Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Words To Ride By

Good afternoon, Students! Welcome to the first in a series of articles on some of the basics of courteous, and safe, urban bicycle riding. I should probably mention that this is a set of guidelines that KT of Vélo Vogue and I are hashing together and that they are 100% biased and based in our desire to no longer be more frustrated with our fellow riders than we are with the silly drivers who insist on getting behind the wheel with a latté and an Iphone and a lap dog after getting 2 hours of sleep each night for a week. When we realized we were complaining more about bicycle on bicycle interactions lately than we were about vehicular traffic we decided it was time to write something about it.

Today's lesson is about my biggest frustration with other riders on the road; passing on the inside. One of the things that those of us who took Driver's Education learned early on, before we were allowed behind the wheel of a car, is that it is illegal and dangerous to pass another vehicle on the right. This applies especially to bicycles in the bike lane. 

The usual configuration of a bicycle lane in the United States is to the right of the car lane and to the left of the parking lane.  In San Francisco, where there are many one way streets with the bike lane on the left side of the road, this could also mean passing on the left so I will just call it passing on the inside.  Most bicycle lanes are not wide enough to ride two abreast. To pass a rider who is ahead of you, you should make sure it is safe to leave the lane and enter the car lane to the left. From there you can accelerate to pass the forward rider and then re-enter the lane ahead.


The rider with the green backpack is doing the right thing.  He exited the lane, entered traffic when safe and accelerated around the riders in front of him before reentering the lane. 

It is NEVER acceptable to force your way forward by squeezing between the forward rider and the parked cars! This is a guaranteed way to push someone into traffic.  The female rider with the polka dot helmet would be in the wrong if she tried to pass the rider with the black backpack on his right.

In this bicycle lane above, just don't pass.  Unless you can safely get into the traffic lane yourself, trying to squeeze through in the bicycle lane will push the forward rider into traffic.  This is not OK.

In the above picture, you see something really common, and really awful, that happens all the time in San Francisco.  The guy in the white shirt is riding on the inside of the lane.  If he decides to overtake the woman in the brown jacket she will be forced to move to the left into traffic.  Especially if she does not know he is there.  If she is  an inexperienced rider she will most likely overcompensate and swerve quite far into the car lane without looking.  Many times I have found myself actually being touched by the shoulder of someone suddenly passing me on the inside!

Enough for today.  I think you get the picture. 

cross posted at Vélo Vogue.


  1. I know I'm going to get crap for this, but here I go anyway... :o) You stated that "it is illegal and dangerous to pass another vehicle on the right." It's actually not always illegal: http://dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/d11/vc21754.htm. While I do completely understand your frustration and the intention here with cyclists (and I agree that it is much safer to pass to the left), I think this creates confusion for some cyclists because there are times in a car when we can pass to the right. Perhaps there is some car to bike transitional behavior taking place?

  2. If you look at all the "exceptions" to the passing rule for cars, they all make the point of saying "where there are 2 lanes directing traffic forward". There is never a point where passing within a lane is acceptable for a car, at least in my training and research. Cyclists can legally pass a car on the right if we are in a bicycle lane or in a street lane of over a certain width (14 feet I think), other than that it gets foggy about what is legal and what is accepted.

    In this piece, I am talking about bicycle riders passing one another within the bike lane. There are no laws about how we are supposed to do this and people just push on through however they want. it isn't malicious, they just are not thinking. I have been on the receiving end of it too many times and I see it happen to others every day. At some point, as there are more and more people using these lanes, we will have to come up with a standardized etiquette of how we ride with one another.

  3. No amount of common sense instruction will cure stupidity.
    In today's "it's all about me" society it's unlikely that very many will ask themselves the question of "How would I like it if they did to me what I'm about to do to them".
    I so seldom see common courtesy being exercised that I'm shocked when I do see it. When I exercise common courtesy I get the feeling that I am thought of as old, senile and possibly stupid.
    We would not have to "come up with a standardized etiquette" if we had any etiquette training at all.

  4. THANK YOU! This is my biggest pet peeve (well one of them at least). I've had so many near misses with people passing on the right. This past spring, biking with my boys - one on the xtra and one on his own bike - we were getting ready to turn right, arms extended to indicate our intention, when some idiot hipster comes blasting by on the right, just as my then 7 year old was starting his turn. Thankfully there was no collision, but I gave him an earful, you can be sure.

    And then recently, coming home from work on the Hawthorne Bridge, I moved left to pass some pedestrians, realized there was a faster biker coming up behind me, and was moving to the right to allow them to pass as soon as I was clear of the pedestrians, when she shot past me on the right as I was merging over. Surprised I yelped "Don't pass on the right!" and received a one-finger salute in return. Smart, AND classy, that one was. *sigh*

  5. I love those retro toe clips and leather straps.

  6. Whenever a rider needs to pass give a big and firm "HEADS UP" the message is understood by many people and hearing it from behind alerts those ahead of you to move to the right if there is room. Using audibles to fellow bike riders is common wherever I've ridden, from Boston to Minneapolis.
    Be alert. Be seen and don't be mis-understood in your intent.

  7. That is where the bicycle bell comes into play! So much nicer than "LEFT!!!".

  8. Thank you!! This is my pet peeve too.