Getting Started: Road Cycling Etiquette

Road Cycling Rules of the Road

Riding a bicycle gives you some elements of freedom that you don't get driving a car. You can ride on bike paths or roads, you don’t need a license and you can go as fast or as slow as you want. But there are rules, written and unwritten, that apply to road cycling, like driving. First there are rules of the road, second, rules on how to interact and ride with other cyclists, and lastly, some traditions that many road cyclists follow.

Riding on the Road

Silver Comet Trail
Georgia Alabama Border
Few cyclist are blessed to live in an area with extensive dedicated bike paths that allow you to ride
without a lot of car traffic. Every other cyclist has to deal with traffic. Bicycles are considered to be motor vehicles. Therefore, you must ride with traffic on the right-hand side of the right-most lane of the road. Use the designated bike lane  is there is one. Ride on the paved shoulder of the road, beyond the white line, if there is not designated bike lane. If there is no road shoulder or there is debris on the road, you are entitled to enter the lane where the cars are. You do not have to ride over glass or rocks by staying on the shoulder.You should not ride on the sidewalk unless it is specifically designated as a bike path shared with pedestrians, like many bike paths. Only very small children ride their bikes on the sidewalk, everyone else has to ride on the road. Helmets are required for cyclist under 18 in most states, including here in California. Helmets are optional for adults but are highly recommended. You don’t want to bounce your head off of the asphalt without one.
Stop at stop light and stop signs, especially if there is traffic around. I hate to see cyclists zipping through a stop light in front of cars at intersections. It’s a bad example of cyclists and it’s dangerous. Waiting 30 to 60 seconds for a light to change is very cheap compared to getting hit by a driver that will always say that they did not see you. Now, if you are in the middle of nowhere and you can’t hear any cars for some distance, then use your discretion.
The key to riding with cars is to be steady, predictable and respectful of drivers. Steering a steady, straight course and not weaving in and out of traffic lanes along the side of the road helps drivers.
Bike Lane, New York City
Riding predictably also helps drivers figure what you are going to do. Riding in front of cars when you could ride on the side of the road is not be respectful or considerate of drivers. It is the source of a lot of anger among drivers everywhere. Remember, the driver is encased in a 2 ton steel vehicle moving at 30 miles per hour or more, you are not. I make it point not to challenge cars, meaning I don’t put my bike in front of moving cars too often. And I will choose a quiet road over a busy one, especially one with merging traffic lanes and lots of businesses with separate driveways.
When you are out on the road, keep an eye on the cars, just like you would do if you are driving. It a driver is making a turn and is not looking at you, assume that the driver does not see you. Check for cars with active turning signals at intersections and driveways. As your approach intersections, be aware of the ‘left hook’, cars turning left in front of you, or the ‘right hook’, cars coming up from behind and turning right, cutting you off. And ride a few feet clear of cars that are parked along the side of the road, in case a driver opens a car door suddenly in front of you. And lastly, yield to pedestrians at crosswalks.

Other Cyclists

Road cyclists are like members of a fraternity. Generally, you greet other cyclists coming the other way, with either a nod or small wave. Often, a conversation will start up coming up alongside a cyclist going your way. And if you see someone stopped beside the road, you ask whether they are all right or if they need anything. A few times I have been missing one item or another to repair a flat tire and some helpful cyclist has given me that item. And I have done the same for other cyclists.
When riding in a group, there are a number of things that you should remember. If there is some debris on the side of the road, glass, sand or a grating say, you point to the debris to let the folks behind you know that they should watch out in front of them. Don’t overlap your wheel with the person in front of you, either ride fully alongside or behind. If the rider in front had to quickly dodge an object on the road, he wheel will touch yours and you could go down. If you are side by side, you should be able to see the object as well, or at worst, you will bump shoulders. When you go into a turn with a group, hold your line, do not veer out of your line. You could be swinging into another cyclist behind you. If a car is approaching from the back, call out ‘Car Back!’ or ‘Car Up!’, to the rest of the group. That will allow the group to move back to the edge of the road. And lastly, in a group ride, each cyclist is expected to take a turn at the front for a spell. You save 30% of your energy by drafting behind someone, so to be fair, you should ride in front and ‘pull’ the group as much as anyone else. Oh, and be sure that no one is directly behind when you spit or blow out a snot rocket.

The Secret Rules of the Road

There are many unwritten rules of the road, such as the 95 Rules listed by the Velominati blog, some are serious others are tongue in cheek. Only after some riding will you be able to tell the difference. These rules listed below will help you shake off your newbie status:

  • Richard Masoner
    Don’t wear a current pro team kit (shorts and jersey), unless you are on the team. Wearing an old disbanded pro team kit is acceptable. Current pro team kits are expensive as well, jerseys will typically start above $100.
  • Don’t wear a leader or champion jersey, unless you actually earned that jersey in a race. I haven’t seen a Tour de France Yellow jersey on the road here in California in years, so I think this rule is holding true.
  • Baggy shorts and T-shirts are for mountain biking. Lycra shorts and fitted bike jerseys are for road cycling.
  • The arms of your sunglasses must be outside of your helmet straps, not tucked under the straps.
  • Don’t wear visors on your helmet while road cycling. If you have a visor, you have a mountain bike helmet.
  • Don’t tuck in your jersey into your shorts.
  • Don’t wear underwear beneath your shorts. Cycling shorts are designed to carry away moisture. Your underwear will just be a layer of wet underneath your shorts.
  • Don’t talk about how much you spent on your bike and accessories with anyone who does not ride. They will not understand.
  • Don’t wear earphones. Road cycling is about the outdoors. Hearing a hawk screeching overhead is worth more than any song track. Besides your cycling doesn’t need a soundtrack.
  • For the gentlemen, you should shave your legs. This will help in case of a crash, since taking the bandage off will be so much easier. Also, as you get into better shape, you can show off your legs better not hidden beneath a layer of fur. And it’s a tradition, that shows you respect the sport. This to me is the important part.