Ask The Pedalist: Waving and recognizing other cyclists on the road

hand wave

Hi Pedalist, Whenever I am out on a ride either on the road or trails I see some cyclists coming the other side. Some riders wave, some nod, few say “hi” or something. And I reciprocate similarly. And some just ignore me when I initiate the wave or say hi. What is the best etiquette when you come across other riders?

– Ride Friendly

Dear Ride Friendly,

Cycling etiquettes are plenty. This is akin to saying hi to someone you pass by during a walk or a jog. Even a friendly, “Good Morning”, is not uncommon while walking. But on the bike things change. For one, paying attention to the road and the surrounding surpasses anything else. And second, your personal aim for the ride is also something to keep in mind.

About point one, if both of you are on public roads, the biggest issue is traffic from vehicles much faster than either of you on cycles. Lifting your hand off the handlebar for a quick wave might lead to a crash, if not planned ahead. Not that the rider would crash, but a fast moving vehicle might distract you, especially on narrower roads. A head nod is a different story, but the nod itself might not be visible across 2-3 lanes of pavement. And forget a verbal greeting as that might get drowned in a high traffic area.

About the second point, some cyclists go hard during their rides. They have a specific goal they want to achieve during that ride. I have done this myself. I do sprint sessions, and I am focused solely on my times and rest periods. Apart from the road in front of me I tend to ignore everything else as much as possible. I have come across cyclists who seem to be out of breath, maybe after a hard pedaling. So I can empathize with them if they ignore me. So in these cases it is not intentional in the sense that the other rider does not want to acknowledge you, but rather is trying to pay attention to cycling and his or her cycling goals.

But on trails, either mountain or gravel, things get interesting. I am the guy who will wave AND say hi to everyone I pass – cyclists, hikers, casual strollers, and even pets. But I have come across cyclists that respond with a friendly gesture, and have even stopped in the middle of my trail ridest o have small conversations. These were nice. I also see riders who don’t acknowledge anyone else at all.

One specific etiquette when mountain bikes is the right of way. When you see a rider riding up an incline, if you are on top, you typically wait till the rider reaches the top. You give that rider coming up a hill the right of way, since it is harder for him/ her to restart climb once stopped. He/ she has to push the bike to the top. I see this unwritten rule broken all the time, and has led to arguments on the trails. People consider themselves down-hill champions in these situations and forget they are sharing the trails with riders at all levels.  

But like anything, there are no hard written rules about any of these. Cycling is for your own pleasure. You do it at your own pace. If you feel like sharing a friendly wave, go for it. If not, that is fine as well. As long as you don’t bother others on the trails, or impede their riding experience, you are good to go. 

Happy riding!

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