Bicycling Etiquette

Even though they are slower than you and even though they are ahead of you that is no reason to run them over.  Even though this pictured turtle was in the middle of a road and not on a pathway and even though I was in a car and not on a bike, the same rule applies.  Over last weekend, ababsurdo’s Kayak Woman described an encounter that she had while walking, that involved a bicyclist.  The cyclist tried to alert her to his approaching presence by calling out, “On your left.”  Instead his call-out only served to startle and confuse her.

“On your left”, is shorthand for the full phrase, “Bike back, passing on your left”, but sometimes it gets shortened.  Sometimes it is shortened even further to “Bike back” or simply “Bike”.  The main purpose of a biker’s call-out is to alert a pedestrian or fellow rider that they are about to be passed.  A cyclist should always pass on the left (at least in the US), hence the phrase, “On your left.” 

I’m no lawyer, but I have one.  I was sued as the result of a bicycling accident.  The situation in my accident was different from the encounter outlined above.  Mine was a bike-on-bike head-on collision.  The suit was settled and in order to add some more value, my lawyer gave me a little tutorial on bike law.  Here is what I remember:

After an accident, the law needs to assign blame to someone.  Sometimes it is clear, like when a drunk runs a red light, but sometimes it is not so clear.  When there is no clear blame, the law looks at which party should have been behaving more responsibly.  The law holds that a motorist must behave more responsibly than either a cyclist or a pedestrian.  With a steering wheel, a driver holds in his hands the greatest danger and consequently, needs to safeguard this danger.  Likewise a cyclist with the handlebars of a bicycle represent a greater danger than a pedestrian.

I’ve had a number of bicycling accidents, none with a vehicle (Thank God!), the previously mentioned bike-on-bike accident, one involving a Black Snake (no legal issues there) and one with a pedestrian.  I came off the worse for wear on that one, he was a big guy and I was the one knocked down, while he was left standing.  It was his fault and he apologized on the spot.

I’ve done a lot of bicycling on the Park’s pathways.  I’ve had two collisions but, many more near misses.  Avoiding these collisions has been a combination of good luck, skill and the experience of having passed thousands of people.

I generally call out “passing”, but not always.  If I recognize the other individual as a regular, it is not Park etiquette to call-out.  Sometimes I repeatedly call-out, but to no effect.  I call this the iPod effect.  I always call-out if children or dogs are involved.  I eschew mechanical devices like horns and bells.  I find them impersonal.  We’re not in vehicles with the windows rolled-up; we’re close enough to touch each other.  I say use your voice, talk to them, it might just start a conversation.  No one wants to speak to a person that goes ding-dong.

2 thoughts on “Bicycling Etiquette

  1. What I like about bells is that I don’t have to switch gears and process language and if the bell is rung a half a block back, I usually do converse with the cyclist.

    That said, there are bells and there are, well… The old-fashioned bells like we had when we were kids are fine. Once, I was walking on a trail way out in the woods. There was *nobody* else around me and I heard this unearthly metallic sounding electronic noise. What was that? I looked around and around and saw nothing. Finally a bicycler came into view. It was fine and there were no collisions or anything but for a few minutes I thought maybe there were aliens in the woods (-:

    All in all, my pedestrian interactions with bicyclists are very friendly and when I am driving, I go out of my way to avoid collisions with bikers (or anyone else).

    So sorry to hear about your collisions and lawsuit (!)

Leave a Reply