Cycling Etiquette 101 for New Cyclists | Barton Haynes

Barton Haynes in sunny San Diego, here to talk about riding etiquette. Let’s call it a riding etiquette primer, primary aimed at new cyclists but rules that seasoned cyclists would benefit from keeping in mind.

So, why this article? Two reasons. 

First, when I first started riding I remember being distinctly with the question, “How should I ride to avoiding being a jerk or looking like an idiot.” This is especially true the first time you start riding in larger groups with strangers. I learned by trial and error. No, I learned by error and error. 

Two, of the only two complaints I have about cycling, one is that too many seasoned cyclists don’t seem to pay attention to etiquette rules. This is frustrating because it inhibits the safety of other cyclists, and inflames the rage that a certain driving segment of our population seem to have towards cyclists. 

As cyclists, we need to have common understandings and common ways of non-verbal communication in order to stay safe. So, here are some basic rules to live by on your bike.

General Cycling Etiquette

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Say “On Your Left” to Pedestrians, and Slow Down

When you are passing a pedestrian or another cyclists, you should always, Always, ALWAYS yell “On your left” when passing them. As you say it, slow down just a touch and get ready to break, if need be. 

The rationale is this: you don’t know what the person you are passing is going to do if you don’t let them know you are passing. They might swerve around a rock the moment you pass – swerve right into you. 

Also, get ready to break in case you say “on your left” and they move left right into your cycling path. This has happened far too many times, including collisions, for me to be anything but wary when I pass. 

Finally, yell loudly so that the person can hear you. This rule should not be bent, and there are no exceptions. It takes so little to say it, and it establishes good will on the part of cyclists.

Don’t “Establish Your Space” on the Road

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You are a cyclists, and weight a very small fraction of a car. Don’t establish you space on the road, pretend you are a car, be aggressive, or any other such nonsense that is generally described as “having a chip on your shoulder.” I see this with regularity. All it does it put you at danger, make cyclists look bad, and give drivers ill disposition towards cyclists.

Cars and trucks weigh hundreds of times more than you. It’s their road, even when we have cycling lanes. It’s our responsibility to be respectful, cautious guests. That’s the mindset you need to stay safe.

Don’t Wear Headphones

Cycling with headphones is dangerous, pure and simple. It sends the message to other cylcists and cards that, one, you don’t care about your safety and, two, you don’t care about their safety. It means you are likely not to hear “On your left,” “Car back,” approaching cars, or anything else.

Be Visible, Even Gaudy 

While having a flashy cycling suite may look good, there’s actually a pratical purpose – you are more likely to be seen. Where brightly colors, multicolored apparel is a good way to stay visible. I prefer construction-vest yellow for my shirt to ensure that I stick out like a sore thumb. 

Group Rule Riding Etiquette

Point Out Hazards on Road to People Behind You If You Are Lead

If you are the in front of the pack, it’s your responsibility to point down at possible obstructions as you ride by them, such as:

  • Rocks
  • Pot-holes
  • Sticks
  • Debris

This lets the riders know behind you that there is something to watch out for it.

And also note that you aren’t just point down towards the hazard, you should point down directly at its location. Riders in the middle and end of the pack will rely on where you pointed because they likely won’t be able to actually spot the hazard in time. 

Maintain Proper Riding Distance

Proper riding distance is essential. It’s a bit uncomfortable to ride so close to other cyclists at first, but it ensures that you have minimal wind resistance and the closeness allows you to respond better and only get minimally nudged. Proper riding distance is:

  • 10-12 inches from the rider next to you
  • Your front tire 6 inches from the back tire in front of you

Never More Than Two Abreast

Don’t ride more than 2 abreast. The person on the outside will be vulnerable. 

Yell “Car Back”

If you are riding with others and you hear or see a car coming behind you, yell “Car back” so that the riders in front of you are aware that it is coming. It’s the same concept as “on your left,” except this time you are watching out for your riding group. 

Take Turns Riding out Front

Don’t be the rider whose always sucking wind from someone in front of you. Riding out front is harder. We all have to take turns out front. The term for someone who doesn’t ride out front is “moocher.” You see this a lot in races, unfortunately. If you’ve ever read the book The Rider, you ‘ll know what I’m talking about. 

Barton Haynes New Cyclist

Thanks for following along as always, fellow cyclists.

Happy cycling,

Barton Haynes