Cycling group rides are crucial to building a sense of camaraderie and community. Weekly and annual cycling events bring people of all abilities together and keep them connected for years. Riding safely in a group and understanding the basics of cycling etiquette keeps the community safe. Whether it’s a training ride (read: unofficial race) or a coffee spin, understanding how to stay upright, ride predictably, and showing respect for the riders around you make every day on the bike a bit better.
We’ve divided up this chunky guide on cycling etiquette into several categories:
- Showing Up
- Expectations / Gent’s Rules
- Rotating and Drafting
- The Unwritten Rules (Written Down)
It’s not the ultimate guide and kolo t.c. is not the ultimate authority. The purpose of this guide it to set standards by which our cycling community can begin to synthesize safe riding into everything we do; we hope it helps your local club, too.
Showing Up To A Group Ride
The first rule of cycling group etiquette is to show up on time. When a ride is posted to leave at 8 am, pulling into the lot at 8 am means you’re late. Life happens. You will be late sometimes. Text someone at the ride to let them know you’re on the way. If you’re consistently late, don’t expect people to wait.
- Show up at least 5 minutes before the ride is scheduled to leave
- The ride should not leave early
What To Bring And What To Know
Every rider should bring what they need to complete the ride as if they were riding alone. That means enough water, enough food, and the right tools and supplies to get home. You should try to have these things with you:
- Approximately 1 bottle of water per hour of planned riding
- Approximately 100 calories of food per hour of planned riding
- 1 tube, 1 CO2, 1 tire lever, and a multitool
- The best bike tool of all time, a cellphone
- If you don’t know the route or area, have a GPS unit with the road loaded, if available
- Appropriate clothing for conditions (bring a spare vest or coat in spring and fall)
Expectations / Gent’s Rules
We use a loosely interpreted collection of guidelines called “Gent’s Rules”. We should really update the name to something more inclusive. Here are the basics:
- The ride leader should set expectations about pace and staying together. If it’s no drop, say so. If it’s rolling regroups, say so. The ride leader calls the ball and enforces the expectations. Don’t show up to a no-drop ride and drop people. Alternatively, don’t show up to a drop ride and expect people to wait.
- Our “Gent’s Rules” rides aren’t drop/no-drop. On these rides, we wait for everyone at least once, usually over the top early climbs. Get dropped again, it’s 50/50. Get dropped three times, you might be on your own.
- The key principle of Gent’s Rules is that it isn’t a race. No attacking, no random accelerations or putting it in the gutter. We’re trying to stay together but doing so at a decent pace.
Rotating and Drafting
You could write a book on the intricacies of cycling paceline etiquette and efficiency, but here are the basics
- Always rotate (or drop) into the wind. If the wind is blowing from the left-hand side, the lead rider will drop to the left-hand side. This blocks the ‘advancing’ rider from the wind. Think of it as using the wind to push you to the back of the group.
- If the wind is from straight ahead or straight behind, get a rotation doing in either direction. If you know the road turns and will present a crosswind, try to anticipate the change by rotating that way before the turn.
- If your group needs to change the rotation direction, announce it loudly before trying to switch. Then, one rider will pause during their turn, make the “rotate” hand signal, and restart the rotation in the right direction.
Keep talking and communicating. The best way to go fast and to stay safe is to over-communicate what is happening now and what will happen next. Here are some other ways to keep it safe (and keep it moving):
- Announce “last wheel” when you’re the last rider in the line and moving up. This allows the rider in front of you in the paceline, who is about to become the rider behind you in the paceline, a few seconds to adjust their pace and reduce any gaps that might otherwise open.
- Smooth is fast. Avoid opening gaps by closing gaps slowly. Moving up through the paceline should not be an acceleration! From back to front, the effort should be as consistent as possible. Your goal is to make even the fastest paceline as easy as possible for the riders around you.
- If you can’t pull through, be vocal and get out of the way. If you’re hoping onto the back, move behind the advancing column so that riders moving back and then shifting over to move forward can see you. Tell every single rider that you’re sitting in so they aren’t waiting for you to move up.
- Took a break? Rejoin the rotation by letting a dropping rider know you’re back in the game. Talk to them, by name, telling them you’re getting in the rotation ahead of them so they know to drop behind you.
Group Cycling Safety
There’s safety in numbers and that’s certainly true in cycling. The added visibility of a large group of cyclists also comes with responsibility. Drivers see you, the community sees you, and they will base their opinion of every single cyclist in the area based on your behavior. Remember that cycling etiquette is also road etiquette. Be cool out there.
- Stop at stop signs. At least slow roll stop signs. Too many group rides have turned into crime sprees, with one rider blowing through a stop sign, causing everyone else to follow suit. At some point, someone will get killed if riders keep running stop signs. You can’t repeatedly put your life and the lives of others at risk and then act surprised when something tragic happens.
- Over-communicate. Call out rocks, debris, parked cars, turning cars, oncoming cars, passing cars, dogs, cats, turkeys, interesting clouds, sticks, leaves, ACORNS!, gaps in the pavement. Point, yell, use American Sign Language. You can’t say too much if it means keeping people safe.
- Where are we going? Even on routine group rides that use the same route, announce turns and stops. Always. Give plenty of warning for all turns and point for those who may not be able to hear.
- Use lights. Even on group rides, toss a taillight on your bike and don’t scoff at headlights, either. These greatly increase your visibility to drivers, especially in gray weather, dawn, and dusk.
- Don’t cross the yellow line. Ever. Not to pass, not to “move up”, not to take a wide turn. Don’t cross the yellow line.
The Unwritten Rules of Cycling Etiquette (Written Down)
There are some things that are simply not done.
Sitting In World Champion
Did you sit in the past 48 miles of a group ride? That’s cool. But don’t suddenly ‘win’ the final climb or sprint. That’s not cool. If you have the energy to sprint or climb, you should have pulled more throughout the ride.
No Flat Kit Fred
You’re a weight weenie and refuse to bring spare tubes, tools, or CO2. You might be on your own. Don’t count on others to supply your repair supplies…at least not twice. Always offer to replace a tube or CO2 if someone gives you theirs.
Group Cycling FAQs
From cycling terms to common questions, here’s what you need to know.
What is half-wheeling?
Half-wheeling is when one rider constantly accelerates while riding next to someone. Whether on purpose or not, half-wheeling is poor form; pick a speed and hold it. Ride level, not a half-wheel ahead, to keep the pace steady.
What is an echelon?
On very windy days, a paceline takes on a unique shape, called an echelon. The group moves into the wind to give subsequent riders more protection, causing the group to stretch from one side of the road to the other. The echelon can sometimes be from yellow to the gutter. This is a great explainer video.
What does “put it in the gutter” mean?
To gutter it, put it in the gutter, or some other variation of the term is a tactic in crosswinds. If an echelon is used to make riding in the wind easier, guttering is meant to break up groups and cause splits. Instead of using the full width of the road or lane, putting it in the gutter means to use a small section of the road.
If the wind is coming from the lefthand side, a rider or team will ride within a foot or two of the gutter on the righthand side of the road. This means only one or two riders are protected from the wind instead of several. In many cases, just a few riders will rotate on the front while staying as close to the gutter as possible. At some point, the group behind will likely split. Done right, guttering the peloton can reshape a ride or race.
When are you ready to ride in a cycling group?
Find a casual group and learn the basics. Considering riding with a small group of less than a dozen riders at a leisurely pace to get a feel for riding close to others. Being comfortable turning, climbing and descending within inches of other riders can take time to get used to. Once you feel comfortable riding in a small group with people you know, you’re ready to join larger riders. Remember, we are all learning how to ride better in a bunch, always!
What should be in a cycling flat kit?
Every cycling flat kit should include a tube, a tire lever, a pump or CO2 cartridge, and a multitool. You might also consider bringing a quick link, a chain tool, a tube/tire patch, and a second tube for long rides in bad weather.
Thanks for reading. We’ll keep adding to our cycling etiquette guide, so check back when you can. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter, Off The Back, for the latest cycling news and results.