Cycling Social Etiquette: Do I Even Know You?!

We've all got that one friend havn't we? You're constantly having to keep an eye out on them, are they still on my wheel? Do they need to stop for a bite to eat? Do they still have their dummy in?! (Yes I'm talking about you @RouteSurreyUK ) But for their flaws, they also have their upsides, the natural characteristic of just being nice.

Think we can all agree that the world of cycling is built on a different set of social dynamics whether you ride in a club or you do like the lonely ride like myself, there's an understanding that you greet one another with a nod, smile or like Ali (aka @RouteSurreyUK) wave his little finger like a teapot! But it has been noted and mentioned via social media by cycling's social media butterfly Rebecca Charlton that the art of appreciation to each other is dying out. For you lot who argue that you wouldn't wave driving in a car (unless you play that game when you were younger where you beeped the horn to every pedestrian, wave enthusiastically to see how many would wave back, yes I was a willing participant, a record of 20 waves in 5 minutes is quite impressive and says much about the locals of Teddington that they are jolly folkl!) if you did wave to another driver, a stare which would probably kill would greet you. Similar also to other activities and past times, would you wave to a fellow player in rugby or football? Probably get your head kicked in and told to mark your man or take out the 24st fella you're about to tackle!

Break it down though, are we competing against each other? It's that pride factor which dominates us if we are overtaken by another cyclist whether it be at a traffic light or up some monstrous hill that we turn into some Jose Mourinho type character and tell our inner ego there can only be one (parody of Highlander meets The Special One!). We are fuelled now by our fitness tracking apps through the world of Strava and other similar sites so when you've got your head down gunning it to break your PB or to catch the fixie who's beaten you at the traffic lights, you probably don't have the mindset in that moment to look out for your fellow cyclist. The question I pose to you is when was the last time a stranger in any situation showed you an act of kindness big or small for no apparent reason?

I don't write to name and shame, I don't have time to have negativity on here but there are two situations that have stuck in my mind over the years which have showed me both sides to cycling's take on social etiquette. To me etiquette just means being human, we are all brought up on morals and principles but when put in social situations at work, at the pub, in a sports team, it's like the majority of us put on this cape, turn into our alter-ego and forget how to empathise and feel. Our arrogance level shoots up like its been spiked and we forget who we are as an individuals. You can even harshly apply the mob attitude to this, one person on their own will be their true self, put them in a group and all of the sudden we are sheep. I am generalising here and I apologise to those who don't follow but lead because you have my upmost respect but we are all guilty of it. I often build up the sudden urge in new situations to break the ice with a joke or a genuine get to know you convo, makes me feel at ease and like to think the other person will lower their social wall (sounds like I'm after their credit card details, I can assure I'm not, I just need their mothers maiden name!).

Now here's where I won't name and shame but the ride with this particular club left a bitter taste. I always wanted to try a club run and built up the confidence to get involved in one. This was pre-carbon era and my trust was ingrained in Halfords consumer friendly Carrera series. I had the Valour which apart from the welding which looked like a GCSE Design Tech student had a go on it for a laugh in detention whilst drinking White Lightning, it wasn't a bad bike, it did the job and to my local bike store Moores in Twickenham, I was known as the 'bike killer' because I rode it into the ground. Some may mock me for my poor education in bike maintenance but I used to ride it with a couple of broken spokes and a headset so used it had actually rusted and moulded itself into the forks. @test_richie and myself had to saw it off in an epic battle between man and aluminium! So I rocked up on this rust bucket preparing myself for not fitting in as most on club runs have their weekend Porsches out in the form of carbon dreams like the Cervelos (Pinarellos hadn't become a commercial success yet as this was pre-Team Sky). In total, I rode with this club twice, first time I'll admit I enjoyed it, the lead riders taught me a few hand signals including the polite manner of pointing out potholes and other hazards and also had a go at drafting. Second ride out was a different story. Rode out with a faster group, 2 miles in and without signalling that there was a sunken drain in the middle of the road with the rider opting to swerve around it rather than give me a heads up, front wheel thudded across it and pop, hiss, puncture. I shouted puncture and apart from one back rider pulling off with me, the group rode on. I proceeded to fix the puncture on the side of the road and gave my appreciation to the rider who had stopped and told him to ride on. So theres myself with a flat tyre fiddling away and whizzing by without much of a glance were the other groups from the club. Not one rider shouted out 'are you ok?'. 'need a hand?', 'you tyre-d yet?!' (last one was a lie, sucker for a pun!). It made me really feel like I wasn't accepted even though some of the riders would of seen me at the starting point and should of recognised me. I knew where their cafe stop was and because the groups had all rode on, there was no way of catching them up on their usual route. So my local knowledge of the roads came in handy and I devised my own route to meet them. Arriving there, my 'chaingang' (although it now didn't feel like a gang, more like the Illuminati!) didn't acknowledge or recognise me and all were sitting around one large table. Anyone squeeze up? No, loner here sat by himself. I was only then joined by a couple of other riders as the other groups rolled in. When my group got up to leave, I chose to rejoin them and only then when I explained to one of them who I was and what happened, all I got was a 'Oh that was you?!' Gun, bullet, trigger, bang!

Flip the coin and its a more comical and farcical story. Again on the Carrera and pre-carbon dating (nice Discovery channel plug there!), was enjoying laps of Richmond Park when the puncture fairy struck again! Schoolboy error, I had a spare tube but no pump. I had put my faith that I was riding somewhere where there was bound to be someone who was carrying a pump and I wasn't far from home. You are now shouting at the screen why didn't you just have a pump on you? I was young, naive and didn't know any better! So once again, on the side of the road fiddling away (with the tyre, not anything else, I'm not like that honest!) and a female cyclist kindly stopped to see if I needed a hand. She explained she didn't have a pump but she did carry these CO2 cartridges. I had never seen let alone used them before but I really appreciated the offer and she screwed the cartridge onto the valve and the air flew into the tyre. It was at this stage she confessed she had never used one before and we both didn't know how to stop the inflation. There was a mutual acceptance that this story didn't have a happy ending. Kabooooom! Tube exploded in the tyre. Her face had embarassment written all over and I was trying to work out how long it would take me to walk home. Her kindess though didn't stop there and she gave me her only innertube as an apology although an apology wasn't needed. No one died, no was injured, I wasn't emotionally harmed. There were people in the world at that moment in worse situations than I was and still are so a need for worrying wasn't warranted. I had thanked her for her help and flagged down the next cyclist who had prepped properly for their ride and did have a pump so I could finally make my way home.

Difference between those two stories were one happened within a group and one happened through a choice of an individual who had chosen to stop and help. The point here is that it shouldn't matter who you are around or what situation you are in, one of the human traits we are blessed with is the ability to help others who are unfortunate. I don't think the situation with the club ride reflects the actual club at all but it left me with an impression with what sort of culture might be present there. Since beginning my social media journey, I have come across a lot of people via various social media outlets who if they are the same in person as they are behind a keyboard, they are welcome in my 'chaingang' anytime. We all ride for the same purpose, to ride the bike. We should embrace that and confront any snobbery others might have. Obviously you can't force people to change their cycling attitude but I am a big believer of confronting the situation, by doing that, you create an alternative experience for that person so next time someone waves their little finger at them or they spot an uneducated cycling enthusiast looking at a CO2 cartridge with resent, they might apply a different trait of their personality, the trait of being a human. Don't be a sheep, be a wolf.

'Whenever I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the human race.'