Cycling Etiquette

Cyclescheme, 19.11.2015

Cycling Etiquette

Your fellow cycle commuters are your companions, not your competitors. Good cycling manners make the journey to work better for all of us.

Cycle commuting in the UK used to be a solitary pursuit: you rode to work and saw maybe a handful of other cyclists. Nowadays, particularly in certain hotspots like London, you can encounter masses of cyclists. That's fantastic! More cyclists is better for everyone. Yet it demands a change in attitude - a spirit of cooperation, a bit of give and take. Cycle commuting today is a team game. If you've come to commuting from club cycling, you'll be used to integrating with other cyclists. If you've only ever ridden alone, don't worry: it's mostly a matter of common sense and good manners. Here are some additional pointers.

Semaphore for cyclists

Hand signals are a vital way to communicate with any road user. Other cyclists need to know what you're doing and where you're going just as much as drivers. Don't just swing left or right. Look, signal, manoeuvre. There are additional signals you can give specifically to inform a cyclist behind you: a hand or finger (rather than an arm) pointed to one side - I'm going that way e.g. to filter around this stationary traffic; a cupped left hand swept sideways behind one's back - move out e.g. to get around a parked car ahead; a finger pointed down at the road - look out for that pothole; a hand held horizontally, patting the air - slow down; a hand out to one side, sweeping forward - come past me (a flicked elbow is also used for this). There are two caveats with these subtler signals. Firstly, they're not a substitute for the hand signals you'll find in the Highway Code but an adjunct. Secondly, they may only be understood by sporting cyclists!

Ride your line

Your 'line' is simply an imaginary line from where you are now to where you seem to be going. Other road users – cyclists and drivers – will expect you to stay on it. In other words: ride predictably and make any direction changes gradual. Don't swerve suddenly and don't jink carelessly around stationary traffic when filtering. If you suddenly deviate from your line, you may cut across in front of another cyclist, 'shutting the door' on the them, as racers say, and forcing them to brake or take evasive action.

You are 3 steps away from improving your commute

Pass or be passed

It's not a race. You may want to mash those pedals round for maximum training effect. You may want to drop that guy when you accelerate from the traffic lights. Fine. But don't focus on this personal competition at the expense of focusing on the traffic environment that you're in. If another rider comes up behind you on a narrow cycle track or bridleway, move to one side to let them pass when it is convenient and safe for you to do so. (They shouldn't have any problem passing on roads or wider tracks.)

pass or be passed

Overtake with care

Look, signal, manoeuvre. Give the cyclist you're overtaking plenty of room. You should be able to pass at least an arm's reach away. Don't swing in too soon or you risk clipping their front wheel with your rear wheel, which could see you both on the tarmac. Don't undertake other cyclists, but be alert that this may happen to you, especially if you're taking the lane or are about to turn left. 

If you're overtaking a cyclist on an off-carriageway cycle track or bridleway, let them know: ring your bell or call out a greeting ('good morning') and/or an explanation ('overtaking on your right'). Moderate your speed and give them room. Don't blitz past at 25mph with millimetres to spare.

Don't be a wheel-sucker

It's bad form to sit in another cyclist's slipstream for miles. They're doing the grunt work, pushing the air out of the way, while you're freeloading, saving energy. Take your turn in the wind.

Be wary of whose wheel you sit behind and how close you get. Some cyclists will ride predictably; others won't. Sudden braking or swerving in front could put you both in trouble if you're too close to react. Keep your distance unless you're sure of the rider in front, and don't get too close to any cyclist in a busy urban environment.

Cycle to Work gif


Stop means stop

Some cyclists ignore red lights. They may zip past you when you stop instead, so hold your line as you come to a halt to prevent being rear-ended by an idiot. 

cycling etiquette

Joining other cyclists in the green 'cycling box' at an Advanced Stop Line at traffic lights is often useful. Barging in front of everyone there is boorish and unnecessary. There will be plenty of time to overtake once you get rolling. Note that you're not allowed over the white line at the front of an ASL; you have to stay in or behind the box.

Dim the lights

Ultra-bright lights intended for mountain biking at night can and do dazzle. The The Highway Code, rule 114, says: 'You MUST NOT... use any lights in a way which would dazzle or cause discomfort to other road users, including pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders.' If you have a super-bright light, toggle it down to a lower setting when other road users are about. It's a particular problem on cycle tracks as you'll be shining your light right in the face of oncoming cyclists; there isn't the width of a road to separate you.

Listen up

Headphones are a bad idea when riding in traffic. You might be able to hear cars, albeit not as well, but you will not be able to hear other cyclists. 

It's not about the bike

Don't turn your nose up at other cyclists for their bike or equipment choices. It's up to them what bike they ride and what they wear while riding it, even if you don't agree. That chubby guy on a rusty old mountain bike is just as much a cyclist as you are on your premium road bike. There is no transport pecking order. 

Check your savings            Find a retailer


More articles

Round Up: The best bikes under £250

Round Up: The best bikes under £250

Cheap doesn’t have to mean nasty. Choose wisely and you can buy a decent new commuter bike for £250 or less.

Round Up: Making the most of your folding bike

Round Up: Making the most of your folding bike

When your bike folds to the size of a suitcase, your cycle-to-work strategies will be different. Here are some tips.

Round Up: Road markings made simple

Round Up: Road markings made simple

White lines provide straightforward instructions – which are sometimes misunderstood or ignored. Here’s how to adjust your riding accordingly.