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. 

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