How to: Pass properly on a bike path

Q: The bike lanes and trails in my town are becoming flooded with fellow cyclists, which is great. I’m no racer myself, but I’m faster than many of these new riders, which can lead to some interesting moments—there seems to be no universally accepted passing etiquette for cyclists. What’s the best way to handle this?

A: I’ve been on both ends of this, waiting patiently to pass a slowly swerving cyclists in front of me, and on the receiving end of a few close passes by a fellow rider in huge hurry to get somewhere, or attempting to become a Cat. 6 World Champion.

In theory, the flow of bike traffic should work in a similar fashion as car traffic, with slower traffic keeping right, holding a steady line, and signaling intentions to change direction of travel. And in practice, just like the automobile, the situation is a complete mess.

Many look like little kids wobbling around: groups of riders taking up the lane yakking away with no regard for other riders; in-line skaters in their own world; triathletes in a full aero tuck and earbuds fully inserted; high schoolers texting and riding; knuckleheads taking random u-turns with no warning; idiots taking selfies. Some days riding a bike can make you feel that hell is truly trying to coexist with other people.

Illustration by Stephen Haynes

Illustration by Stephen Haynes

What to do to make things less hellish? First of all, slow down. If no one else knows you’re racing, you can’t win anything. Traveling at a much greater speed than the traffic you are passing is a sure way to make things more dangerous than they need to be. Feel the need to go fast? Don’t do it on a busy bike path.

Second, make some noise—um yeah, I lost my train of thought there, because writing on a computer leads to distractions like watching the entire 30-minute version of the Beastie Boys “Make Some Noise” on YouTube. If I can ever find a new ink ribbon, I’m going back to using my old Underwood. Anyway, open your mouth and let your presence be known, sometimes a call of “good morning” works better than the hard-to-not-sound-rude and confuses-the-hell-out-of-non-racers “on your left”. Talk to people, make yourself known, try not to sound like an ignoramus, etc.

Another effective tool is the bell. By its very nature it’s non-confrontational, and it seems to harbor some magic in the consistent way other riders react. A quick look over the shoulder, followed by a move to the right. Perfect really. The one caveat with bell use? More (cow)bell will not make things better. Keep it in the pocket, ring once or twice when in hearing range, thank while passing, go one about your day. Repeated bell ringing is annoying, and the more a bell is rung, the less effective it becomes.

The outliers here are the earbud zombies. Talking, yelling, bells, none of these make these people react. My advice? Think hard about extending your aura, which cannot be blocked even with dubstep being pumped into the brain at high volume. That aura will be felt, and space will be given. Deep breaths, get right with yourself, and the bike path will be your oyster.

This article originally appeared in Bicycle Times 31 as part of the Ask Beardo column. Subscribe to our weekly email newsletter to get content like this delivered to your inbox every Tuesday. 


Sketching and Traveling by Bicycle, Bus and Train


Editor’s note: This story first appeared in Bicycle Times Issue #33, published in February 2015. Words and illustrations by Ken and Roberta Avidor.

The road trip is an American tradition, but does it always have to be by automobile?

My wife Roberta and I have been car-free for years, but until recently, we were more inclined to travel out of town in fossil fuel-gulping, CO2-gassing jet planes and rented cars. Then we sold our three-story house in Minneapolis and moved to a loft in the Union Depot, a newly-renovated train station in downtown Saint Paul’s Lowertown district. Moving to a transit hub with easy access to local and long-distance buses and trains opened up a new world of travel options for us. We planned to travel by bus throughout Minnesota and record the sights and our experiences in our sketch journals.

We’re fortunate to have a regional bus company, Jefferson Lines, with regular service to the Union Depot. Like Amtrak, Jefferson requires full-sized bicycles to be boxed up. However, they treat folding bicycles as regular luggage as long as they weigh less than fifty pounds.


Brompton to the Rescue!

We purchased Brompton folding bikes, which are lightweight and sturdy. Brompton also has a good selection of bags and accessories; we packed our bikes into Brompton B-bags. We packed our clothes in garment bags that Roberta made and draped them over the bikes inside the B-bag. This helped protect the bike. We packed our art supplies into our Brompton S-bags, which attached to the front of the bike frame.

Traveling by train, bus and bike has facilitated sketching, our favorite pastime. When train and bus service returned to the Union Depot, Roberta and I decided to travel throughout Minnesota and record the sights and our experiences in our sketch journals and on our blog.


Bound for Duluth

Our first bus/bike/sketching excursion in Minnesota was to Duluth from the Union Depot via Jefferson Lines’ “Rocket Rider” bus. Jefferson Lines buses are a great way to travel without a car, clean and comfortable with plenty of legroom. We biked and sketched along the Lakewalk, a paved trail with lots of great scenery. Along the Lakewalk, we stopped to sketch at Leif Erikson Park, Congdon Park and Lester Park. We sketched a thick fog rolling in on the deck of Fitgers Restaurant. We also found a lot to sketch in Canal Park—the famous lift bridge from the deck of Grandma’s restaurant and the fishing boat turned-snack shack called Crabby Ol’ Bills. The Duluth Depot has many historical items to sketch, and there were many attractions in Duluth we did not have time to sketch.


On to Pipestone!

We chose Pipestone for our next Minnesota sketching excursion. It was our first trip to the little city, and we were pleasantly surprised to find it had many visual attractions as well as some unique architecture to sketch. The city gets its name from the red quartzite Native Americans have quarried and carved into ceremonial peace pipes (calumet) for hundreds of years. There are several fine old buildings in Pipestone built with the distinctly ruddy stone. We sketched the sights around town and in the nearby Pipestone National Monument. We also sketched the activities staged for Pipestone’s “Paranormal Weekend.”

We stayed at the Calumet Inn, a nice landmark hotel with a lot of character. It is rumored to be haunted by a ghost named Charlie who once worked as a handyman in the Calumet Inn until a fire on Valentine’s Day 1944 transported him between the worlds of the living and the dead.


We biked several blocks north of the hotel to the Pipestone National Monument. The monument is a treasure trove for artists with a waterfall tumbling over towering pillars of red quartzite and vistas of restored prairie. In the visitor center, craftsmen carve pipes and other items out of quartzite.

Pipestone is also a great place to bike even if you don’t bring your own. Rental bicycles are available for $5 a day at the Ewart Community Center. The Casey Jones State Trail begins on the edge of town near the big grain elevator and runs straight and level through the cornfields. In the distance, bicyclists can see the towering wind turbines of Buffalo Ridge.


We look forward to traveling by Jefferson Lines to other destinations throughout Minnesota and throughout the Upper Midwest.

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