Group Ride Etiquette and Skills Every Cyclist Needs to Know

 

I love a great group ride. I was raised on them and they have been an integral part of my life as a cyclist for more than 40 years. The group ride is where you learn to draft, how to ride shoulder to shoulder so you can talk without yelling, how to gauge your efforts so no one has to wait up for you, and so many other skills. Many time-crunched athletes find themselves training alone because they have to fit a ride into their schedules wherever they can, which is not necessarily when the group ride starts. But if you want to be a better bike rider, become a regular at a local group ride. You don’t have to go every week, but go frequently enough that you don’t have to reintroduce yourself to everyone! To be one of the riders everyone looks forward to seeing, let’s take a look at some etiquette and skills so you don’t end up being “that guy”.

With the Figueroa Mountain Gran Fondo coming up next weekend, here’s a refresher course on having a great day riding with a big group. For those riders who are coming to the gran fondo, we’re going to have optional coach-led pace groups so you can choose the pace and group you want to ride in.

Work together to avoid flat tires

Flat tires suck for everyone, especially when you’re in a group that stops to wait for the affected rider. Minimize flats in the group 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. 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 superman or you’re the fast guy 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 guy 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.

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 some food 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.

… 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!

See you at the group ride!
Chris Carmichael
CEO and Head Coach of CTS

Comments 29

    1. YES! I thought I was the only person who thought that was gross and disgusting. Thank you for bringing that up. And yes, some women are just guilty as men.

  1. I agree about “brain-dead” when it comes to large groups where no one knows anyone, but other than that I also find most all the rides I ride in to become “races”, and really I don’t care about the guy training for the big race coming up, but just don’t do it in the group ride, please.

    I’ve actually found a small group of six or so to be ideal, and if we have to ride small I like three riders. Communication is simple and the speed flow seems perfect.

  2. I love group rides with my long-time ridding buddies. Cooperative riding, we call it. “Car back!” calls are for when someone isn’t paying attention and is doubling up or out in the road. Many riders don’t realize that when in the lead and going over the top of a hill, one should ease off and not accelerate into the coming descent. Riders behind are still climbing and can get badly gapped. Also when riding in gusty winds, the lead rider must hold their cadence and not try to keep the effort even by slowing. If you can’t hold it in the gusts, you’re pulling too fast.

  3. Ditto. I stopped group riding due to too much brain dead behavior that was both obnoxious and dangerous. In large groups everyone seems to think no rules apply anymore.

  4. Anonymous…I agree. Even in very bike friendly Colorado I think it is risky or stupid to ride double. Too many idiot texting drivers. Too risky to be on the left, and if on the right I want the space. I ride frequently in groups of 3 to 8 riders and going single you can really move and it really seems more enjoyable.

  5. I really enjoy group rides but good ones are hard to find. The one I usually ride with has no qualms about spitting people out the back. It seems more designed for A and B riders and has no interest in helping other riders develop into better riders. So I go and hang on as long as possible. Maybe one day… Yep…no ride needs to be built around weaker riders but at least some consideration would be helpful.

  6. I’d like to call out the need some riders feel to yell “Car back!” for every motorized vehicle approaching from the rear. It’s not necessary and gets tedious and annoying no matter where the ride is, and especially in high traffic areas. We know a car’s coming, we can hear it as well as you can and besides, what do you want us to do, pull over and stop? If we’re riding correctly, we’re already as far to the right as we can safely ride. “Car back!” is the blackboard scratch of road riding.

  7. The biggest group I enjoy riding with is at most two or three riders….beyond that, it inevitably descends into some sort of undeclared competition with any effort at etiquette thrown out the door. Riders get dropped (a minor mechanical or nature break often the cause) and the group just rides on. If you don’t personally know everyone in the group, good luck with anyone caring. Likewise, the casual disregard for vehicular traffic can be unnerving. Little surprise drivers fume at groups of cyclists on the road. Sorry, but I happily ride by myself.

  8. Pingback: Do you know the etiquette for group bike rides? | A Better Man

  9. Do realize you only need to not hit an obstacle. A few centimeters is just as effective as a meter, so keep your movements smooth and small.

    These subtle movements are often all that are needed, and are definitely safer than over-corrections and wide swings.

  10. Pingback: Master These 3 Advanced Race Tactics at Your Next Group Ride - CTS

  11. DO, give enough warning time when avoiding ‘obstacles’ (move over ‘earlier’ to avoid the obstacle ??? ) to avoid crashfests. What seems ‘plenty of time’ disappears quickly as each pair of riders, in turn, has to avoid the obstacle. A hand signal to the side of the obstacle will be passed, warns following riders to be alert to that side. This is especially true when the pace has heated up.

  12. Not calling out “on your left” to a slower rider or group of riders not on your group ride. And it’s the A riders who are usually the worst offenders.

    1. As in, “I’m better than you!” Yeah, I’m impressed. The actually good riders don’t feel a need to shout about themselves.

    2. The “A” riders you are referring to are riders who are in a “niche” so to speak. In an “A” rider’s world, everything is “ok” as long as they don’t hit you, or you don’t crash them out. “B” riders can accept the fact that they were passed by a superior rider, no matter how ego-crushing it may be. And the “C” riders just plain and simply want to ride slower and want “every” rule to be followed and “damn you” if you piss one of them off. There you have it. It’s all good. In sum, once you know your group and they know you, all seems forgiven, in a brotherly way; hence, they may get pissed but in five minutes or less they will forget all about it.

  13. Everybody has their own pet peeves and most every list looks a little different. This is a reasonable list. I like the rule ‘be slow to offend and be slow to be offended.” The only hard rule in my book is no first year clown needs to bark at me because I don’t observe some arbitrary rule they about in some trade magazine. Just don’t hardbrake, stay loose, and have fun.

    1. I agree with the “be slow to offend and slow to be offended” remark.
      Unless someone is blatantly doing something annoying or dangerous, I usually let it “ride” (pun intended). Takes a while to get to know the culture of a group when you start out with them..

        1. It’s actually a really experienced rider taking advantage of wind direction! That’s why he’s smiling and the guy half-wheeling is suffering 😉

  14. Yes…!
    Please..!
    “Don’t half-wheel your partners &that acceleration to get ahead when trying to stay even”….
    OMG… Have almost had to slap some folks in the head to get ’em to quit it….

  15. Stopped riding in a lot of group rides because it seemed whenever a large group of cyclists got together, the less the rules applied to them. Blowing through stop signs by all groups, racers and social clubs. Even local bike advocates would blow through stop signs, when I asked them why “The signs are really for cars”. Share the road also means follow the rules for all vehicles.

  16. Frankly, in my opinion, in the parts of the world where I have had the opportunity to ride (California, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, France), groups riding in normal traffic should be single file. Road width, parked cars in towns and faster-traveling motor vehicles make double pace lines in all but the most rural and unpopulated areas too risky. Today, in Japan, the amount of space between the curb/ditch on the left and the passing trucks and K-cars on the right was often less than one meter (and the traffic slowed down to wait for wider, straighter portion of the highway to pass).

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