Bicycle Passing Signals

Bicycle Passing Signals
The sinuous curves of the bike path stretch before you, inviting quiet contemplation of the autumnal woods as you pedal along, your eyes searching for animals in the shadows. Suddenly, another bike streaks past you on your left, coming out of nowhere and startling you. Your surprise causes you to jerk your handlebars to the right and you nearly fall over. As you breathe deeply to calm your racing heart, you curse at the rider who flew by without warning.

We’ve all had situations like this happen to us when we’ve been walking or riding on a narrow path. A little common courtesy would be all it would take for the passing rider to forewarn others of his presence on the trail and not startle them into a heart attack. What’s the best way for you to warn others that you’re riding up behind them? Options include a bike bell, a horn or simply calling out to them.

Bike bells attach to your handlebars so that you can easily ring them by flicking a lever. They typically make a metallic dinging sound, although you can find wood bells, too. Bike bells are commonly available in a variety of fun designs for just a few dollars and are easy to install on your bike. Personally, I am not a fan of bike bells. When someone comes up behind me and rings their bell once or twice, it rarely enters my consciousness. If I do hear it, I often think the sound was caused by a small rock pinging off my bike frame. I’ve never managed to equate the sound with a passing cyclist.

Like bike bells, horns attach to your handlebars and typically have a bulb you squeeze to make a loud noise. Not likely to be mistaken for a rock pinging off a frame, bike horns would be harder to miss. You might actually have to be careful not to startle the cyclist in front of you so much that they run off the trail.

My favorite way to announce that I’m going to pass a pedestrian or another cyclist is to simply call out to them. If they’re already on the right side of the path, I’ll simply call out in a friendly voice, “On your left!” If they’re taking up the middle lane, I’ll usually say, “Coming behind you!” Unless the person I’m passing is wearing headphones, I’ve never had anyone not hear me and react.

No matter how you choose to signal your pass, be polite about it. I’m always careful to call out the first time when I’m still well behind the person I’m passing so that I don’t startle them too much. If necessary, I’ll call out again when I get closer. I always use a friendly voice and a smile. I read in a cycling magazine one time that the writer didn’t like vocal signals which he characterized as a cyclist screaming, “On your left!” while racing by. That kind of behavior is just rude, whether you’re calling out, dinging a bell or honking a horn. Signal early, repeat your signal if the person you’re notifying doesn’t acknowledge you, and be a friendly model of good cycling behavior.

Ride safe and have fun!


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