I ride alone a lot. A combination of not wanting to be bound by a tight schedule, specific training sessions and a love for blasting hip hop in my ears while I ride are probably to blame. Although my Dad would probably just say it’s because I’m unpopular. Regardless of the reason, I find that I’m prone to encountering ‘tag-along’ riders.
Most people know what I’m talking about. You have either encountered them yourself or have been one at some point in time. These are riders who join another person, or people, on a ride without an invitation. Either because they’re riding the same route, at the same speed, at the same time, or because they want company.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to stir the masses into rallying against ‘tag-alongs’. I have a girlfriend who met her partner when he tagged along, but there are certain rules and regulations that should be abided by if you’re ever in the tag-along situation. There are good and bad tag-along riders, as fellow cyclists we should all strive to be the former.
I had time to think about what characterises an ideal tag-along not so long ago when I was joined by Daniel; a thirty-something French military officer who in his spare time enjoyed riding his bicycle and not practicing english. He knew about five words in English and was the perfect tag-along companion. Here’s what he did right:
1. Asked if I minded company.
I like riding in groups. I also like riding alone. Sometimes I have group days and sometimes I just want to be alone with my thoughts on the open road. If you see someone riding alone and want to join them, after you’ve got the standard formalities out of the way — ‘Hello.’, ‘How are you?’, ‘Do you speak English?’ — ask them if they mind if you ride with them for a little bit. Most people will say yes, and if they say no there’s probably a good reason like they’re doing specific efforts or their goldfish just died.
2. Went my pace.
If you’ve joined someone else’s ride, you need to understand it is their ride. You wouldn’t go into someone else’s house and start rearranging their wardrobe (unless you’re Sheldon Cooper) so don’t ride up to someone, engage them in conversation and then start half wheeling them. I once had a guy attempt to start swapping off with me after I caught and passed him. When I refused and kept riding my own pace he started yelling at me in Spanish to get on his wheel. No mate.
3. Obeyed the road rules.
My French knight stopped at roundabouts, singled out when the road was busy and indicated just as I would do when I ride alone. He even took it upon himself to abuse a French motorist who drove a little bit too close.
Don’t endanger the random stranger you’ve started riding with because you think it will impress them to see how fast you can take that sweeping left hand corner while ignoring the stop sign. You’re not Rohan Dennis at the opening prolouge of the Tour de France, there’s no need to graze barriers to shave seconds off the total ride time.
4. Limited the conversation.
As mentioned, Daniel’s English language skills were somewhat limited — as are my French skills — so conversation was difficult. Regardless, I have still encountered riders who insisted speaking full gas German, Spanish or Arabic to me. While I’m sure what they were saying was interesting, I was out riding before they joined me for a reason and 9 out if 10 times that reason isn’t to learn a language. Daniel offered the odd comment and hand gesture like when he showed his disdain for French drivers or when he pointed out where Sylvain Chavanel lived but other that the he picked up on my desire to ride without having to rack my brain for the few French words I know. Merci.
Even if there isn’t a language barrier, it’s still worth while putting some feelers out and see if your companion is biting. It’s kind of like when Kim Kardasian recorded a demo before releasing an album. She didn’t record 12 songs for no-one to listen to. You, like Kim, might like the sound of your own voice, but your new riding companion might be more a silent cinema type.
5. Didn’t act like he was pro.
Unless you are indeed a professional rider, there’s no need to pretend you are one if you happen to bump into them. Don’t attempt to race your new riding companion, it’s unlikely you’ll get a professional contract out of it. In Daniel’s case a major inhibiting factor in him obtaining a professional contract out of our little soiree together was that I race for Wiggle Honda, a women’s professional cycling team. If the pace is high there’s no shame in letting out a few deep breaths or retreating to the back wheel until you’re more comfortable.
If you can read through this list and still look yourself in the eye when you do your last minute lycra and helmet check before hitting the streets then I salute you. If not, don’t worry. Just know that to someone, somewhere (and probably all of their riding buddies and extended friends and family) you’re that person who didn’t respect the unwritten (now written) rules on how to be an upstanding tag-along cycling citizen.
Chloe Hosking is a professional cyclist riding for Wiggle Honda. The Australian found cycling as a pre-teen and spent her early years on the bike riding around Canberra with her dad. Chloe took an untraditional path to Europe, self-funding trips to ride with composite teams and club teams at international races. Results on these self-funded trips were enough to land Chloe contracts on the biggest teams in the world.
She represented Australia at the World Championships, Commonwealth Games and the Olympic Games. Chloe hopes that her success inspires other Australian women to recognise the multiple pathways to European racing.