PART OF THE USA TODAY NETWORK

Biking etiquette, common sense and not being stupid.

I have ridden on several Ragbrai’s and it seems to me that after 2 days of 2016’s ride, the quality or etiquette of the riders has diminished. I have had very few people announce “on your left, “rider off” “rider on” “Coming left” etc. And the number of people riding into and around Creston after dark with no reflective accessories on their bikes, and no lights. In town, many are riding 2-4 abreast, and some are riding on the wrong side of the road. Some are taking the lane through town, and I know they have that right, but add 15,000 riders doing the same thing, with out of town people driving support vehicles, and locals trying to drive around to”check things out” and it seems that you have a recipe for mishaps. Not good manners, not smart and definitely bad PR to the non biking community. or,….maybe it is just me.

31 Replies

ppayne1959, August 8, 2016 at 9:27 am

I dunno. this year was my third RAGBRAI so I don’t have tons of history but I have found in general people are pretty good. I tend to ride fast so I will stay left of left and call out to those in front if I am running out of room. Usually they give enough passing room but if not it is on me to slow down until I find a safe way to pass. It is also my responsibility to move right out of the way of oncoming traffic when need be, but honestly even though there seemed to be more this year, there are huge amounts of time and miles with no traffic at all. I also think that as a rule people sort out the road hierarchy pretty well on their own. the slower riders to the right, moderate riders in the middle and fast riders on the left. We may like to quibble about behavior out there but it is FAR better than any normal day on the city streets or bike paths. Cheers to the great riding etiquette of RAGBRAI riders everywhere!

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Niles, August 8, 2016 at 10:33 am

@ppayne1959: I agree your assessment of the general situation. I guess we are calling out here to raise awareness. It will be useful to some less experienced rider and those who will pay attention to situations.

Riding teams I have problem with are those ride in double paceline and force themselves through even there is barely enough room on the left due to the traffic situation. I was almost clipped down by one such rider this year. I don’t want to mention the exact name of such team but maybe you remember that have already run into them because of the beer brand on their jersey.

Please don’t move left/right too soon after your pass without paying attention to the riders you just pass. My other (very) close call this year is that a rider carrying his package passed me on left but immediately changed into my line of riding (and slowed down) on downhill. It could be very serious incident if I hadn’t been able to weaving to my left.

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navychief01, August 8, 2016 at 12:42 pm

Glad this “on your left” thing came up. I say “on your left” when I passing on your left. I don’t mean you have to move right or even acknowledge me. It also means that I feel like I have sufficient room to safely pass you. If I don’t, I wait. On Day 2 to Creston a woman came up behind me when I was all the way on the left side of the road going up a hill. I just happened to be riding with someone and we were clipping along a a good pace. In this instance I was waiting for slower people to eventually finish passing the rider to their right and then slide to the right before I accelerated and did the same. The woman behind me, notwithstanding that I was following someone slower, came up on my wheel and said (shouted) “on your left.” She didn’t say “on your left” because she was passing me on the left, she said it to get me to move out of her way. I waited until the person in front of me cleared and then I dropped the woman behind me. I get that people want to maintain some momentum up a hill, but “on your left” doesn’t mean “Move out of my way.”

I trained my kids to maintain their line when someone indicates a side they’re on. And yes, I don’t have a problem with “on your right” and have used it on occasion. I don’t blast tunes, and I don’t have one of those cute little bells. I say “on your left” when I am. If you’re one of those people that doesn’t like hearing “on your left,” then either be the first rider out every day and don’t get passed, or be prepared to end up on the pavement sometime. Most accidents take two people screwing up. If just one is doing the right thing many don’t occur.

One last thing. I admit to taking a water bottle this year on the fly. That was a mistake if for no other reason than the water was hotter than spit (although I appreciated the gesture). I just put it in my jersey pocket. That said, I do concur about the litter and debris. It’s not the TDF, you’re not a pro rider, and there are no psychotic fans hoping to get you’re discarded water bottle. Take the trash with you-even the Goo wrapper.

Really one last thing. For those who have trouble sleeping because of the noise (other campers, the band, someone’s loud-ass generator) I recommend drugs. Not just any drugs, but either some Advil or Tylenol PM or ZZquil if you’re not in pain. When I’ve ridden all day and then eat, I know I take a while to wind down. The other option is to get camping/lodging space away from the main campground (thus away from were the band is). We were able to get camping this year at private locations in all but one of the overnight towns and it makes a difference.

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KenH, August 9, 2016 at 8:35 am

In spite of what the Register says in the Ride Right materials I think that if everyone on this ride were to say “on your left/right” every time they passed someone the noise level would be so high no one would ever do the ride again! Some of what the Register says, while normally excellent ideas, kinda breaks down on a ride the size of RAGBRAI. It’s better, in my opinion, to constantly look for trouble far ahead so you have plenty of time to react, to always check behind you before you move out of your line, to quietly pass people leaving plenty of room for them to do something unexpected or foolish, and to only say “on your left/right” when you want to pass someone fairly closely. And of course “on your left/right” DOES NOT mean “get out of my way!” Now some verbal cues (slowing, stopping, bike on, bike off) should be used all the time because they indicate unusual actions on your part but passing is just too common to be noted in every instance so it is better to just leave twice or thrice the room you need and pass quietly.

This has long been my opinion, formed by observing what works and what actually happens over many hours of riding RAGBRAI. But then for the first time this year I saw something that expanded my thinking. I passed a woman with a “license plate” that read “DEAF RIDER”. Yeah, none of those verbal cues work do they?! How many deaf riders do this ride without that license plate warning to the rest of us??

So my current and evolving thinking is that we should make more use of hand signs. I notice that some riders point to the ground to the left or right when they are about to move out of their lines to warn those behind them, who may be overtaking them rapidly and without warning planning to pass close by them. I see a few people using the stop sign: arm straight down and flat palm facing backwards, or pointing horizontally left or right to indicate they are turning or getting on/off the road.

Personally I think this is a much better plan, it keeps the noise level down and it works for deaf riders as well as for those who can hear. There may well be blind riders on this ride too but I am going to assume they are the stokers on a tandem!! Now it has the disadvantage of not allowing you to say “on your left/right” but in my opinion that is really an advantage. If you cannot say that then your only other option is to leave generous margins while passing and to not cut right over in front of the rider you just passed. It also means that you have to wait your turn when your way is blocked by a slower rider. All of this is good stuff. This would be my suggestion to the Ride Right committee, drop the chatter and use hand signs in its place.

Now some things need to be retained. “Rumbles” is fine although there is a hand sign for that too that should be used as well. “Car up/back” are pretty important and while someone might invent a hand sign for car up, it is not possible to have one for car back since those who know that are more likely to be behind than in front of you (although some of us do have mirrors). If you are deaf then I suppose you get this information from observing the other riders diving over into the right lane but my thinking is evolving again as I write this and I suppose there would be value in having hand signs for both car up and car back since they would help alert deaf riders and give them advance warning that riders are going to be crowding into their lane.

But if nothing else RAGBRAI did teach me at least one new thing this year that we should all keep in mind:

Some of your fellow riders are deaf!

We need to rethink how we ride and make sure that we behave in a way that is safe for deaf riders.

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LawnchairMan, August 9, 2016 at 11:46 am

I stand corrected that “On your left” does not mean to move to the right, but in the instance I sited it is clearly implied. Please consider this excerpt from the Registers suggestions:

Be sure to obey all Iowa traffic laws and be courteous to motorists and other riders. Please wear a helmet, ride predictably, sound off when passing another rider, don’t stop on the roadway, don’t cross the yellow line, and please keep to the right if you are traveling more slowly than others! Most importantly, RIDE RIGHT, it’s right!

“Keep to the right if you are traveling more slowly than others” implies that you need to be aware of riders all around you, or always stay to the right. The rider in front of me was just to the right of the yellow line with no one to his right. He should have been over to the right in the first place. My “On your left” should have been a reminder, so he should have moved to the right. This guy was so zoned out, he didn’t belong on the ride. He was not aware of his surroundings. It took two “On your rights” and a “Please move to the right” to wake him to the point of confused. He still didn’t know where I was.

As it says in the suggestion “Do not cross the yellow line”, I was trying to stay on the correct side of the road at first. That is why I expected other riders to move to the right so I wouldn’t have to cross the yellow to pass. I think riding three abreast is wrong unless you are the fastest riders out there. If you all want to talk, stop somewhere, get some snacks and talk. When you are on the road, at least leave a lane for faster riders .

I did pass on the right once and once through the middle, but each of those was scary because I never know if the gap will suddenly close. I was very vocal both times. Eventually I just went to the left of the yellow line and gave everybody lots of room.

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“Bicycle Bill”, August 9, 2016 at 12:37 pm

“Rumbles” is fine although there is a hand sign for that too that should be used as well.

And just what is the hand sign for that?  Just pointing at the ground is too vague; you could be also referring to potholes, glass or other debris on the road, or a wide center seam that will throw you like a gambler tossing dice at a craps table.

-“BB”-

#1166283

Brian Wallenburg, August 9, 2016 at 2:02 pm

BB, I don’t know if it’s official or not, but if someone riding ahead of you has their arm out, palm down, alternately dipping there thumb and little finger, in the direction of the center of the riding lane, I would suspect there is set of rumble strips at their location. I should then move left or right, whichever would be the safer maneuver.

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jake d, August 9, 2016 at 5:04 pm

Keep in mind the suggestions from the Register, and what is practical out on the route are two different things. One year they had a series of videos demonstrating proper riding technique. The one for turning a corner said; as you approach the intersection you should swing wide in your lane to maintain speed thru the turn. Oh…. I’m sure that would go over well on the route. Trust me. I’m not making this S#*& up.

#1166288

mclousing, August 9, 2016 at 8:51 pm

I am bored tonight so I will add to the general comments.

1. On your left to me means hold your line, over the past two years I was riding in the right lane and someone starts yelling on your left, on your left… Last year it was a tandem and they got pissed because they had to hit their brakes in a congested area, this year after the same lady yelled it 4 times in the matter of 10 yards I yelled back “I am holding my line lady” and she commented that she wanted acknowledgement that I heard her. For a matter of this thread I very rarely acknowledge an on your left, I just hold my line.

2. Rumbles, oh would people quite being whiney little… about rumbles. Don’t get me wrong it happens more than just at RAGBRAI (I was doing a bike race in MI and their was a turn with RUMBLES everybody was swerving all over). This year I made it a point to hit every rumble that was in the right lane to kinda make a point that they are not going to kill you. I got so used to it that I was disappointed on Saturday when the last few intersections with rumbles only had sets of two instead of three.

3. Riding Left, this really irks me. There were several times that we had to pass people on the right because they were poking along in the left lane at a speed that should be right. I always ride like driving on the interstate, ride right then to pass move left and move back.

4. And finally people wanting to stop all bikes for an issue they see. We had to come to a slow dramatically for a “Rider Down” where the person was sitting on the side of the road chatting with others with their bike in the middle of the road and people yelling slow down rider down. Now if it a injury type of incident by all means slow traffic, but if it is nothing more than a oops hit the ground clear the road, get the bike of the road and the person and don’t have people standing in the middle of the road yelling rider down a minute after the person went down and actually got off the road.

OK, I am done with my rant for now

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orion12521, August 9, 2016 at 11:10 pm

There is always someone faster…

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LawnchairMan, August 10, 2016 at 12:21 am

I understand wanting an acknowledgement of an “On your left” call. In 2012 or 2013 I was out early, and it was not full daylight when I came up upon two guys riding side by side. There was room to pass on their left without me crossing the yellow. As I aproached, I made the call, and of course the guy closest to me swerved to the left. I had to swerve across the yellow to avoid the crash. He should have heard me, but you never know unless they signal in some way.

I don’t yell unless I am rapidly overtaking someone. Riding a recumbent I empathize with tandems as we want to maintain our downhill momentum to carry us part way up the next hill. I appreciate riders holding their line, but especially in a congested area communication is even more valued. Usually I announce my intentions from a distance at a moderate level, and as I get closer I say it again in a softer voice. My intention is not to scare anyone, but yet I want to be sure I have been heard.

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Bentongoing, August 10, 2016 at 10:18 am

I would like to add my two cents.
If someone calls out “on your left”, PLEASE DON’T look over your left shoulder to see what’s coming! Invariably, this will cause your bike to move to the left, directly into the path of the faster rider.
Most important in my mind is to hold a straight line. No sudden moves!

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KenH, August 10, 2016 at 10:38 am

The semi official hand sign for rumbles is to extend your arm horizontally to the left or right as appropriate, palm flat and facing down, and the rotate your hand rapidly around your wrist. I rotate it left and right, some rotate it up and down, both convey the message. I’m sure I learned this within a couple hours of riding my first RAGBRAI, I’m surprised everyone doesn’t know this. I see others do it all the time. Its amazing how often someone calls out “rumbles” and I cannot see any sign of them. I use the hand sign because I appreciate those who use it. You give it right at the start of the rumbles and that way those behind you know exactly where it is whether they can see it directly or not.

I cannot confirm this but I heard last year that someone had hit a rumble strip at high speed near the bottom of a hill and blew both tires. He went down hard and was badly injured. Even though I can’t confirm this it seems quite plausible that a freshly made, aggressive set of rumbles could cause pinch flats. The year before there was a police car parked in the right lane with lights flashing just before the first of a set of rumbles at the bottom of a similar high speed descent forcing us into the left lane and I assume out of concern for tire damage causing crashes. Do most people over-react to rumble strips most of the time. Yeah, they do. But I expect that they can be dangerous at high speeds so beware. Of course I use 38 mm tires so I am probably immune. Probably….

Yeah, I’ve been “on your lefted” frantically by someone who clearly meant “OUT OF MY WAY” several times too. Always when I was far over to the left, and always because I had just passed someone or a group of someones and did not yet feel it was safe to move over to the right. I don’t normally move as far to the right as I can at all times because I am almost always going to be passing the next group of slower riders soon but when I am over on the far left edge of the road I will move out of the way as soon as I can because I know there are faster and much faster riders than me. I will be as polite to them as I can but when I cannot be as accommodating as they like then I expect them to use their brakes and be patient. That is how I treat the slower riders in front of me.

Yes, I know we are not supposed to cross the yellow line but that rule does not reflect the reality of RAGBRAI traffic density. I keep in the right lane as much as possible but if there is no car traffic that needs the left lane I use it when I need it. We may all fit in the right lane but it is neither safe nor relaxing for us to ride that close together for hours on end when we don’t have to. If you want to be a stickler about keeping in the right lane then you can give up on the notion of riding faster than the slowest members of the pack because it ain’t a’gonna’ happen!

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Niles, August 10, 2016 at 11:20 am

I pinched my both tires @20mph over rumbles just the week before RAGBRAI on my last training ride nearby VP Joe Biden’s house.

I don’t have problem to people call out rumbles enthusiastically. Some people call while intentionally running over it to generate the viberating vocal cord sound which amuses instead of annoys me. Also when the rumble is on the right side where most slower or social chatting riders are, people are less likely see the hand signs in time. I know myself ran onto rumble unwillingly a couple of time while I was chatting and didn’t have time to get both my chatting partner and myself to around it.

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mootsman, August 11, 2016 at 7:36 am

Tom,

Calling out “on your left” is not something generally done on RAGBRAI unless, as others have posted, the rider is not riding a straight line or you are being forced to pass rather close. I also watch out for riders closing in on the rider in front of them since that usually predicts they will move to their left.

Some of us would get horse calling out “on your left” fairly early since there are hundreds of people we pass during the day. My 1st day on RAGBRAI my team-lead corrected me to not call it out for every pass as I wouldn’t make any friends that way. I’ve even had people flip me off for calling it out. I’ve also had people complain for not calling it out even though they were riding straight and there wasn’t an issue.

It is not practical to call out “on your left” all day long. You need to start deciding when and when not to. That will come with more RAGBRAI experience as long as you are willing to learn instead of complain about it.

Best advise for all, get a rear view mirror and check it before moving left to make sure it’s clear. You won’t drive a car without a mirror and checking it before switching lanes of travel on a freeway. So why do it on a bike? I have one of those geeky little ones on my sun glasses but better geek then going wheels up.

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