Charles River Wheelers

Common Bike Courtesies

2023-08-20 10:54 AM | Anonymous

By Eli Post

We engage in pleasantries in our normal life. That’s what civilized people do. That practice also extends to bike riding. Perhaps the most common courtesy is saying “passing on your left,” so those ahead of you know you are approaching from behind and coming their way. This is not only courteous. It is also a simple way to avoid collisions.

There are other commonly used courtesies, which all apply to group riding and make us safer on the road.

Communicate when Slowing or Stopping: It may not be apparent to those behind you that you are slowing down or even stopping. You must call out “slowing” to avoid a pile up of riders. Signaling this will make a difference between a safe stop and a dangerous situation. The signal is to call out “slowing” or “stopping” and raise one hand fingers flat.

Indicating a Turn: Those behind you need to know in advance when the group is turning. Whether it’s a turn on a city street, or even a fork in the road. Raise your hand to shoulder height and point straight-arm in the direction of the turn. It’s best to initiate the signal well in advance of the turn. This courtesy should also be extended to motorists for your own good

Pointing out a Hazard, Pothole or Debris: When approaching a hazard such as a large pothole, extend your arm and point at it, calling out “hole” or whatever the hazard. This call is for deep holes that can swallow a wheel, and not for merely rough pavement. and not for merely rough pavement.

Alerting Riders to Tracks and Speedbumps:

Some speedbumps are particularly large and call for a warning. Tracks are especially dangerous if they cross your route at a severe angle rather than perpendicular.

Warning of Oncoming Hazard: This is a warning call that is in the eye of the beholder. You see a large truck coming in your direction. It is wide and fills if not overlaps the lane. You signal to move right so no one is in the path of the truck. Again, the call is only to alert riders to hazards that could startle or hit them. This can come into play on particularly narrow roads.

Calling Car Back or Car Up:

This warns of a car approaching from behind or coming toward the group from ahead. The more critical is “car back” so riders know to move to the right. This call comes from the back of the group, and depending on the numbers of riders, must be repeated so riders more forward hear the call. “Car up” can be important on narrow, winding rural roads where riders may be riding in the middle of a travel lane.

All Clear:

We do not recommend the use of the “all clear” call. Conditions change in an instant. Cars going 60 mph cover a lot of ground in seconds. It may be “clear” for you or the person directly behind you, but someone down the line who hears it, could be in danger from approaching vehicles.

This article was edited by Tim Wilson


  • 2023-08-30 2:26 PM | Jeff Dieffenbach
    Three comments:

    1. "On your left" or the equivalent may be common, but IMHO, it should be used sparingly. When I'm passing someone by a decent margin at a safe speed, I don't make a call. Instead, I'm watching them carefully for an indication that they might rapidly move in my direction. Should they make such a move, I'll slow/stop or perhaps call out "On your left," but otherwise stay silent. Too many times, my call has startled them more than simply passing them. And sometimes, they'll move left in response to hearing "left."

    2. A clarification on hand/arm signals--if at all possible signal with the hand/arm corresponding to the direction you're turning. The very old school "point up with the left hand" if you're planning to turn right is a legacy of signaling from a car (how quaint, a driver signaling a turn!) and often not understood by others around you.

    3. Setting aside the discussion about the merits/demerits of using "Clear" or similar (IMHO, there are many times when it's safer to use than not use), if the goal is to discourage the practice, I'd remove the image and header for "All Clear" from the post, out of concern for the "Backfire Effect." (The Backfire Effect is when mention of a myth or don't instead serves to cement the myth/don't.) Or perhaps put a circle with red line through it overlaid on the "All Clear" image with text that says "Don't say 'All Clear'" instead of just "All Clear."
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    • 2023-08-30 11:46 PM | Gail Walker
      I find it much more startling to be passed silently than to have someone say "on your left". I would prefer people passing me ALWAYS say something. Though most adult riders will ride in a straight line, they may veer left if they see something to avoid and they will do a better job of staying right if they know you're coming up beside them. I've never seen a person startle or move left when I said something as I went by. I've often wondered if people who refuse to say something when they pass think that they have a limited number of words in this lifetime and don't want to use them up on a courtesy like this.

      As for signaling turns, I use my left hand only, not because those were the signals taught to motorists long ago but because I feel unbalanced if I take my right hand off the handlebars. We really have no way to know if people who see me signaling a right turn with my left arm up and bent are puzzled or not.
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      • 2023-09-05 8:12 AM | Dan Ostertag
        I prefer being alerted by a passing cyclist, partially to avoid being startled but mostly because it's the friendly thing to do. A pet peeve of mine is someone passing you out in the middle of nowhere and not saying a word. We're cyclist out doing a shared activity, say hello/good morning/nice day...anything.
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  • 2023-08-31 11:04 AM | Amy Juodawlkis (Administrator)
    A few comments:

    1. Instead of "All Clear," I say "Rolling." As part of my safety talk, I let people know this means "I'm moving. Check to make sure it's safe to proceed FOR YOURSELF."

    2. I try to use both hand AND verbal cues as much as possible. In a group of riders, not everyone will have full view of your hand signals.

    3. Another useful verbal cue is "Single File", indicating a need to briefly override two-abreast riding for various safety reasons.
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