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Home » Cycling » The Pampas Nature of Road Cycling and Rules… Myth, Scandal or Much Ado About Nothing?

The Pampas Nature of Road Cycling and Rules… Myth, Scandal or Much Ado About Nothing?

December 2013

I always love poking fun at the pampas ‘rules of cycling’ when the rules get into minutiae like sock length and where one can store their tools and spare tubes (i.e. no saddle bags, tools are “supposed” to be carried in the back pockets, etc.).  Though the participation in our club ride is decent (25-40 cyclists) I ride in a small town club so our adherence to most of the rules is lax.  For instance, the shaving of one’s “guns” is rarely adhered to – in fact, I got caught on this one in a knee-slapping way.  Unlike many cyclists who just show up and hope they can learn as they go, when I was invited to ride with the advanced group, I researched proper etiquette, read up on technique and the day before my first ride with the club (per the rules), shaved my guns lest I be seen as a know-nothing noob.  If I remember correctly, there were two or three other cyclists in the group with shaved legs – out of about 30.  The owner of the local bike shop, the next day, was kind enough to explain that only those who actually race bother to shave in flyover country.  Imagine my surprise.  I showed up hoping to avoid looking like a noob and… I end up looking like an overzealous noob.  Fantastic.

I made the mistake, as a noob, of getting too caught up in the do’s and don’ts of what didn’t matter.  The trick here is that they don’t ever tell you which one’s to pay attention to, which one’s can be ignored and which one’s have some significance depending on where you ride.  There is one more category, those suggested to protect one’s life, but those are pretty simple to figure out.

I’ve found the easiest way to navigate “the rules” is to befriend someone at the local bike shop.  Beyond that, abiding by most of the rules is a craps shoot.  The main rule of import is to show up.  Once I got that down the rest was elementary.

There are a few other obstacles that I’ve seen noobs stumble on in their fear of the group ride or of even being accepted into the cycling community.  Many noobs have an unfounded fear that they won’t be accepted based on what they’re wearing, what kind of bike they’re riding, whether or not they have a saddle bag or hairy legs (ladies, I’m obviously only speaking to the guys on that last one).  On the other hand, if you show up with your tighty-whities sticking out of the top of your cycling shorts or with your cycling jersey tucked into your cycling shorts (I’ve seen both) then you will be kept at somewhat of a distance – if you don’t know that you don’t wear underwear under your cycling shorts or that you don’t tuck the jersey in, it’s a pretty good bet that you can’t handle your bike properly.  This is not unreasonable and it must be said that  if the fact that I wrote this upsets you, a look in the mirror might be a good idea.

The very top thing on any list of rules concerning cycling is simple:  Know how to ride competently.  This means know how to ride in a straight line while looking forward without getting distracted.  Cycling at 16 mph in a pace line is dicey enough but when you start kicking the speeds up to 25-30, one little mistake can cause a lot of carnage.

Once you have that down, make sure your bike – no matter how old or new – is in good repair, is well maintained and is clean.  If you have riding competently down and your bike in good order, there are only two small things to adhere to and you’re home free.

With the tough stuff out of the way, cycling shorts (black, you can’t go wrong) and a jersey (any color, have fun).  No drawers under the shorts and don’t tuck the jersey in (in case you didn’t get that earlier).

Then there’s the last little piece of the puzzle.  It’s very simple but means more to your acceptance than almost anything else:  Be nice and keep coming back.  It’s rare you’ll see a person take to a jerk, whiner or complainer so don’t be that person.  You also probably won’t be welcomed in by the whole group with open arms on the first day so don’t expect that.  I found a couple of people I could hang with on the first day and added a new friend every few weeks but after that it took more than a full year before the core guys saw me around enough that they started inviting me to the “invite only” rides – and I’m a really good guy who can ride well.

Finally, know this:  You will meet a butthole from time to time.  The world is flush with them (pun intended) and the cycling community has more than a few.  Do not allow their bad attitude to reinforce negative thoughts or emotions that you have about yourself.  Rather than worry if you will be liked, concentrate on you liking the group.  This is not easy to do.  Practice.  Read this last paragraph again.  One more time.

I love the rules and embrace the often pampas nature of cycling for one reason:  Cycling, if done right, is a dangerous but truly awesome hobby.  I adhere to those that I can and ignore the rest.  In the end, what cycling is about camaraderie, getting/staying fit and healthy and being a part of something that is bigger than me.  Sure we can be a little grandiose from time to time, but if one understands that it’s all in good fun, and can live with that, two wheels and an open road is a beautiful thing.  Worrying about the rules is much ado about nothing.


OWNER’S Note:  I took both of the photos in this post, while riding one-handed in a pace-line.  First, if you look at the first photo, while I may look close, I was about 4′ back and I was the last in line.  In the second photo, I’m a little closer but a couple of feet to the left in case of any sudden moves.  Extreme caution was used and I have a stem mount for my phone/camera so I didn’t have to fish around a pocket for it.  I have only taken photos like this a couple of times and now that I look at the pictures, taking them was not the smartest thing I’ve ever done.


  1. cyardin says:

    You forget to mention the most important rule – #5, HTFU. Go hard

  2. David Bonnell says:

    Make sure you know how to change a tyre, practice it so that you can do it fast and not hold the bunch up more than is reasonable.

  3. Well written, I would recommend it for anyone thinking of joining a cycling group!

  4. I always get a chuckle out of the “Rules of Cycling”. Little known fact: The original title of the article was, “How To Be A Self-Important Jerk and Lose Your Family And Friends.”

  5. Paige says:

    OK…I’m doing this thing! I’m asking Santa for a bike. I don’t think I’ve done that in 25+ years. Well, not so much Santa as I’m asking the advice of a friend of mine who is an avid cyclist and part-time bike mechanic. A great friend of mine rode cross-country this summer. If he can ride across the USA, I can ride a few miles…right? I will probably feel like I’m “cheating” on running at first. I love a half marathon but I know that my overall fitness will improve. Having said that I’M TERRIFIED! Could you just make a trip down to Ga to ride with me and teach me everything a noob needs to know? Keep me in your prayers. I promise I’ll do my very best to not be THAT (noob, annoying, dangerous, too cocky, too zealous) girl! 🙂

    • bgddyjim says:

      Don’t sweat it Paige! It’s just like, um, riding a bike! Congratulations and don’t look at it as cheating on running as much as adding to your running. Riding will make you faster (it did me). I can be the guy you bounce stuff of of before you do whatever your next step is.

      First step is get on your bike and ride it. Then pedals and shoes as the budget allows. Right side of the road (always) and follow road laws. I’m really happy for you and I hope you love it.

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