The rules of the peloton won’t pass on the street

Let’s take one more quick look at common bike courtesy. Which seems to be pretty uncommon these days.

A few weeks back, I was riding on the bike path above Santa Monica when I came up behind an older woman riding slowly on an old beach cruiser.

Normally, I would have just passed her and been on my way, but there were a couple of joggers coming in the opposite direction. And there wasn’t enough room to complete my pass without posing a risk to her or the runners.

So I settled in behind her, matching her speed until I could safely go around her.

Meanwhile, a couple of riders entered the bike path behind me. One I recognized as a local amateur racer; judging by his jersey, the other appeared to be a member of a mid-level pro team.

As they rode up behind me, I positioned myself just behind and slightly to the left of the woman rider, making it clear that I was waiting to pass. But once the runners passed and I began to make my move, the two riders behind cut me off, without a word, passing so closely that our arms nearly brushed — something that could have easily taken out all four riders at once.

I had no choice but to squeeze my brakes and drop back, then offer my apologies to the woman I’d been trying to pass, who was nearly caught up in a dangerous collision through no fault of her own.

And once I caught up to the other riders, I was mad as hell.

I’m the first to admit that I handled it badly. Instead of calmly discussing the matter, I gave them both a piece of my mind. Not that I have that many pieces left.

But here’s the thing. There are different rules for racing and riding on the roadway. And what works in the peloton doesn’t work on the street. Or on the bike path.

From their perspective, they saw their opening and took it; it was up to me to respond more assertively. And in the peloton, passing closely is a sign of a rider’s skill — not the dangerous rudeness I perceived.

From a non-racer’s perspective, though, it’s just the opposite. The rules of the road dictate that you wait until it’s safe to pass, and allow the rider in the superior position to go first. And then, and only then, you give other riders the same clearance you’d expect a driver to give you.

In other words, three feet when possible. Or roughly the length of a grown man’s arm.

If the situation dictates that you have to pass closer than that, for whatever reason, you should always announce your presence by saying “on your left” or “passing left.” And always, always, always pass on the left.

The only exception is the rare instance when the rider is so far to the left that passing on that side just isn’t possible. In which case you may need to pass on the right, but only after announcing that you’re going to — and waiting a moment to make sure the other rider doesn’t respond by cutting back in front of you.

After all, some people seem to have trouble with advanced concepts like right and left.

And when the shoe is on the other foot — when a rider comes up behind you and announces “on your left” — remember that he’s not being rude, obnoxious or aggressive. He’s being polite and showing concern for your safety, as well as his own.

So just respond by continuing to ride straight, or if there’s room, move over to your right to let the other rider pass. And it couldn’t hurt to nod your head or say thanks as the rider passes.

It might encourage him or her to show the same courtesy to other riders down the road.

And who knows, this courtesy thing might just catch on.


L.A. prepares for its first ever bike count, there’s still time to sign up if you’d like to volunteer; Nashville just did it. Fellow cyclist Russell Crowe braves the traffic on Sunset Boulevard; note BOA and Chateau Marmot in the background. As usual, Joe Linton takes the high road and encourages Santa Monica to make positive changes to maintain its bike friendly city status. Another stolen bike alert in L.A. A new study suggests that bike lanes may encourage drivers to pass closer that they would otherwise. A man who dedicated his life to providing bikes to disadvantaged children passed away this week; most of us can only hope to do that much good in this world. A Colorado man is convicted of letting his dogs attack a cyclist during a race last year. Boise gets new bike lockers. Turns out the Vatican has long supported cycling, as well as other sports. An elite Aussie cyclist drives drunk, crashes into his former training partner and flees the scene. Budapest Critical Mass riders plan to encircle city hall in protest. A Middle-Eastern cyclist demonstrates the origin of the Camelback brand. Finally, two teams face off in a Gotham Iron Chef-style contest to raise New York cycling to Amsterdam-ish levels. Maybe we could use something like that here.


  1. ben says:

    A Bell works really well.

  2. Mimi from Florida says:

    Ditto to the bell. It’s friendly sounding and I appreciate another biker who wishes to pass using it as a polite warning that they’re overtaking.

    I am a senior like the lady you encountered on her comfort bike, albeit I’m on a road bike and ride at least 50 miles a week. I peddle at a decent rate, but am not a speed demon. I know the rules of the road and appreciate courtesy and try to pay it forward. I ride to the far right, or stay within bike lane markings. I use bike paths when possible. I wait at lights, I use arm turning signals, I ring my bell in warning when necessary. I obey the rules and courtesies of the road.

    Unfortunately, like so many others, I’ve been harassed by auto drivers for such offenses as simply being in an intersection, trying to cross. I’ve been yelled at for not riding in pedestrian walkways or on sidewalks. Many drivers don’t seem to understand that by law, we must ride in the road if there is no bike path. of course I’ve been passed too close, had horns startle me, car doors open … all the usual.

    Yet the worse problems I experience are from wannabe biking road racers… who blow past, oblivious to safety and courtesy. I’ve been pushed off the road by illegal peloton packs going at a high rate of speed. I’ve been brushed and cut off. If bikers can’t be careful and polite with each other, how can we expect drivers to be?

  3. bikinginla says:

    Personally, I’m not a big fan of bells. Like horns, they aren’t very good at communicating a specific message, and don’t tell you anything except that a bike is present — which means the other party is likely to respond in any number of ways. Using your voice allows you to convey a specific message, while suggesting an appropriate response. However, if you’re more comfortable using a bell, by all means, continue; anything is better than no warning at all, and bells do come across as very friendly.

    Mimi, I agree completely — no matter how or where you ride, nothing is more important than riding safely and courteously. And we will never be safe on the roads until drivers are educated in our right to the road, and the harassment of cyclists is banned in every state.

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