still not so comfortable riding side by side and trusting another rider, but that’s just one of the many reasons I love the camps…. learning and riding with coaches who observe, and give you tips in a nice and professional manner. I think we are riding the same coast, so see you out there! Great way to start of 2017.

    Reply
  6. Bobby Roose

    Be prepared for medical emergencies. No one plans to be in an accident- you can plan and be prepared for an accident. Be ready to be the first responder and possibly save the life of a fellow rider.

    Reply
  7. Bob Bleck

    Another bit of safety advice is to manage the size of the group. Our club has 65 members and the Sunday turnout is usually 30-40 riders. We split into A,B and sometimes C level groups. A double pace line of 14-18 riders is easier to manage, and easier for cars to pass. Win-win.

    Reply
  8. Clint Sandusky

    Great info Chris, especially on the very important BUT often overlooked aspect of group/club riding regarding safe and effective cycling in traffic.

    I’ve dedicated the last 22 years of my life instructing public safety cyclists how to safety and effectively utilize their bikes as a patrol tool , including riding in traffic.

    A few years ago, I found out about a new grassroots organization called CyclingSavvy, who promotes successful cycling in traffic. Recently, one of their instructors created a Club Edition focusing on group riding in traffic. I’ve attended 1 presentation for adults and 1 for a SCNCA Junior Development Camp. I highly recommend this club edition presentation to anyone who wants fresh critical thinking strategies for group riding in traffic.

    Gary Cziko of CyclingSavvy can be reached at gcziko@gmail.com for further information.

    Be Safe out there!

    Reply
    • Leon

      I always recommend that all riders get their bike tuned up and start the season. Also, good (or new) tires are less likely to flat out.

      And by all means, carry a spare inner tube or 2.

      Reply
  9. Scott 2

    Thanks Chris,
    Some great points, some I hadn’t considered, or even was aware, since most of my riding is solo. By you putting this important info out here / there, it will help keep us cyclists enjoying the wind in our face.

    Reply
  10. Jacob Russell

    Thanks for posting some common sense tips to make group rides safe and enjoyable for everyone, not just the “hammering man.”

    Reply

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