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.
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.
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.