Cycling Etiquette
by Simon Richardson | 11/08/09

I watched the overweight man in the cow-print Lycra (we shan’t even deal with that indiscretion here) and his fluoro mate accelerate past me for the second time. He’d been sat on my little group for a good half hour or so into a headwind before making the first of his little bids for freedom instead of sharing the pace making. But this wasn’t a race, it was a sportif and therefore this simple action was cause enough to irritate the hell out of me.

It got me thinking though; cycling has enough unwritten rules to rival any walnut paneled, smoky gentlemen’s club. The only things missing are the hefty membership fee and the initiation ceremony, although on reflection, cycling has both of these too. The rules governing behaviour and etiquette are so steeped and ingrained, that to ignore them, break them or feign ignorance is like committing a cardinal sin.

Take for example pre-season training camp. The badge of “half-wheeler” is as offensive as it gets. It always applies to the person going too fast, not the one going bloody slowly and lasts all season long. Perhaps the hardest label to shake is the person who sits on and never gives a turn, the man last to leave the piss stop or the traffic lights so he can resume his post at the back. This isn’t a problem per se, after all sitting on is not a crime, but it all hinges on what you do after.

Returning to the windswept, tortuous road somewhere in Lancashire I concluded that cycling etiquette is there for a very good reason, and that is that bike riding is damn hard. Nothing is more likely to get you pissed off and grumpy than being tired/hungry/dehydrated/wet/cold/competitive and any combination thereof. There was a British pro from the late 90’s who had Cycling Tourettes. Any time he swung a leg over a bike, a torrent of absolute filth would pour forth from his mouth directed at any unfortunate f***ing, c***ing p***k who happened to commit a minor indiscretion within his vicinity. Back in the changing room, he was a gent.

The kind of physical stress we subject ourselves to is liable to cause mental regression to the extent that a peloton can essentially become a crèche for petulant children. I would consider myself a fairly mild mannered kind of chap, but I am guilty of purposely riding someone through the tapes of a cyclo cross race. But it was provoked, he broke unwritten rule number 153.1: thou shall not sit on for 2/3rds of the race claiming you are there for training and then attack. In hindsight it’s clear that I may have been close to my limit, and my little tantrum was the physical manifestation of this.

In most other aspects of life, I’ll happily ignore it. Elbows on the table, cutlery used as shovels, cappuccino in the afternoon, but cycling? No, I will live and die by cycling etiquette. It protects us against roadside strops and mid-ride bust ups. It should have prevented the fist fight on the Bristol Chain Gang last month (can’t believe I missed that one). It allows sporting generosity like gifting Tour stages to less illustrious brothers. And ultimately it would have stopped me mentally denigrating Cow Man, for which in the cold hard light of day, I am very sorry for.