#WednesdayWisdom: Find your people

Photo: trilondon.com/group-cycling-etiquette

At the risk of descending into a rant, I want to reflect on a recent experience that left me exasperated, because it highlights the importance of finding the right people to ride with, so you get the most out of your group riding experience.

I want to go on more group rides. So far I’ve been on a couple of Breeze rides, a couple of social rides with my fellow Bristol Bike Project volunteers, and of course, the monthly Critical Mass, which is always huge fun.

I decided to go along to a 40-mile group ride on Sunday – I won’t name the group I rode with – and can certainly say I learned a lot from the experience. I’m sure there will be plenty of people who read the following and nod their heads, thinking ‘this is absolutely the right way to ride as a group’. Others will shake their heads and feel as perplexed as I do.

This isn’t a post about the right or wrong way to ride in a group. I don’t know the right way to ride in a group, because I’m not part of any cycling clubs. I just know how I feel about what happened on Sunday, and want to reflect.

Riding as one

Photo: roadcyclinguk.com

This isn’t specific to the group, and in fact it also relates to some previous rides I’ve been on. In my opinion, a group should ride at the pace of their slowest rider. Otherwise, they become disjointed and the riders at the back can be left feeling excluded and alienated. Furthermore, it’s the job of the ride leader to make sure that everyone in the group reaches each checkpoint before moving on. To me, this seems basic.

On Sunday, our group was extremely disjointed. Before setting out, our ride leader asked for someone to volunteer as a back marker, and a lady immediately offered herself up, stating that she should because she was the slowest. Red flag. She spent the whole day miles behind us, riding alone for a lot of it.

If a group rides together, there should be no need to stop at certain checkpoints to re-group, but this isn’t always the case. Our ride leader would advise us of the next point where we would regroup, and then set off at his own pace.

That was, until he stopped waiting for us at the checkpoints. We reached a point where, upon arriving in Bath, our ride leader was nowhere to be found. A couple of other riders were waiting for us there, and told us where the next checkpoint was, passed down from him before he’d moved on without them.

It was at this point that I remembered at the start, he gave out his phone number and stated “we have lost people before”, and suddenly it all made sense how. To me, this is not how you lead a ‘group’ ride.

Bell-ringers united

Photo: camulos.com

As we were riding along the Bristol-Bath Railway Path, I started to notice a pattern in the way one of the riders used her bell. At first, she was the only one, and I assumed it was just her way of riding. Whenever we approached pedestrians, or were about to overtake some cyclists, she rang her bell twice.

This didn’t bother me at first. I understand it’s helpful to alert people to your presence. However after a while, a lot of the other riders started doing it. I put this down to the group splitting up; at first she rang on behalf of the whole group, but once we separated into smaller units, each unit gained at least one self-certified bell-ringer.

While bells are there for a reason, they can come across as aggressive if overused. Eventually the group took me to my wit’s end with their incessant ringing. They didn’t just ring politely ahead of time to alert pedestrians to their presence. They waited until they were practically on their heels, and then rang several times to move them out the way. Groups of two or three riders together would ring at the same time.

There were multiple occasions on the towpath (which is extremely narrow and was heaving with people enjoying the sunshine), where I encountered very ratty and hostile people who didn’t want to let me past, because they’d just been harassed by a hoard of bell-happy cyclists ahead of me.

For those of you familiar with the path, you’ll know that there are several bridges with single-file only pathways and restricted views of the other side. At one point as we approached a bridge, three riders in front of me gained on a pedestrian couple who were about to walk under the bridge. Instead of slowing and waiting, they all rang their bells multiple times, forcing the couple to step aside and let them through. As you’d imagine, one of them became very hostile towards the group, swearing at us and claiming right of way. This was met with dismissive comments among the riders: “oh dear, was there an altercation with an angry pedestrian?”


Photo: thebogtrotter.co.uk

I use my bell sparingly. If I’m approaching a large group of people and there’s limited passing space, I ring my bell ahead of time, to alert them of my presence and give them time to shift over a bit and let me pass. I ring my bell if approaching a narrow underpass with only room for one person at a time, in case someone is approaching from the other side. Or, I occasionally ring my bell if approaching a person with misbehaving children or multiple dogs, in case they’re too preoccupied to know I’m there. Again, I leave plenty of time for them to become aware of me, and choose what to do with that information.

If I’m approaching a couple walking side by side and need to overtake, I don’t ring my bell. Instead, I call out to them: “Just to your right”, or the timeless classic: “Excuse me, please”. It’s not difficult to do. It establishes a rapport. It’s personal. To them, you become a fellow human being on a bike, rather than a silent bell-ringing wheel-mounted lunatic.

What annoyed me the most on that towpath was that I was riding ahead of one of these bell-happy groups, who were very close behind. If ever I approached some pedestrians, before I got the chance to call out to them, my companions rang their bells on my behalf. As I noted earlier, some of these people had already been hassled by hoards of bell-ringers. Needless to say, these people then thought it was me ringing at them, and diverted their hostility towards me. Thanks, guys.

Name that thing

Photo: slate.com

As I said before, I’m not an experienced group rider, but it’s my understanding that there are times when it’s appropriate to call out to your group to warn them of a hazard. For example, if you’re riding along a country road and a car approaches in the opposite direction, you’d call out “car down” to alert riders behind you so they can get into single file. The same goes for a car approaching from behind, and “car up”.

I can get on board with that. That makes sense. It keeps the group safe.

What doesn’t make sense, and has no bearing on the group’s safety whatsoever, is to call out “bike down” and “bike up” for literally every other cyclist ON A TWO-WAY CYCLE PATH.

I mean, really? Seriously? Don’t you have anything better to do?

What purpose can it possibly serve, to let the riders know behind you that other cyclists are approaching in a separate lane? If you’re riding two abreast in a group, then fair enough. You need to tell the others to move over. But this wasn’t the case.

This was when we were riding through the Two Tunnels Greenway, which you ride in single-file because they are in total darkness. You expect other riders to come in the opposite direction, many without lights, and you ride in single file. If you’re riding two abreast in those tunnels and feel the need to call out approaching cyclists, you must be an idiot with a death wish.

What’s more, they not only called out every single cyclist in an enclosed, echoey tunnel with acoustics that carry, so everyone else can hear… they also called out things like “cyclist down, no lights”. To me, all this does is call another person out on a mistake they’ve made, and make them feel bad about it. It’s just not necessary. Play nice.

On a lighter note, once we caught on that this was happening, Adam made me laugh hysterically by calling out “dog up” for a dog that was miles away. We continued to play ‘name that thing’ for the rest of our time with the group.


If there’s any purpose to this post other than venting my frustrations, it’s to say that if you decide to get out on some group rides, take the time to find a group of people you can ride happily with. Everyone is different, and groups vary in their etiquette and habits. Make sure the group is for you, and if it’s not, find a way to excuse yourself and try a different one.

/end rant



19 Replies to “#WednesdayWisdom: Find your people”

  1. I’ve got plenty I can take issue with in your post, probably go on my own rant, but I won’t because new cyclists are the lifeblood of club rides.

    I ride with the big kids, where it’s keep up or ride alone – it’s the precursor ride for those who race or want to. There is no regrouping, no waiting, not even for a flat tire. The only goal is to be the one to drop the last guy on your wheel. Everyone gets dropped. Even the B group is keep up or ride with the D or E group… The A, B, and C groups are not no drop rides.

    Your statement, ” In my opinion, a group should ride at the pace of their slowest rider” would get you laughed at aggressively in the group I ride with pleasantly (not presently, pleasantly). My comment would be, “then you’re riding with the wrong group”.

    We have slower people in our community who simply don’t get invited to our rides (our weekend rides are invite only, one must pass the Tuesday test to be invited on the weekend rides). This way we hurt the feelings of slower people (or jerks) before they ever get their feet clipped in. What we find incredibly unnerving are the hostage takers, those who will ride slower simply to make the group slow down. If we’re going 22, they want to go 20 (mph, not km/h). If we’re going 21, they want 19, 18 or even 17…

    Now, I did something funny in my comment earlier. I wrote that we preemptively hurt feelings by not inviting certain people on our rides…. That’s only one way of looking at it. We also save people from having to experience the sadness of getting dropped regularly because we won’t wait.

    As an aside, on that Tuesday night ride I wrote of, I have been dropped by the A guys every Tuesday for four years and I never once complained.

    I started the B group.

    The rest, I won’t mess with because I’ve taken enough of your time. Ride on! And I hope you find a good group to fit into, sincerely I do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally understand what you’re saying, and clearly that’s the culture of your group – I’m not talking about a formal club here, and that’s the issue I think. The ride I went on was just a social ride organised by a local cycling campaign to get people out on their bikes. A lot of the rides I’ve been on where people have been left behind, have been toted as ‘all abilities’ rides, so of course you get people showing up who haven’t ridden a bike for years and want to start riding now the sun’s out. These are the people who end up left behind, feeling alienated and probably won’t try again because of it, and that’s what I’m against. From the sounds of it, you’re part of a group/club with a rigid structure, and you ride to ride fast. I’m not talking about those kinds of rides (because it would be me at the back!).

      I would just like to see more consideration for beginners in ‘all abilities’ / ‘beginner friendly’ rides, which I currently don’t.

      I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on the bell-ringing – please do correct me if I’m wrong for getting annoyed by this. I genuinely want to learn more about group riding, and appreciate there will be differences between our riding styles!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The incessant bell ringing sounded like a game. Personally, I’d kick my own ass for putting a bell on my Venge, but cultures are what they are. That said, in the US we simply use the “on your left”… Not ironically, the hand wringers over hear advocate for bells that are “less aggressive”. If you can offer a non-aggressive way to say, “Get the f*** out of my way, ya wanker” I’d be open to hear it! Surely I jest. Kinda.

        As for your point, I believe all no-drop rides should be advertised as such, with those exact words. That keeps people like me away and others happy to ride at their leisure. Then there’s no confusion.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I went to the same ride, although I don’t think we’ve spoken much. It was my 2nd ride with this group, but the 1st one with everyone in the group (does it make sense?). Pretty much everything was new: people, route, distance, speed, etc. Everyone looked so professional and knowledgeable, so my reaction to the things you listed was “oh, so that’s how you’re supposed to do it?”. Yes, afterwards I really thought that we’re supposed to use the bell more and do the tunnel shouting thing.

    I’m still new to cycling and I’m in a sponge mode where I’m soaking in everything – thanks for writing this and reminding me to be more critical in what I absorb. I feel a bit silly now, but hopefully that will stop me from developing bad habits 🙂

    BTW. I wondered why your name sounded so familiar – turns out I’ve been reading your blog / following you on twitter for a while now, but didn’t connect the dots. This is the point where I could say “it was nice to meet you in person”, but I guess I missed my opportunity!


    1. Oh hey Kat! It’s funny, I keep bumping into people who read the blog but we don’t always realise it at the time.

      Very interesting that you’ve read this, having been on the ride yourself, and really good to hear that you’re now questioning it yourself. As a new rider it’s so easy to fall into bad habits by trusting the more experienced riders, but I do think (in my personal opinion) that long-term experience can lead to complacency, laziness and bad habits.

      I felt that ride in particular was well organised but not well-run, and that was what ruined it for me.

      Out of interest, what was the first ride like?

      I’m sure we’ll cross paths again soon 🙂


      1. I’m trying to up my cycling game / cycle maintenance skills, so I bet we will indeed cross paths at some point 🙂

        The first ride had a completely different vibe. It started at Filton Abbey Wood train station, which meant quite a long ride to get to the starting point, which was an adventure in itself. There were only 6 of us on the ride, so it was much smaller and it was easier to keep the same pace. It felt pretty much like Life Cycle’s Bikeminded group, with whom I’ve been riding since December (rides no longer than 30 miles, but chilled out and full of nasty hills).

        The first ride was advertised as beginner friendly and we did only about 20 miles, so I suspect people came with different expectations? At some point one person told me to come to the Two Tunnels ride if I’d like to try something longer / faster / a bit more challenging, so the speed and losing people on Sunday didn’t surprise me that much.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I wasn’t aware of the Bikeminded group, I may have to look them up – sounds more like my kind of ride!

        Really interesting to hear the difference between the two rides… was it the same ride leader?


  3. I feel that it should be discussed at the start of the group ride what kind of pace is expected. If it is a group ride catering for all abilities then no one should be left behind. If riders break away, then there is no group.
    As a mountain biker I don’t expect anyone to get out of my way on the trail, it’s my job to manoeuvre around people not lord it about ringing a little bell. If im out walking and a bell ringer is coming up behind me, that’s my que to stand my ground 🙂
    Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I did actually ask at the beginning of the ride what sort of pace they were expecting to set, but this was directly to the group leader as we were still assembling, but there was no discussion with the group as a whole afterwards. It just makes me want to lead my own rides – I feel like I’d be a great ride leader having learned from the mistakes of others!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. A bad early experience can put you off cycling clubs for life. I had a similar experience to you 20 years ago (!) with a club that embodied the ‘point of order Mr. Chairman’ mentality and spent more time walking with their bikes and making brews on camping stoves than doing any actual riding, and the average age was in three figures. The problem was that the club was advertised in a publication (this was 1997) that had nothing to do with the club’s principal focus, so it was a case of benign misrepresentation and not really their fault.

    Nevertheless, while I’ve taken a couple of long breaks from cycling in the time since that episode, it is still burned on my retinas and is the reason why I haven’t been near a club since – TBH on the whole I prefer the solo ride vibe these days anyway (and David Millar’s Velo Club Rocacorba is not currently recruiting).

    My point is that with social media being what it is today, it’s probably easier than ever to form your own club if you were so inclined. I doubt you’d have any shortage of interest.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It sounds like your experience 20 years ago was pretty similar to mine on Sunday!

      I am actually considering starting my own group rides, because I feel really passionate about empowering others to ride, and I think clubs like the one I went out with are enough to put people off, as you say.

      I also agree that solo riding is definitely more appealing, I just have confidence issues which is why I like to be led occasionally as a way of learning new routes!

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting – are you riding regularly these days?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes I’m deffo back on the bike again since last summer, after the three-pronged attack of the Olympics, the Tour of Britain and the Vuelta reignited a long dormant spark. (that, and the doctor telling me off for having high cholesterol). I reckon that the health benefits alone mean this time it’s for keeps.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi!!
    I have to say, from my complete inexperience and only hearing things second hand from Owen, I was also of the notion that informal, non-club rides go at the pace of the slowest/least experienced rider and that you always wait for everyone at the checkpoints. So, your experience does make me hesitant to try out informal group rides (and as a member of the campaign I was hoping to to one day join them for a ride…).
    Having said that, I have been itching to find a group to go out with regularly but that is at my level, however I’m actually a bit scared to formally look into it. SO, if you were to start your own group ride/club, you can count me and Owen in! (Though depending on length, it might just be me due to dog duties!)
    Regarding the bell thing, I took mine off completely because I got the feeling that most pedestrians are annoyed with bells because of the aggressive bell ringers. I tend to politely ask if I can pass if I’m in a rush. This stems only from my commuting experience so usually I just slow to a walking pace until there is ample space to pass (even when pedestrians choose to walk the centre of clearly designated cycle paths!).


  6. I am sorry you had a bad time on your group ride.
    My experience has been a mixed bag. I have been riding with a group for two years. The first year, I found my group and stuck with them. For the most part things went well. Sometimes I was at the back and sometimes in the middle.
    When I went back the next year, they dropped me on the first ride–well, somebody waited for me because we were heading into the wind and he wanted to help me. Thankfully his name was big John and he was big enough to provide a big draft for me.
    The riding season has just started here and I am hoping for a better experience this year. We will see how it goes. I will probably get a garmin so that I if I lag behind, at least I can follow the routes.
    I look forward to reading more about your journey.

    Liked by 1 person

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