Dos and don’ts for a successful club ride
Otherwise known as ‘How to make yourself popular’ – nothing beats a tightly-knit group of cyclists who understand the rules of how to go further and faster with a collective smile.
What a huge and potentially fraught subject is the whole world of riding among a group of other cyclists. Apart from “What’s the best way to get to..”, the rules of group riding are discussed more than anything else amongst cyclists and there are so many subtle interpretations that many will prefer to ride with one group over another just because of the relative etiquette and traditions. And indeed some will prefer no group at all, which is fine too because sometimes the solitary bike ride is also one of the great pleasures.
At Velo Club Walcot, however, we believe that the group ride is pretty much the best way to go cycling. There are plenty of good reasons to ride on your own, most notably to get to work in the fastest and most efficient way possible, but you can go further and faster in a group and you can always learn something new. Either about the mechanics of cycling when you get your puncture fixed by an old hand, or about your own physiology and psychology when you think you’re going to die but in fact you can endure and finish the ride with a big feeling of satisfaction.
There’s always a new route to discover
Plus, although we’re somewhat spoiled for choice around Bath, the best and most scenic routes that avoid, or seek out, the most challenging hills are always a treasure. There’s no better way to learn new routes than with people who have been riding them for years.
And then there’s the company; there can be no cyclist alive who cannot name a lifelong friend or even life partner they met through a cycling group. There is something about the shared experience that brings everyone in The Group together. It’s so potent a calling that cyclists all across the world get together to experience this bond and Velo Club Walcot is no different, although we like to think that we do it with some elan and certainly a good sense of humour. It’s the reason you’ll usually see us smiling in photos.
So, here is a list of the etiquette points to watch out for in our cycling groups. By no means exhaustive and no doubt to be added to and amended over time. Read this before heading out with the group and you won’t go far wrong.
If you’re new, practice on your own first
To start with, ride on your own, or, if you’re lucky enough to have a friend or relative that will take you out and support you on your first few rides, do it and buy them dinner because that is ideal before you attempt to join a larger group. Practice braking and changing into the most appropriate gear smoothly and efficiently and generally aim to maintain a steady pace over 10, 20 and then 30 miles. The first VC Walcot group typically rides 30-40 miles depending on season and maintains an average 12mph for the route overall. That will be a lot slower or faster depending on whether you’re riding up or down hills but the average always seems to be 12mph.
Choose your group carefully
Look at the rides section elsewhere here on our site that explains the different levels and the average speeds. This will help in choosing the ride most suitable for you. When you turn up, ask other cyclists where they think you will fit in best. Don’t worry – we won’t leave you behind if you have misjudged the level. We suggest for your first ride that you pick a level you are confident of completing comfortably, and then review your choice for your next ride.
Get to the start on time
All rides are scheduled to start at a particular time and although there is often a bit of faffing around before we get going, try not to be late for the start. In particular, if you are new to the group or are unsure which group you are going to ride with, then do show up a few minutes early.
Listen to advice
Always follow the instructions of the Ride Leader whose job it is to get the whole group round safely. Remember, they are all volunteers and doing this because they love cycling. So don’t give them a hard time and do be appreciative. We all ride at our own risk and the club has no legal liability should any injury or damages occur. We will do all we can to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable ride but we do expect you to act responsibly, too. For example, we follow the Highway Code and require you to do so as well.
What to take – the kit you’ll need
Your bike should be in good working order with tyres properly inflated. Be prepared for adverse weather conditions and the length and difficulty of the ride you have chosen. You don’t need to bring a pannier full of kit but you should have enough room in your pockets and on the bike for a spare tube, tyre levers, a pump, a multitool, lights (if riding at lighting up times or through tunnels), water, a gel (or other fast acting energy source), your phone, some money, and a rain jacket if the weather forecast looks dodgy. There’s an excellent post about how to carry it here: road.cc/how-to-carry-essential-kit-cycle-ride
Carry some identification
All riders must carry their membership card completed with next of kin and medical details. Other ID can be useful too and some riders favour ID bracelets or dog tags. You can also configure your mobile phone so that your emergency contact details are accessible from the lock screen. And you can install the What3Words app on your mobile so that it is easy to direct the emergency services to your whereabouts if there is an accident.
Tell someone you have a problem
Do tell the riders around you if you have a puncture or mechanical problem, or if you are not feeling well. Don’t drift to the back of the group and off without telling anyone. If we drop you on a hill we will wait or send a rider or two back to pace you up to the group. Don’t worry – we won’t abandon you. If you have a medical condition then make sure the ride leader is aware of it.
We always stop for punctures
If you have a puncture the group may ride on and then retrace so they keep warm while you fix your flat. If you are a slow mechanic then ask for help. There will generally be experienced riders who can help you – or even do it for you – so don’t feel afraid to ask if it will save the group time.
Send the message to the front
If you are riding near the back and a rider is dropped for whatever reason, tell the riders in front of you and ask them to pass it up to the front. The pace can then be adjusted to suit or the group can stop and wait.
Don’t worry about the hills
Being in Bath, there will be hills. Take these at your own pace and don’t worry about how slow you are going. All groups separate out on hills and regroup again at the top.
Ride with the group, not off the front
The main point of group riding is to ride together. If you find yourself ahead of the group then pull over to regroup in a safe place, well out of the way of traffic. If the pace is too slow for you, talk to the ride leader about leaving the ride, or arrange a later rendezvous point.
Overtake on the outside, not the inside
Never overtake someone on the inside. And when passing on the outside, let the rider who you are passing know by saying ‘On your right’.
Riding in formation
Where possible we will ride two abreast in the classic ‘peloton’ formation. Where there is fast or busy traffic, we may ride in single file to allow cars to pass. Try to stay in line and and overtake only on hills or safe places where the road ahead is clear. Don’t cycle all over the road. It’s worth everyone – cyclists and drivers alike – having a good look at this video which is recommended by British Cycling and police forces alike.
‘The Chain Gang’
If you move into the faster groups you may find they ride as a chain gang – cycling close together, and taking turns to lead at the front. Stay close to the rider in front to maximise the slipstream and to allow riders around you to use it to best effect. Needless to say, let others know if you are new to this or unsure what to do but if you plan to go racing this is pretty much obligatory training and very satisfying even if you’re not.
Otherwise known as ‘how to make yourself very unpopular’. When the group is riding two abreast, keep level with the rider next to you. Avoid trying to push the pace by moving forward ahead of their front wheel, and work together to keep the pace even and steady.
Allow cars to pass
Pretty much every member of our cycling club is also a driver, so we’re sympathetic to other road users, and know how to behave safely around other cyclists when we’re driving. If you are cycling in a large group on a narrow lane, bunch up into smaller groups – of, say, four riders – so that a car can ‘leap-frog’ each smaller group. Frustrated drivers often take risks and drive too close. If you are riding along country lanes for a considerable amount of time, take note of any traffic behind. When it is safe to do so, the group should pull into the side to allow any built up traffic to pass.
Stop at traffic lights & queues
When your group comes to a red set of traffic lights or a queue of traffic, don’t force your way to the front. Instead, take the ‘primary position’ (i.e. centre of the lane) and wait in line like any other road user. Don’t filter to the front of the queue and don’t pass cars on both sides of the vehicle. Never jump a red light – apart from being illegal, it gives cyclists a bad reputation.
Don’t block road junctions
When stopping at a road junction, do allow other road users to filter alongside if they are turning in the opposite direction. Don’t use the junction as a chance to regroup but instead pull over to the side away from the junction.
Be polite to other road users
Always be polite and courteous and do not get into arguments with other road users. Most drivers are considerate and polite so give a friendly wave as cars pass safely or say thanks if they stop to let you through. When you are passing other vulnerable road users – hikers, dog walkers, other cyclists – use appropriate speed and make sure you alert them to your presence by calling out nicely and saying hello. If you need to report an incident of reckless driving or dangerous behaviour, please pass on the relevant details to the ride leader.
Be extra nice to horses
Horse riders are vulnerable road users just like cyclists and need to be treated as such but with even more care. From behind, a horse is unlikely to see you, especially if you are approaching quietly. Slowing down and calling out ‘hello’ is important in alerting the horse and rider that you are there. Give the horse a wide berth and pass slowly on the right. If the horse has been spooked by your presence, give the rider a chance to calm it down before you pass.
Don’t switch suddenly
Hold your line and keep a steady cadence. The rider riding behind needs to be confident that you won’t move suddenly or wobble. Don’t brake without warning or let your bike drop back if you get out of the saddle when you come to a hill. As a precaution, it’s a good idea not to overlap wheels with the rider in front, just in case they have to make an unavoidable manoeuvre.
Stay hydrated by sipping often from your bottle. If you are not confident about drinking on the move then take advantage whenever the group stops, or ask the ride leader to pull the group over. If you are riding in a chaingang then try to drink when you are at the back of the group. If you drop your bottle at any stage then shout ‘bottle’ and keep riding on until it is safe to slow down and go back for it. This is a great one to practice on solo rides.
Mudguards are cool
You should fit mudguards – fixed ideally although clip-ons are better than nothing in the winter months, for your own protection and for the rider behind you who does not want to be splattered by your spray the whole way round. Remember that an ‘ass saver’ may be fine for you when you are out riding alone but not much use to the rest of the group.
A big part of group cycling is communication. You should pass instructions up and down the group, as well as alert others to the hazards that you see. There is no need to shout out every instruction, just simply speak to the person in front or behind you until the message is passed fully along the line.
All cycling groups have their own variations on the correct verbal commands. Here are ours:
- ‘Car back’: a general warning of a car trying to pass from behind. You don’t need to shout out for every car that approaches from behind if there is no need to single out.
- ‘Car front’: a warning of a car in front that might encroach on your road space. Sometimes people call out “Car up” which is fine but note that some clubs use this to mean a car from behind (as in ‘up your behind’)
- ‘Single out’: used when a car is behind and needs extra space to overtake, or if the group is approaching a narrow road or overtaking a line of parked cars. The rider on the inside should move forward smoothly so that the rider on the outside can move in behind. Try to keep an even pace and do not brake.
- ‘All on’: a communication from the last rider to the Ride Leader to indicate that all the riders are together and the group can continue.
- ‘Clear’: indicates that a junction is safe to cross. If you see a car then shout “car right” or “car left”.
- ‘On your right’: used when passing another rider or group of riders who may not be aware of you.
- ‘Hole/gravel/glass/ice’: called out when there is a hazardous surface that may cause an accident unless riders take care.
- ‘Slowing/Stopping’: call out “slowing’ if you are slowing down so others don’t ride into the back of you. And ‘stopping’ if you are going to come to a stop and unclip.
Hand signals are also an important part of group riding, with their own mysterious lexicon. Here are some common signals:
- Hand straight up in the air: means the rider signalling is stopping or there is a hazard in the road that requires the whole group to stop.
- Hand waved to the side as if patting a dog: means that the group should slow down.
- Pointing at the ground: alerts riders to a hole or poor surface that needs avoiding.
- Arm out to the side: indicates to other road users that the group is turning left or right at junctions.
- Pointing behind back: communicates to the rider behind which way you are moving out to avoid a hazard or obstruction. You should pass on the instruction to the rider behind you so that the whole group moves out.
Don’t forget to have fun. The main point of these etiquette tips is to ensure you have a great time out on the road in as safe and enjoyable a manner as possible. And if you think some of these tips are onerous then you can always check out The Rules according to the mysterious Velominati to show – strictly tongue-in-cheek – that we are really letting you off very lightly.
You can always email email@example.com if you have any questions or comments on this post