Cycling is the new skateboarding/kickboxing/hula-hooping/choose-your-own-zeitgeist-capturing-activity-of-the-moment. I read it on the internet, so it must be true.

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Like most of those who have been battling through the rain and headwinds, I feel some resentment at these arrivistes. After all, why should they enjoy all the hard work we’ve all done for the betterment of the sport? (Not me personally, you appreciate. I’ve never worked for the betterment of anything. I’m ideologically opposed to betterment. And work.)

But in a spirit of patronising welcome, I thought perhaps I should pass on some essential cycling etiquette. This is stuff that is so deeply embedded in every gnarled old bike rider that they don’t even have to bother doing it. They insist on everyone else doing it, though.

This is the vexed topic of waving. The acknowledgement of your fellow riders as they pass in the opposite direction. Old hands often complain that no one waves anymore. Or that the wrong sort of people wave. Or that they don’t wave properly.

So this is how it works.

You are riding along, when another rider heaves into view. You must work fast, and classify them into the correct category: deadly serious rider; less-serious rider; triathlete; commuter.

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Hailing the threads

It’s reasonably simple. Just remember that cyclists don’t really wave at each other, they wave at each other’s clothes. (For newcomers to Britain, this is also pretty much how the rest of British society works.)

Start by ignoring anyone who isn’t wearing cycling shoes. They don’t count. Assuming they cross this threshold, look at their jersey. Serious riders will wear a club/plain jersey, non-serious riders are more likely to sport a WorldTour team jersey. Commuters wear clothes that won’t get them arrested in the supermarket, and triathletes might wear pretty much anything from a club top to a weird sleeveless rubber vest.

None of thee categories are watertight. If you see someone in a Sky top, you shouldn’t exclude the idea it’s Geraint Thomas on his way to Tesco.

Wave on your own

You must wave only at your own category. And your category is not invariable – it depends on what you’re wearing. A few summers ago, on a hot day, I decided to go to Richmond Park wearing a triathlon vest. None of the people that normally waved at me even registered that I was there. Then I noticed lots of triathletes I’d never seen before, waving at me.

The wave itself is also important. You shouldn’t look like you’re trying to flag down a passing helicopter. A respectful gesture is all that is required, a raising of one of the fingers of the right hand from the bars momentarily, or an almost imperceptible nod. For some more experienced riders, the nod is completely imperceptible.

If someone from a different category waves at you by mistake, it’s best to ignore them. On no account wave back – this mucks about with the natural order of things. It was exactly that kind of fraternization that wrecked the British Empire.

Remember always that if the oncoming ride looks exactly the same as you, you are about to ride through a shop window.

  • RobTM

    Hmmm, I get a kick out of waving.. funnily enough it’s Team Movistar including Valverde who give the best reaction!! 🙂

  • Tuvelo

    The Geraint Thomas example actually happened to me, he was pootling along a bike path and to my shame I was just classifying him as FTKW/THW (full sky kit and black pinarello?) when I realised who it was. Wave to all.

  • Jay

    No matter the type of rider, I greet anyone with a polite nod or a friendly hello on the road. There aren’t many bike paths where I live so it’s always good to see fellow cyclists. I do despise riders that run reds and doesn’t respect traffic laws or causes bad rep to the rest of us. There is already an inherent stigma between drivers/ pedestrians and us cyclists so I think we should all be our mini ambassadors for the sport.

  • Tony

    It’s simple, you just spot oncoming cyclists at about 100 metres, a bit like an ANPR camera and quickly categorise them. Then it’s a simple case of a nod of the head…..or not.

  • CyberTonTo72

    I don’t wave to people that are riding road bikes with no lid as a general rule, but I did give a quick hello to a guy today that had a very nice jersey that I have in my wish bucket.. 🙁

  • Chris

    I’m either grovelling, head down going uphill, or hanging on for dear life going downhill so don’t expect me to acknowledge anyone else’s presence in those situations. On the flat, I am just far too cool to wave.

  • zoomungus

    I ride in Spain, no waving here lol its all about the clique……..

  • bestblagden

    Oh god. The staring off camera. It’s too much!