Cycling Etiquette

So this article has been a while coming and I really meant to write this last week after a ride, where I was very frustrated at the lack of respect and etiquette on the path. As I write this I am mainly talking about cycling paths and roads, for recreation sake or for commuting. I realize this doesn’t relate to “professional” cycling as in racing, etc, though some path users may need a reminder that they are not racing against everyone out there on the path.

My main focus is on safety and communication, which makes the cycling experience positive for everyone and to help prevent injuries from cycling.

Hand signals

My first point is signalling. I know that it is not law to signal when you are cycling, but honestly it’s not difficult and if more people did this there would be less frustration and much safer maneuvering. This is important for bike paths and I think even more important on the roads. Just as other cyclists can’t guess where you are going, neither can vehicle drivers. Taking the guess-work out of where you are going can save your ass from getting run over. I also find that when you signal drivers pay more attention to you and are less likely to “crowd” you at an intersection, leaving you time to go where you are going.

There is some confusion in the school of thoughts of hand signals. The attached image below will help explain this:

The main source of confusion comes from the right turn signal at the bottom left of the images. This one is confusing to cyclists and drivers alike. I would be more inclined to think that signal was for going straight rather than turning right. This type of signalling is leftover from the days before automobiles were equipped with turn signals. To signal the turn a driver had to stick their arm our of the left side window to signal. Left was apparent and right was the bent arm.

I personally use the fully extended arm in whichever direction I am turning. There is no way to misinterpret that signal, and lets everyone know where you are going. Equally I use a signal when I am passing and when I am merging back to my lane. I cannot locate illustrations but I use a diagonal downward signal when I am pulling out to pass and then when I am pulling back in. While this is probably a less used one I know on a few occasions this has shown the person behind me that I am passing, especially when they were likely to be starting the same maneuver. This keeps us from colliding when passing and lets your fellow cyclist know you are passing too. I signal when I am pulling in so that I dont surprise the person I have passed.


On the subject of passing there are some fine points of etiquette and safety to discuss. The first point is that if you are a slower cyclist (and that’s ok) you should stick to the far right of the path. This will allow others to pass you safely. If you hold the center line it forces cyclists to pull far left in the oncoming lane to pass you, and end up traveling closer to you in order to pass. When you are being passed, maintain your speed and follow a straight line. I have had people panic, drift towards me and almost crash. I have also had people speed up as I am passing them, this is a bad decision and puts us both in danger.

I hope this goes without saying but I am saying it anyway. Pass on the LEFT side only. Passing on the right is going to put you in extreme danger of collision or hitting the dirt / grass beside the path. That is a one way trip to the ground.

Also for the love of all things good wait till it’s safe to pass. Lately I am finding some cyclists who are out traveling at high speeds (racers) are passing in curves, around blind sections, in intersections. This puts them at risk for hitting oncoming traffic, for taking out the person they pass since they have to rush bask to their lane.

When you pass make sure there is enough room to get in safely. Pull far enough ahead before pulling back in. Last week Julie and I were cycling and we had a cyclist pass us. He clearly underestimated his ability and how fast we were moving. He ended up next to me for entirely too long as he couldnt get the speed to pass. He ended up pulling in so tight to me that I had to grab my brakes, his rear tire was not only going to hit my tire, he would have hit my front fork with his tire. This move was not only extremely stupid but he pulled in, forced me to fast brake then he pulled back of the path not 1 meters farther. He would have been much safer staying behind 2 experienced cyclists rather than try to show off passing us leaving everyone at risk.

Leave the person you are passing enough room. Again last week I am getting passed by a spandex-clad racer. Now I understand that when you are racing the rules are different and you have to take every advantage over your opponent. On the bike path I am NOT your opponent. This cyclist came flying up on my and passed so close that our handlebars almost touched. I was fully right on the path and I swear this cyclist didnt bother to change lanes despite there being room. He passed so close that I am still not sure how our handlebars didnt touch. I was traveling at about 25kmph and he was easily going 10-15kmph faster. Had we toughed that would have been a complete wreck, and Julie who was behind me would have ended up in the fray as well. I think what made me even more mad is about 2 minutes later we caught back up to this cyclist at a bridge ahead where he was stopped on the side huffing and puffing to catch his breath.

Multi-use paths

This is one of those things that leads to frustrations fast. If you are on a multi use trail please be respectful to people traveling at all speeds. high-speed cycling in this area is a definite no-no, dangerous and disrespectful. Take the multi use paths if you have time and patience, you are not the only path user. On the flip side there are some paths called BIKE PATH for a reason. Several areas have a bike path and a walkway set off to the side. People who decide to walk the bike path should show caution and realize these paths are dedicated for cycling. This goes equally for runners. I have no issue with people running safely on the bike path. Stick far right. What really pisses me off is groups of joggers taking up the entire lane and half of the other lane, this makes it dangerous to pass you safely. Then you get smart ass remarks about going too fast, passing, etc. This applies to rollerbladers too. You know the ones? instead of going in a straight line they are zig-zagging left and right, arms flailing, looking more like they are having a seizure than rollerblading. If you dont know how to rollerblade safely maybe stick to the parking lot or somewhere you can learn. Not trying to be mean but if  you are a danger to yourself, stay off the bike path.

For any and all paths… no mater if you are walking, cycling, blading, DO NOT STOP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PATH! You are not the only one out there. Signal that you are pulling over and get off the path. A few weeks ago Julie and I were cycling and it was raining. On the Lachine canal there is an area with a covered bridge, and the path pulls through it in a curve, so the turn is blind the way the entrance is made. I enter slowly as I know this is a dangerous curve, and luckily I was able to take the wrong lane cause there was some genius stopped in the middle of my lane taking refuge from the rain on the inside of a blind curve. If I were going too fast or there was someone oncoming I would have hit him at full force and had no time to stop.

I really think the bottom line is to respect one another. You are not the only user on the path and a little bit of courtesy and communication can go a really long way. Cycling is about freedom, about commuting, about leisure and recreation and to keep this fun and safe is everyone’s responsibility. Please respect one another and keep in mind that by cycling safely you are protecting yourself and others.

Thanks for reading and until next time, may the wind always be at your back!

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2 thoughts on “Cycling Etiquette

  1. chawajen says:

    When it comes to multi-use paths, one of my “fav” obstacles are when 2 walkers split to either side of the path instead both of them moving to the right side!

    Head’s up for your Canada-wide trip: Here in Calgary, there is a city bylaw that requires bikes to have either a horn or bell equipped. At first, I thought this was silly but I’ve come to love it as a way to warn pedestrians that I’m coming up behind them and gives them a chance to move over, bring their dog in closer and not jump in surprise as I fly by. Also great for those blind corners!

  2. Steven says:

    I share all of your frustrations with the mutli-use / recreational paths, as a skateboarder. I’ve come across many a group of joggers who think it’s just fine to take up 75% of the entire width of both lanes – like everyone faster than them should just take the grass. Not so feasible for boarders, rollerbladers, or cyclists who aren’t on a hybrid or mountain bike. It sucks that when certain people form into groups of 4 or more, they adopt the mentality of cattle.

    I’ve also witnessed a lot of the “you go left and I’ll go right so someone can pass us in the middle”. I hope those people never ride motorcycles together, applying the same logic.

    I can’t even count the number of times that I’ve *had* to pass on the right, under the following circumstances:

    – rollerbladers or joggers zig-zagging and / or sticking to the middle
    – cyclists or joggers deliberately being in the way, presumably too proud to be passed by someone on a skateboard
    – rollerbladers thinking that we’re in competition – having been passed, they race to get ahead of me, and then lose steam but still stick to the middle of the path
    – herds of people walking, taking up 90% of the path – leaving just enough room for a person standing sideways to squeeze by on the right.

    I understand the dangers of passing on the right, and in these scenarios there was no hesitation because I was willing to put myself at equal risk with the ignorant person(s) who would hopefully either take a lesson or take some time off the path while they recover.

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