Many people are aware of - and often pay far too much attention to - certain rules that surround road riding. With our blend of scientific research and common-sense advice, you can enjoy riding and get the most out of your events, training and nutrition

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Ever questioned the wisdom of your riding pals, or suspected they were just regurgitating hand-me-down advice? Ever wondered if the truisms of road riding really do hold water in the 21st century?

Our new rules of road riding are one part science, one part considered opinion, but 100 per cent applicable to every ride you do. Forget the Velominati, here’s the Cycling Weekly common-sense ‘rules’ of road riding.

A maximum saving of 82 seconds over 40km, where's the razor?

A maximum saving of 82 seconds over 40km, where’s the razor?

Old rule: There’s no performance benefit in shaving your legs
New rule: Shaving makes you quicker

Whatever excuse you come up with for shaving your legs — whether it’s ease of massage or wound care, or even the classic defence of ‘everyone else does it’ — one question has always been uppermost in our minds: does it aid aerodynamics?

>>> Shave off seconds with shaved legs?

Wind tunnel research in 2014 by bike firm Specialized seems to have finally answered that one for us. Through its testing, using the same riders in the same riding positions on the same bikes, it found a maximum saving of 82 seconds over 40km, simply by taking a razor to the subjects’ legs.

Interestingly, the time saving was found to increase with the height of the testers. To put that in perspective, a traditional teardrop shaped time trial helmet will typically save you between 30-60 seconds per hour. Now, which is cheaper — a new lid or a can of shaving foam and a razor?

winter cycling

Base miles are important, but intervals are essential too

Old rule: Long, steady rides are the foundation of training
New rule: Intervals give you more bang for your buck

First things first: getting base miles in during the off-season is a great way to build endurance. Riding at a low intensity for a long time will build a sound aerobic and neuromuscular foundation for the season ahead.

>>> Cycling training plan for speed this winter

However, we don’t all have 20 hours a week to spend on the bike, so for the time-poor cyclist, it can be enough to get a long ride in on the weekend (when your absence from the house will potentially impact less on family time or work commitments), and mix it up with weeknight interval training.

Research has shown that a 20-minute high-intensity interval session (i.e. when you’re exercising upwards of 90 per cent of your maximum heart rate) has multiple benefits for your training. Work carried out at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Kagoshima, Japan, concluded that this form of training can increase anaerobic capacity by as much as 28 per cent.

Beyond the obvious time-saving element, a set of intervals at near-maximal effort (20/40s, for example, where you’re flat-out for 20 seconds, then recover for 40 seconds) can also hike up your VO2 max, which means your body can utilise more oxygen.

Advocates of this method of training also point to the fact that your body will be burning calories for some time after the session is complete, as your metabolic function is elevated.

Remember this? Just twelve months ago Milan-San Remo was almost cancelled due to the weather.

The pros don’t always have a choice, but the rest of us do

Old rule: Only proper cyclists ride in nasty weather
New rule: Get yourself a turbo trainer or rollers

We do love to suffer, don’t we? But what’s the point of risking a crash on icy roads, or putting your fragile immune system at risk? Take the sensible option and use cold weather as an excuse to add structure to your training with a workout on the turbo, or even better, work on your cadence and core skills with a set of rollers.

>>> Turbo training sessions: Get the most out of your indoor training

Sub-rule: The assumption that riding in a howling gale and horizontal rain makes you more like a Belgian and therefore more of a hardcore cyclist, is misplaced. The truth is there’s nothing cool about Belgium, except Eddy Merckx, cyclocross and Westmalle beer. Beyond that, it’s just like East Anglia with a different accent.

Ryder Hesjedal's Cannondale-Garmin team bike 2015

If it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen

Old rule: Coffee stops are for tall tales
New rule: If it’s not on Strava it didn’t happen

“Did you see how fast I went up that hill? I left you all standing”; “Sorry, I had to stop to tighten my shoes, but I went hell-for-leather to catch you all up on the climb, then a car got in my way…” We’ve all heard it, but until the world-changing invention of Strava five years ago, there wasn’t a way of proving things like this actually happened.

For the 21st century road rider, there’s only one universally accepted method of backing up your claims, and that’s to upload the ride data to Strava for all your mates to see. “I forgot to turn my Garmin on…” Hmmm. More like you didn’t fancy being outed, and mysteriously ‘forgot’ to upload the file.

Stage six feedzone

Fuel regularly and fuel properly

Old rule: You can fuel a ride on water, banana and flapjack
New rule: Approach nutrition scientifically

“I’m going ‘old-school’ with my training today.” Read as, “I’m going out with no idea of how many carbs I have in my back pockets, and risking bonking.”

>>> Fuel properly for winter cycling

As much as bananas and flapjacks are carb-rich and useful training fuel, the modern-day proliferation of professionally — and scientifically — developed nutrition products (not to mention the nutritional information printed on our food packaging) means you can now plan your fuelling with accuracy.

Aim to take on between 60 and 90g of carbohydrates for each hour of riding, including sports drinks with carbs to keep your glycogen stores topped up, and electrolytes to replace essential minerals that you lose in sweat.

Red lights are for all road users

Red lights are for all road users

Old rule: Red lights are your enemy
New rule: Red lights are your friend

How many times have you seen a fellow cyclist ride through a set of red lights, or mount the pavement, only to rejoin the road after riding a few metres? It gives us all a bad name; after all, we’re road riders, aren’t we, not pedestrians when it suits us?

Red lights needn’t be your enemy, though. Use them as the ideal opportunity to practise your track stands — see how long you can balance on the bike while remaining clipped into your pedals. It’s a good core exercise (although admittedly not best performed at busy crossroads; perhaps leave it for roadworks and simple pedestrian crossings).

If that’s not your bag, use the time to take a drink, open an energy bar or check yourself out in a shop window. Either way, stop, breathe… you’re not in a time trial (if you are, it’s a very badly thought-out course).

Look Aerolight

Look claim this to be the most aero road bike ever made

Old rule: Weight matters
New rule: Aero is everything

The days of obsessing over weight are gone. If your ultimate goal is to be a quicker rider (but not necessarily the fastest climber), it would pay to be less obsessive about shaving weight off your bike, and pay attention to the amount of drag you’re creating.

At speeds of over 10mph, the weight of your equipment becomes less significant. Below this speed, research has shown that the weight of rotating mass (e.g. wheels and pedals) is key to acceleration. But once you’re in the groove, your body position, helmet, handlebars, clothes (and even hairiness — see Rule 1) become factors.

Bike brand Cervélo, one of the pioneers of aero road bike development, claims that 80 per cent of aerodynamic drag is affected by the rider, so rather than splash out on a new bike, once you’ve shaved your legs, maybe it’s time to invest in an aero road helmet, minimise your frontal width and slam your stem after all.

Probably no need to hire a wind tunnel, unless you’re a pro, though…

Off-road

A bit of off-road riding can help beat the weather and improve your riding skills

Old rule: Just ride your bike
New rule: Cross training and core work are key

It used to be said that the best training was just to ride your bike. Much as it’s true to say that regular rides will build endurance, it’s not the only form of exercise that’s going to help your riding.

The natural imbalance on your musculo-skeletal system inflicted by doing no form of sport other than cycling, can leave you susceptible to injury, or put you at a performance disadvantage.

>>> Go off-road to keep fit this winter

Using your quads and glutes in a different way — by running, for example — can improve your leg strength, while the upper-body strength and arm movement required to hold good form while running can improve your core stability — a vital asset to have for your riding, to ensure maximum efficiency and power.

Simple weight-training techniques such as squats and lunges can significantly improve your leg strength, too. A study undertaken at Telemark University College, Norway, proved that a programme of squat exercises improved efficiency and pedalling economy, as well as extending time to exhaustion at maximum aerobic power in its subjects by 17.2 per cent.

Fit a compact chainset

Run a compact chainset and you’ll have the last laugh. Photo: Daniel Gould

Old rule: Proper cyclists ride a 53/39t chainset
New rule: There’s no shame in using a compact

Planning to ride some of the most punishing domestic, or even European, sportives this year? The amount of pain you’ll endure trying to complete the Fred Whitton or the Haute Route with a standard double chainset might just outweigh the satisfaction of finishing the route, and at worst could leave your knees in pieces!

>>> Shimano 105 groupset review

There’s a reason manufacturers now offer compact chainsets — to get you up hills with a more useful range of gear options. Some people would tell you it’s better just to ‘man up’. They’re not always right.

Swapping your 12-25 cassette for a block with an 11-tooth smallest cog will almost outweigh the compact’s lack of flat-out downhill or flat speed ability, while even gearing up to something like a 11-32t cassette will almost certainly give you the edge on punishing terrain.

Crucially, you’ll be able to pedal up any mountain ascent with a higher cadence than your 53/39t-riding pals, allowing you to get into a comfortable rhythm. Need convincing further? Even pro teams have fitted compact chainsets to some of their riders’ bikes, to allow them to get up gradients exceeding 20 per cent.

Welsh Raider sportive 2014

Riding two abreast can often be the a safer option, but be aware of the road around you

Old rule: Don’t ride two abreast
New rule: Do ride two abreast 

The Highway Code will tell you that you should never ride more than two abreast, and in single file on busier roads. However, as long as you’re sensible about riding according to the traffic conditions, you’ll be fine.

>>> Group cycling: the essential guide

Riding as part of a chaingang, with two lines of riders travelling at speed next to each other, is a great way to hone your group riding skills and develop the experience of — and skills required for — riding at close quarters, whether in a sportive or a race.

Be prepared to single out or split into two smaller groups to allow overtaking space for cars, but generally a short line of riders two abreast is easier to overtake than a long single line.

Enjoy your riding and share the road by cycling a handlebar’s width apart next time you’re out.

Welsh Raider sportive 2014

Wave, nod, even salute – but acknowledge your fellow riders

As you were

Some rules are non-negotiable. Here are a handful that will never change.

Acknowledge other riders

Whether you’re on a Sunday spin or a training ride, it takes a split-second to raise your hand or nod to greet your fellow cyclists as your paths cross.

Don’t ride ill

Even a common cold is going to be exacerbated by riding. Listen to your body, rest up and don’t ride again until you’re at least 90 per cent better. And even then, take it easy.

Call it out

Group rides, chaingangs, road races, sportives… it doesn’t matter what your activity, look out for those riders around you by shouting out obstacles, cars and road hazards like potholes.

Words by Marc Abbott

  • Hamish

    Aye, apologies. Rereading this 3 months later I’m definitely guilty of a ‘bit’ of self righteousness. Must have got out of the wrong side of bed or something. I did try to delete the post not long after typing it but it wouldn’t let me as I’d posted it as a guest. I hope you’re getting out on the bike again, cheers.

  • Gareth G

    Anyway thanks for the comparison with Froome 🙂

  • Gareth G

    A thoughtful reply. Thank you. Actually I am an experienced cyclist. Honest. What I was getting at was fundamentally about passing large novice groups. It’s great to see and when I’m driving it makes me smile to see them. I also drive carefully around them. Cycling around such a group is a different matter. I do wonder at some of the replies as they seem to impress their own prejudices upon them. Very strange. So when cycling uphill around a straggly group it takes a lot of extra effort and does push you further out than you would care to be. Yes you can look over your shoulder and all that stuff but cars don’t struggle to do 70mph on a hill so you can do the maths on how long you have to look over your shoulder and commit to overtake and then round the group. With traffic noise and wind noise it’s hard to engage a group – its hard enough within a group if you ever do chain gangs you will understand. Plus you can’t be looking backwards all the time. That’s silly. But my point really was more about how aggressive motorists engage such groups. You will have seen them or experienced them. They approach from behind at high speed and swing out and swing in – I don’t know why they do that but they do and on the occaision I related to above it was a wide group – said motorist swung out at very high speed and rounded the group and swung in at high speed – narrowly missing me. Like you I’ve had accidents that were totally not my fault and I don’t want another. So yes I’m cautious and to a degree that brings sneers from some other cyclists on club runs. So what.

    Anyway the the advice I was asking for about engaging novice groups who don’t understand riding in groups seems to have been lost in a lot of replies. Is it too much to ask for folk to offer suggestions without being self righteous?

  • Hamish

    OK, a more complete answer would be – Yes, I did read what you wrote. I read that you were overtaking a group on a two lane uphill road when you were brushed by the wing mirror of a fast moving car. Just for clarity, was the car coming towards you or traveling in your direction? If it was coming towards you, did it enter your lane? If it was traveling in the same direction as you, you are implying that you didn’t see it before you began your overtake. On the other hand, you may have seen it but you decided to overtake anyway – (maybe too concerned with wanting to maintain your own speed rather than slow down and wait for a safe opportunity). If the car was coming towards you, how far out had you moved? If traveling in your direction and you didn’t see it – well, why not? All these different scenarios relate to a lack of observation, road positioning and judgment on your behalf. These same criticisms can be applied to what you deem to be a “common problem” on country roads, where you are overtaking a slow group of riders when “a fast moving car suddenly appears leaving you very exposed”. In my opinion (take it or leave it mate, but I try to keep myself as safe as possible) you are leaving yourself exposed by overtaking where you haven’t got a clear view ahead or behind. In this sitiation you must take into account the prospect (and by your account, it’s a common prospect) of a fast moving vehicle coming the other way. If you don’t have that scenario playing at the back of your mind whenever you begin your overtake then you obviously aren’t learning from previous mistakes, thus placing yourself in danger. Anyway, l may be coming across as a know it all by “spouting off” but I don’t particularly care. Having been sent flying through the air and across car bonnets 4 times when in my teens (despite having right of way in each case) I decided I’d better start learning what I could do better to prevent these incidents happening again. Show a bit of humility, swallow some pride and have a think about what YOU can do differently next time.

  • Hamish

    Yup, but you obviously know better. Stay safe.

  • Gareth G

    Did you actually read what I wrote before spouting off?

  • Gareth G

    Did you actually read what I wrote before spouting off?

  • Hamish

    Grrr – I deleted this reply earlier, but it’s still here!

  • Hamish

    I’ve got to agree with Eric – Gareth, do you take your riding style from Froome, i.e. staring down at your stem all the time? Surely the car that passed you at 60mph didn’t come out of now where. A proper right shoulder check in advance and a life saver before moving out would ensure that you are not caught out. I have serious concerns about your observations given that, by your own admission, you’ve had a couple of serious collisions and lots of near misses. Are you caught up in your own wee bubble, focusing on speed rather than what is going on around you? Are you listening out for traffic too? You need to focus on road position too and not place yourself in danger. You may consider yourself to be a very experienced cyclist, but years of poor observation isn’t good experience. I’m sure if asked, we would all consider ourselves to be above average, but this can’t be the case. Perhaps thinking about the roads you use and the times of day that you ride might help too, to regain your confidence, as it would be a shame for you to give up completely doing something that you have obviously enjoyed in the past. As a final thought, how about getting some on road training with a Bikeability instructor and buying a copy of “Cyclecraft” by John Franklin. I’m sure there will be some adult Bikeability training courses on offer near to you or, as an alternative, how about becoming an instructor yourself? Your confidence will increase and you will learn lots – I know I did!

  • Guest

    I’ve got to agree with Eric – Gareth, do you take your riding style from Froome, i.e. staring down at your stem all the time? Surely the car that passed you at 60mph didn’t come out of now where. A proper right shoulder check in advance and a life saver before moving out would ensure that you are not caught out. I have serious concerns about your observations given that, by your own admission, you’ve had a couple of serious collisions and lots of near misses. Are you caught up in your own wee bubble, focusing on speed rather than what is going on around you? Are you listening out for traffic too? You need to focus on road position too and not place yourself in danger. You may consider yourself to be a very experienced cyclist, but, years of poor observation isn’t good experience. I’m sure if asked, we would all consider ourselves to be above average, but this can’t be the case. Perhaps thinking about the roads you use and the times of day that you ride might help too, to regain your confidence, as it would be a shame for you to give up completely doing something that you have obviously enjoyed in the past. As a final thought, how about getting some on road training with a Bikeability instructor and buying a copy of “Cyclecraft” by John Franklin. I’m sure there will be some adult Bikeability training courses on offer near to you or, as an alternative, how about becoming an instructor yourself? Your confidence will increase and you will learn lots – I know I did!

  • Richard Durishin

    Riding two abreast is great. We all do it. Those of us with young kids certainly do it with a better ear towards approaching vehicles. Bottom line, if you are riding two-up and there is a bike, car interaction….good luck in court.

  • Richard Durishin

    The contribution of the frame’s Cx is overstated (over-hyped?). Once the rider’s torso is presented to the wind, its frontal area causes more drag than can be recovered by a sleeker frame – by a whole bunch. Give me a frame that has less mass and is torsionally stiffer and I’ll show you a faster bike in the real world.

  • Eric Drummond

    “passing them at speed … this has put me in great danger”

    Gareth – Why don’t you just wait until it is safe before overtaking ? Isn’t that precisely what you wish motorists would do ?

  • Gareth G

    Interesting article and a lot of sensible stuff here. However regarding the riding of two abreast on busy roads I have had some very close calls with cars. Let me explain…

    The TdF had a massive impact on Leeds roads and it is fantastic to see so many new cyclists on the road. However, what I have found is that when I encounter slower moving groups of two (or even three abreast and untidy groups) and passing them at speed (say they are doing 12-14 mph versus my 20-22mph) – this has put me in great danger on roads where the speed limit is 40-60mph. Passing one group on a two-lane uphill road I was brushed by the wing mirror of a car travelling at about 60mph, possibly a lot faster. I kept upright somehow but a few millimetres further in and I would have been wiped out. That really freaked me out as I have had two major collisions in which I should have been killed in recent years. I have been very lucky.

    The more common problem though is oncoming traffic on country roads where cars can see you but seem to think you don’t exist! I have lost count of the times that I have passed slow groups and a fast moving car suddenly appears leaving me very exposed – yet the car doesn’t slow down! A slight alternative is when you have two cyclists approaching each other and the driver moves out to clear one cyclist but is almost head on with the other (me) as a result. I’ve had many near misses on that variation as well. Playing chicken with cars only has one outcome…

    What is the result of all this? It has put me off cycling for months now (since the wing mirror incident together with a few near miss head-on collisions on the same ride) and I consider myself a very experienced cyclist. Shame because it is a tremendous way to get and stay fit.

  • Michael Mannix

    On Nutrition you state to take in up to 90 grms. of Carbs per hour. Ones intake should be between 30/60grms/hr. This matches the max amount that can be oxidised by the muscles during Aerobic work. The transport mechanism responsible for Carb absorption in the intestine simply becomes saturated. More than 60 grms/hr would not improve energy output nor reduce fatigue.

  • Mark

    No, please do NOT practice trackstands at red lights! I am fed up with not being able to get into the advanced stop zone, because the cyclist in front thinks its a great idea to meander about at the entrance to it instead of entering it and coming to a halt. Unclipping a foot really isn’t THAT big a deal, guys….

  • David Chadderton

    From the introduction photograph comes rule number one. Don’t ride on ice, neither the frozen road water variety, or methamphetamine ice. Neither do the rider any good.