With the group growing in size, range of abilities, and triathletes; we thought it would be a good idea to recap some basic group ride etiquette rules.
Fundamental rule A
Don’t do anything abruptly, without looking, or foolish* (*stronger words may be used if, in fact, you actually do something foolish). Please remember you haven’t had your coffee yet at 5:40 AM.
Fundamental rule B
Always assume someone is overlapping your wheel.
Rule 1 - Keep it tight
“Tight” means stay close to each other from side-to-side and front-to-back. This should be a point of pride. In a sport where we derive substantial enjoyment from the high-techitude and precision of our equipment (you spent how much on that last set of carbon wheels/GPS/shoes/bike/sunglasses?), riding scattered all over the road makes us look like a herd of Freds from the local tourist club. If we lose sight of this it’s all downhill from there (but not in a good way).
For the most part we will ride 2x2, bar-to-bar. You should ride close enough to the person next to you such that your handlebars are a few inches apart. If you can’t reach out and touch the person next to you, you are waaay too far apart. The appropriate distance apart is exactly equal to what would make someone of the opposite sex start to feel uncomfortable if you stood that close to them in the grocery store lineup.
In traffic, for safety and courtesy toward other road users, it’s especially important to stay close together. 60 riders riding 2x2 should stretch 60 meters, not 300. If the group gets too strung out in traffic (like coming home on Bayview from the Bridle Path) motorists will get frustrated, start taking chances, and weave in & out of the group. Keep it tight and leave no gaps. The ride is pretty much over by then anyway, so ride a bit slower and keep everyone together in a tight bunch (have I said “tight”enough?). And speaking of gaps...
Rule 2 - Fill the gap
Don’t leave a gap between you and the rider in front of you. Even if you’re in a gripping conversation about the benefits of whey protein or how your 5 minute power is up 3. 5 watts because you brush your teeth with your left hand, if there is a gap ahead of you must smoothly move into the gap and talk to someone new.
Rule 3 – No half-wheeling
Half-wheeling is one of the biggest faux-pas in group riding and quite possibly the most annoying breach of etiquette next to blowing your nose in the middle of the pace line. Half-wheeling is riding a half a wheel length ahead of the person next to you. When someone half-wheels it means their neighbour will have to ride up to be parallel then, inevitably, the half-wheeler will pull another half wheel forward, and so on until next thing you know the group is breaking up and everyone is sprinting to stay on. Not to mention every other rider from the front of the group to the back will be a half wheel off which totally screws up any kind of conversation your friends are trying to have. Don’t be that guy -- when you’re on the front ride exactly together, handlebar to handlebar, no exceptions. If you half-wheel don’t be surprised if someone grabs your jersey pocket and pulls you back.
Rule 4 – It’s not a race
Races are for racing. Notwithstanding certain areas like the Brimley hill and the Bridle Path loop, you should not attack the group. Attacking is for races. If you want to prove how strong you are, enter a race or crush your friends on Brimley. To paraphrase semi-pro Sim Green, our group ride should not look like this:
Rule 5 – no stoplight sprints
No blasting away from stoplights. If you’re at the front take it easy moving away from the light – the whole group can’t move away simultaneously. By the time the accordion of 60+ riders fully stretches and everyone gets clipped into their pedals the people at the back will have to sprint to stay with the group. Plus, not everyone is as elegantly talented at clipping into their pedals as you are.
Rule 6 – no passing on the curb side
If for some rare and unknown reason you need to ride up the side of the pace line, do it on the outside. Riding up the curb is a recipe for a crash. (However, pay attention to the lane – don’t cross into the next lane).
Rule 7 – pointing out hazards
Most riders get the general concept of this but some muff the execution. First, you only need to point out those obstacles that could potentially cause damage to one’s equipment or cause a rider fall from their bike. You need not diligently point out every crack, leaf, or candy wrapper. When you are on the front keep your eyes ahead and guide the groiup. Second, please do not yell “hole!!!”; if you do you will be noted as a particular type of hole. Which leads to...
Rule 8 – no yelling.
Pros don’t yell, why should you? The problem is that when you yell “!!!!HOLE!!!!” you i) scare the crap out of the guy beside you, who was until then enjoying a peaceful morning ride and who now thinks you’re about to crash and take the whole group down with you, and ii) it sounds like “AARMFFFPHE” any more than 2 riders back. There is no point. The best approach is to stay awake. Exceptions to this rule are i) calling “clear” when crossing roads and certain urgent situations like “car-up” (oncoming car) when some miscreant is riding on the wrong side of the road. “Car-back” shouldn’t have to be used because everyone will be following Rule 1 and Rule 2, above, right?
Rule 9 – traffic lights
Use the funeral approach. If the first riders can make it safely through then everyone goes. If it’s questionable stop (and look at the digital counters on your approach – if it’s close don’t take the chance)
Rule 10 – ride in a straight line
See Fundamental Rules A and B.
And on a related topic
In some cases the group may be interested in maximizing its pace, in which case a rotating pace-line might be called for. This is not the same as a single pace-line where each rider takes a decently long pull then drops to the back -- it is a continuously rotating group where each rider spends only a few seconds on the front and is the epitome of a group working together. When a group gets a good pace-line going it’s a beautiful blend of speed, effort, and precision. If you want to hear some old, crotchety roadies get worked up just fumble your spot in a rotating pace line or break rule 1, below. Then the “no yelling” rule is immediately waived.
Two top-notch examples are demonstrated by Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth Pro Cycling, and some OK riders in the Tour of California, 2007.
Some simple rules for rotating pace lines.
- NEVER, never, never, never, ever accelerate when you get to the front (unless you really want to be that guy for the next 10 years). This is the biggest misconception about rotating pace lines -- it’s not that you accelerate when you get to the front, it’s that you slow down when you pull over. When you hit the front of the line is not the time to get uppity.
- When the rider in front of you pulls off keep the pace as steady as possible (i.e. don’t accelerate). If you accelerate, the line is toast. In some cases when the pace line is moving at granny speed someone may take it upon themselves to not pull off and drive the pace up – this, however, is not your responsibility – it’s always someone else’s.
- When you pull off in to the “slow” lane, you will ease up by 1 or 2 km/h. Don’t stop pedalling – you’re still pulling the line behind you.
- When you’re the last rider and you move over to the “fast” lane, this is when you accelerate. You’ll need to pick up your speed by 1 or 2 km/h (funny how that works) to match the speed of the fast line.
- Stay awake.
- When you are the 2nd rider in the “fast” lane and the 1st rider starts to move over you should immediately start to ride up onto the 1st rider’s hip (see the videos above). By the time the 1st rider pulls over into the “slow” lane you should be almost bar-to-bar. If you wait until they have pulled over your pull will be twice as long and you’ll risk getting sketchy and you will get yelled at.
- When pulling over you can should look under your elbow at the rider’s wheel behind you. You don’t need to turn your whole head/body to look. Sometimes it’s not a bad idea to say “clear”sotto voce such that only the rider pulling over can hear you, when they are clear of your front wheel.
- When the pace-line is just getting going, and you pull into the fast lane, sometimes it’s handy to mention to the rider behind you in the rotation “last rider”. Again sotto voce please.
- If you are redlining you can skip a rotation from time to time. When you get to the back of the slow lane you’ll need to tell the rider behind you in the rotation (in front of you in the slow lane) to go in ahead of you.