Fellow Cyclists – Stranger or Friend?

There are sometimes when you are cycling down a busy A road, cars and lorries squeezing past at 50mph – not a cyclist in sight, and you start to wonder ‘why am I the only person cycling here?’ In some areas of Britain, cyclists can be so rare on the road it feels a little disconcerting. And if nothing else you’d like to see a cyclist just for the irrational re-assurance, bikes haven’t been banned on this particular stretch of road.

Motorists cocooned in their warm and comfortable cars are effectively another species, there is no empathy between their experience and yours. If I see a cyclist going the other way,  I will invariably nod, smile or briefly wave. I don’t expect anything back, I’m just glad to know someone else is ploughing the same furrow. If nothing else, at least you know a fellow cyclist isn’t going to try and muscle you off the road, beep at you or shout out of the window for not cycling on a non-existent cycle path.

Catching up a Cyclist in the Road

Then there are the times when you catch up with a cyclist going in the same direction. This provokes a minor dilemma. Do you:

  • a) Catch up and then slow down to their pace, chatting about the joys of cycling, how far are you going? are you training for any event? e.t.c.
  • b) Continue exactly at the same speed you are going, with a brief and professional hi as you cycle past in a very business like manner.
  • c) Slow down a little until you get behind and then accelerate really quickly past them, pretending not to be even out of breath as you say ‘good morning, nice day for recovery ride isn’t it?

Being Caught by a Cyclist

Sometimes, you are plodding along, enjoying the scenery when a cyclist comes along and passes you by. This also presents a minor dilemma. Do you:

  • a) Get immediately on to their wheel and stick there religiously telling yourself, ‘I’ve got to save that 25% aero drag at all costs.”
  • b) Say very nicely ‘hi’, and maintain exactly the same speed and effort you were doing anyway. You won’t be budged from your 60% heart rate recovery zone, even if it was a rare opportunity to cycle with Victoria Pendleton and  the whole British Cycling Team.
  • c) Sit on their wheel for a few miles before having a go and accelerating past them as fast as you can – hoping they won’t be able to follow you for very long. After a few minutes of course you regret this because you would feel foolish if they re-overtook you but you dare not look over your shoulder as that would indicate you are being very competitive (of course you are being competitive, but you’re trying to pretend you’re not). Anyway as you’ve burnt yourself out, you dive into a small minor road to recover and end up getting lost. But, you tell yourself at least you’ve beaten an old man on a training ride.
  • d) Catch up with them and start a nice conversation about how you were just digesting a nice sandwich / dealing with a mechanical, whilst trying not to appear out of breath.

Just to make this minor dilemma worse there are the occasions when you get overtaken by a women. It’s one thing to get overtaken by a young pro cyclist in all his aerodynamic skin suit and £5,000 bike. But, what happens when you get overtaken by a lady  riding a £150 hybrid bike from Cycle King?

Invariably the shock to the male ego, invariably skews the decision making process more towards pretending you have a mechanical and then catching up -. ‘… nice looking £150 Ammaco bike you have there.’ ‘I’m just recovering from 4 hour interval session yesterday, how are you doing?’

At some stage, I’ve probably done all of the above (except I haven’t been overtaken by Victoria Pendleton or any member of British Olympic Team. I’m sure that would never happen…).

It all depends how I feel, sometimes you bump into someone on the roads and it’s nice to have a chat about cycling, at other times I don’t feel social. In Britain we’re not great about chatting to strangers. If you’re on a train, you wouldn’t really strike up a conversation about the state of rail travel. But, with a fellow cyclist, there is always that common bond – bicycles. If nothing else, being a cyclist means you can always talk to a complete stranger about the relative merits of Speedplay v Look / Shimano v Campagnolo. (though, perhaps that is why my roadside chats don’t last very long)

Usually I nod and wave at cyclists going the other direction. If nothing else you feel you want to offer encouragement to anyone willing to cycle on the roads. I don’t always do it if I’m training really hard, and I don’t do it on the commute to work, as it would be very repetitive. But, it’s definitely nice thing to do.

When I bump into cyclists on the road, unless I’m doing very specific training, I will briefly chat. If it’s a single cyclist I may spend a few minutes, sometimes even longer. But, there’s no hard and fast rule. However, I’ve met some really interesting characters over the years.

There have even been times when a motorist has given a brief nod and smile of encouragement. Now that does feel like a miracle!

BTW:  if you happen to overtake me whilst training today, just remember I frequently have problems with my chain slipping at just the wrong moment.


14 Responses to Fellow Cyclists – Stranger or Friend?

  1. Richard July 1, 2013 at 4:49 pm #

    I’ve been overtaken recently a couple of times by more grey haired cyclists only to catch them up later, then overtake, then notice the big battery and the larger than normal hub. There are people taking electric bikes up some pretty big hills the type of which would have me scared the battery will fail leaving me with a 30kg bike and a big hill.

    I always nod or smile at someone going the other way, say hello if they’re going the same way, have been known to join others and talk a while. People are generally friendly around here.

  2. jonty pritchard December 6, 2012 at 10:29 am #

    at my age i talk to everybody and anybody (ON A BIKE ) because there just like me and you they are out there trying to get fit and enjoy riding i stay away from the elite riders though jonty

  3. jonty pritchard December 6, 2012 at 10:21 am #

    i used to love being a grimpeur in my youth all of my 7or 8 stone of me taking on the challenge and invariably feeling good that you had just ridden up a 1in 3 or i in 4 gradient most of my massed start racing was in the hills so it was second nature to ride them i was young i was very fit and very enthusiastic buxton and derbyshire were my favourite courses but i loved riding the macclesfield to leek hilly time trial they used to hold the event in november early 1960s very cold usually snowed it was fun though !!! i was wondering does anybody still ride over the brickworks i still ride !!! but i’m in my 70s now cya jonty merry xmas

  4. D. September 1, 2011 at 8:51 am #

    I’m just starting commuting by bike. One week and counting. I’m in Bristol and we have a *lot* of cyclists here – but I don’t say hello or wave to anyone at the moment, because I’m so out of puff I don’t have the energy. First day I cycled, mind, I spoke to a bloke at the traffic lights and said it was twenty years since I’d cycled, and he laughed, congratulated me and said welcome back (which was very encouraging).

    @Labann – my car is an old VW Beetle, and all aircooled VW drivers *do* wave at each other!

  5. Tacky June 23, 2011 at 10:35 am #

    Being Caught by a Cyclist
    e)When seeing the shadow of a fellow cyclist behind you: most importantly don’t look around, start ramping up the pace and hope that you drop them before blowing a lung!

  6. Wheezer2 June 22, 2011 at 1:19 pm #

    My club Welwyn Wheezers CC, are originally 6 soloists that pulled alongside for some ‘banter’ whilst out on the roads. We are now all good mates and regularly get kitted up for a ‘living the dream’ ride around the countryside, 50-60 miles of mini-racing and chatting………….miles better!!!!

    • tejvan June 22, 2011 at 4:00 pm #

      thanks Wheezer sounds like a good way to start a club

  7. Labann June 18, 2011 at 6:55 pm #

    Wrote a blog entry a while back about this very thing…

    I ask, though, do motorist wave courteously to each other? Practically never. Sometimes I wave at cyclists, but only to encourage apparent newcomers. The guy with 50 plastic bags draped over his bars? Well, no, nor the skinsuit scorcher down in the drops.

  8. Jonomc June 18, 2011 at 12:58 am #

    Loved this post! A there is a lot of me in what you have written.

    The other issue I have is I can seem to bomb along on the flat with proficient riders – but get to any sort of hill and I am cannon fodder to a six year old on a tricycle.

    I hate hills, but I loved this post!

    • tejvan June 18, 2011 at 7:12 am #

      Thanks for comment

      ‘but get to any sort of hill and I am cannon fodder to a six year old on a tricycle.’ – nice way with words

  9. ed June 16, 2011 at 3:12 pm #

    having been overtaken by Victoria Pendleton and many other members of British Olympic Team I can safely say I didn’t feel I needed to keep up, which is just as well as there was no chance of that happening :)

  10. Emily :) June 16, 2011 at 12:45 pm #

    Hiya :)
    round here there are so few cyclists that when I see then I always say hello or smile :) most of the time I get a smile or hello back ,but not always from the REALLY serious racers that come to darkest yorkshire for the hills. (scary much)
    The other day I was going up a Really long hill (all the hills round here are long but this one was just out of this world >.<) So I was doing well for a matchstick on a old steel bike, when I looked behind me and got a shock @_@.
    The shock was in the form of a HUGE Magnus Backstedt look-alike going about thirty MPH
    by this time I'd got to the steepest part of the hill (near the top)and this dude was gaining on me it was terrifing,When the moment came and he came past me (I was about five yards away from the top) he was like "Hello There" I by this point just wanted to get to the top, I let out what I think was a mouse like noise,I don't know what he thought ,but I was thinking "how daft can you get Em seriously?"
    Emily :)

    • tejvan June 16, 2011 at 12:51 pm #

      nice. I’m sure he enjoyed seeing another cyclist on road.

  11. botogol June 16, 2011 at 12:25 pm #

    it’s even more complicated commuting becasue unless you can get a whole tempo ahead the other guy will probably catch you up at the next lights anyway…

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