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    Why do they say "On your left"?

Even with rear-view mirrors, people can't look in them 100% of the time. Also, as riders get tired, or are trying to climb a hill that is very steep for them, they may tend to weave and forget to look to the side. By letting someone know you're there, you can prevent an accident that could injure you both. It's a courtesy that makes sense to me. On a twisty descent, where people may be moving from the inside to the outside of the lane trying to handle a curve, it's even more important to know that someone is there. As a small rider who is often passed on descents by larger ones, I appreciate knowing they're coming!

Debi Toews

I get passed all day long. I try to cut rest stops short so often it is the same people over and over - a sort of recycling effect.

When I get tired or start staring at the scenery I am not as alert to what is coming up fast as I should be and I appreciate people letting me know. Cars tend to make more noise than approaching bikes.

Besides the "on your left" and the bell a lot of people just say "Hi" or ask you how its going or comment on where I'm from or on my mascots. I also heard a lot of "Moo!" and "Go, Team Bag Balm!". A lot of mini-conversations spring up while you are being passed and these make the day more interesting. I don't think in a lot of cases it matters what is said as long as it alerts people that someone is there.

Rox Heath

Rox is right (or left??). I got a lot of "good morning", "Hi Wendi", and MOOOOOO. Whatever works!

Wendi Thornton

I concur. I love hearing from people as they pass. "On your left" is okay, "good morning" is better, comments are welcome, but I don't like being surprised by someone without hearing from them first.

Stacy Holmes

I liked saying to the cute gals.....beautiful hair {if it really applied} or something complimentary. This started some real pleasant conversations.


You otta hear the comments about my CO license: "Ol Fart From Happy Rock". "On yer left" fades into forgetfulness when someone comes up behind me - and - giggles.

Curt Coleman

[To Stacey after The Peach of Century, 2000...]

OK I'll bite...

Were you watching in the mirror and shouting "On your right" as overtaking riders approached?

If that’s the case, I absolutely bow to the sheer genius of it. Must get some truly remarkable responses :-)

Don "the facial expressions had to be priceless at least" Bolton

I admit, that's what I was doing. Maybe it's a bit over-stated, but 95% of the cyclists were passing without a word! And one in particular was so damn close to me. I tried to cycle up to him to ask him why he doesn't think to say something when he's close enough to touch my rear tire, but I never did. What is it about saying anything? So, obnoxious me, said, "To your right!", all damn day!!

Am I bad?;)
Stacey 'hiding in the corner' Gray

This is *priceless*! I gotta remember the "on your right" chant for those special occasions.

Depending on how annoyed I get I've been known to veer into their path "innocently" and then act startled. "Didn't know you were there" :-) They believe the dufus bit, after all what other kind of person would haul a cow on their Camelback?

Don "I admit I love to watch em panic" Bolton

I'm curious about bells on bikes - is there a code I need to learn? I kept hearing bells during STP, but I never knew how to interpret them. Were they directed at me, was someone passing, warning of a hazard, or just being friendly? My experience is, in most cases a few appropriate words are much more valuable and friendly than an impersonal bell. Phrases like "Bicycle on the left" carry much more meaning, presuming the individual understands the language, than 'DING'. What am I missing?

Don Gross

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A couple of gentle bell dings are a nice quiet way to announce your presence to a pedestrian going the same way on a path you are sharing. I always try to not make them sound "demanding".

It means "on your left" on the road and I suppose how loud and strident means how desperate the rider is to pass you. I just use "hi" or "on your left" or other conversation, but then I don't pass people very often and it feels more like a social occasion. I have heard discussion that the speed-enhanced riders get tired of the vocalizing (or maybe thinking of something to say) after they have passed a few hundred of us slow-pokes. I would sure rather have a bell ding than no announcement at all if someone is coming up from behind!

Rox Heath

One thing I forgot to mention... in the interests of making the pedestrians feel friendly toward us cyclists - and because there are some neat paths that don't allow bikes and I don't want to make more - I always try to say "Thank you!" to pedestrians that allow me to pass. ;-)


PS Legally it's okay to ride on the sidewalk most places in Oregon. Of course there are many places where most of us wouldn't want to... and some bike lanes locally (Beaverton area) that use sidewalks to go around narrow spots in the roads.

Perhaps the peds on paths are already trained, but my experience is sidewalk biking. There's one stretch one the way to work where there is no bike lane but a nice open sidewalk, so I take the sidewalk. (So far, no tickets.) When passing a ped, I always feel like a "Bicycle on the left", followed by an "excuse me" as I pass does a good job of avoiding panic and a potential step to the wrong side of the sidewalk. I'm not sure what I would expect if I dinged them.

I tend to be one of those speed-enhanced types. Unless I'm loafing, the only riders passing me are generally the faster pace lines and the occasional road animal. (The exception is the long, steep hills. Hate those hills. (:-)) ('Course, I do tend to start my rides fairly late, and I took 2 days to do STP. 'Spect I'da bin passed a whole lot more on STP if I'da started with those 1-dayer's.) I can't recall ever receiving a ding from any of the speed-enhanced - it's either silence, or most often either a friendly salutation or a "__________ on your left" (fill in the blank with bike, rider, passing, or nothing). I personally find this more friendly and instantly understandable than 'ding'. Maybe it's just because it happens much less frequently.

Don "speed-enhanced?" Gross

I 'spect we'll hear from the tandem folks about the ding bells but tandems seem to always be equipped with 'em as do an increasing number of 'bents. A string of "dings" starting 10 or so yards behind draw the eye to the mirror to find out what's back there, and the changes in angle, intensity/volume, and Doppler of the bell give me an idea of how quickly I'm being passed ( and if I'm in position to hop on their wheel). I'll take a "ding" over silence any day.

I like using a 'police' whistle. There are lots of ways to use it as anything from a gentle "hey! I'm over here on your left" to a piercing, strident " HEY! (*^_%^#@*@#HEAD! HANG UP AND DRIVE!". It's also an additional "instrument" in The Tangerine Dream 30 Mile An Hour Bicycle Band featuring Amy B on train whistle.


In response to the DING of bells - -

I may have been the one who dingeled my bell excessively on STP. You see - saying on your left while passing, sometimes many times, changes a rider’s riding line. Some riders do have a habit of looking "for you" after you say it and inadvertently sway into my riding line. So what is one to do? A warning of some kind is a courtesy that should be honored - by all bike riders. I feel that a bell is an unobtrusive way of saying "I'm here – and close to you", not a get out of the way signal at all. I sometimes continuously ring my bell while over-taking a group of cyclists just to say "I'm here" and passing with speed - hoping the meaning isn't misinterpreted to say, "Get out of my way." Bells are a gentle sort of warning that rarely changes tone with the attitude of fatigue. Unfortunately, sometimes the recipient receives the alert as a get out of the way signal which is misconstrued by their fatigue.

So - I don't know - this would be something for all of us bang around. There are a lot of variables to consider in a polite warning system. I'm a bent rider who passes other bikers at high speed many times in a single ride. I have noticed at downhill high speeds no warning at all is sometimes best so the rider I'm over-taking won't change their natural "wiggle line". However, I do feel bad that sometimes I hear a sound of surprise just beyond passing them (which is not intended). So what is one to do ? I try to pass with the best safety possible for me and the other cyclist. Now that this can of worms is open - I feel a good healthy dose of conversation is in order.

Capt Dink ~

It was really hard for me to get used to being "dinged" at. I did feel somewhat like the person was saying "get out of the way". I realize that I am now part of a herd, but I didn't want to have a cow bell run at me. Now that I've done CO twice, I realize that its warning, not being mean. It also saves breath when you're climbing and actually saying "on your left" would take your last one! I still don't have a bell. I don't ride fast enough to pass many people. But I do use "on your left". It works really well with other cyclists, not so great with peds.

Wendi "usually on your RIGHT" Thornton

I have always felt a couple of dings was fairly polite in passing. Insistent non-stop ringing always makes me feel like I am being pushed out of the way although I can see the reason why it's done (sometimes). It doesn't bother me when it's a single rider and there is lots of room, but the pacelines trying to barrel through no matter what, dinging at you when you are already going as fast as you can passing someone else, drive me nuts!

Maybe we could get some sort of fancy beat going to let people know they are okay where they are, but not to move left... (and get a few grins, too) ;-) Or you could try one of those animal squeakers (like a cow!)

When passing on an uphill I generally pant out something on the order of "on your left, at a crawl" or similar. It cheers up both of us! Somebody said it to me on day 2 of my first CO and it turned a hot, exhausting little hill into a joke.

Rox Heath

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Last October, during the Salem Century, I would've appreciated ANY noise to let me know that somebody wanted to pass me. I think that the only folks that said anything, or made a noise of some sort (be it bodily or otherwise), were the CO folks. So I am grateful for bells, calls, or any gesture (except for the finger), to let me know somebody is 'on my left'. This keeps me from shouting, "ON YOUR RIGHT!!"

Stace Gray

I've always kind of liked the sound of bike bells. There's never been any confusion in my mind as to what they mean. In fact, it's almost as though a bell gives more info than a generic "on your left", because they're almost always wielded (in my experience, anyway) by either tandems or by folks who plan on riding in a paceline. I hear a bell, I expect more than one person on my left, and I'm almost always right.

While on organized rides, some sort of signal is almost always welcomed when passing, and "on your left" is the most common. On solo rides, however, the range of reactions to this is hugely variable, and frankly, I never know quite what to do.

Here's what I mean:

Monday night, I was using a short section of the I-205 bike path and came across a family heading in the same direction. Dad was riding in the "wrong" lane, Junior going right down the dividing line, Mom in the right lane, but the three were strung out over 10 yards or so. As I got closer, I watched Dad turn and look behind, so I thought he saw me, but I didn't take this for granted, especially when he continued to noodle along in the British lane. I heard him say something to Junior, but couldn't tell what it was, but again, no change in direction.

So, I called "on your left" when I was close enough to do so without bellowing. As soon as I did, Junior obediently moved LEFT, tight into trail with Pops, and stayed put. Mom stayed where she was, but I expected almost anything at this point. I explained that I would like to pass, please, and the two made room. Side observation: all three were wearing helmets and riding what appeared to be well-maintained, reasonably new bikes. In other words, they kind of looked like they knew what they were doing.

Tuesday night, I observed a rider that I knew that I would overtake soon. Having such a recent experience with the clueless, I debated my course of action. This guy wore no helmet and grubby cutoffs. His bike squeaked loud enough that I could hear him over the wind noise at 50 yards, and he had all kinds of junk hanging off his rear rack. How would he react to an "on your left"? I didn't chance it. I gave him a wide berth and passed him without comment.

I immediately got a very sarcastic "ON YOUR LEFT!" back. Fair enough, but how am I supposed to judge?

Seems like you can't win any old way sometimes.

Scott Saulsbury

My View From Down Here: I just like knowing that you are coming up on me and are planning on passing. I use a mirror on my eyeglasses (Yes, Amy, I love it!) And continually check it - I do not like surprises. I do not use a bell - just one more thing to deal with on the cycle - but really do not care if I hear a cow mooing, a bell dinging, or the gasp of a voice muttering something about "on your left, barely." I refuse to get upset by a long line of cyclists passing me as most people do pass me on big rides. Why am I called, "SlowRider?" I like to see cyclists with mirrors and helmets. I assume (wrongly?) that they are a bit more serious and knowledgeable about the rules of the road. Point: Just let me know you are coming around. I probably have already seen you, but thanks for letting me know you are there and are going around.

Donald Lockridge

Think I'll jump in on this... on the quiet, country (read that as deserted) roads that CO and some of the other organized rides use you can hear the average car waaayyyyy back there and get ready. There are also endless cries of "car back" (which I also appreciate!) I check my mirror often - but what I note is generally quite a few cyclists - not WHICH cyclists - and one can easily approach over a series of mirror checks and actually be catching up at a pretty fair speed and they would just blend in with the general crowd back there in this series of still "photos". And then they are suddenly right next to me - this can be quite a shock - especially when I am tired or sidetracked by scenery. Bikes are just too quiet.

My driving instructor (way back in the dark ages) told me we were supposed to check our rear-view mirrors every 10 seconds (or was that 7 seconds?) I doubt if any of us check them anywhere near that often on a bike riding along out in the middle of those scenic areas.

As far as around town... when I am in a car on a two-lane road and I pass another car I signal left, pass by them, and then signal right. When I am on a bike in a bike lane or riding along a narrow side of the road and pass somebody on a bike I signal by saying "on your left" just before I pass. If I were riding down the right side of the road on a 4-lane road and you went over into the left-hand lane to pass me it wouldn't bother me a bit if you said nothing. Somehow the right-hand lane and the bike lane get tied together, though... probably because bike lanes around here tend to come and go as you ride along - even on the same road!

I can understand your confusion - maybe this will help some...

Rox Heath

Ahh, finally someone makes the real point... It is the overtaking rider’s responsibility to assure its safe to complete the pass. How that is done is up to the person doing the overtaking.

As a courtesy announcing your presence is a nice thing to do, but remember not all cyclists respond logically. You must be prepared to alter your line, slow down, or even come to a stop if the situation warrants. IT IS NOT THE RESPOSIBILITY OF THE RIDER BEING OVERTAKEN TO DO ANYTHING BUT MAINTAIN THEIR LINE. If they are roadblocking you should ask they move right (or left) to allow you to pass.

As we all know "maintaining the line" gets pretty vague with some riders. So back to rule one. As the passer it’s your responsibility. No matter what you do it will wrankle somebody.

Do it as you would have it done to you and if they don't like it. File them under cranky and forget it.

Don "Bwak, on your left awk, tweet, tweet" Bolton

My point exactly. If I come up behind a line of people and check my mirror and figure it is safe to pass, then I pull out and pass. No need to inform the line what I am doing. If someone in the line decides to pass the person he/she is following and doesn't look in their mirror and swerves in front of me; well, who is in error? The person that tried to pass without assuring such a move was safe made the mistake. I would not be in error by not giving verbal cues. I always ride defensively, and look out for people, bikes, cars, and trucks. The nice thing about Cycle Oregon is that much of the time there are only other bikes to be concerned about.

Ron "relax, there is room for all of us; now shut up and ride!" Zahm

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There may be no "need" to inform the passee about what you're going to do, but it's an easy way to avoid problems. As the overtaking cyclist I find it easier to tell 'em I'm coming than it can be to have to swerve as they come out without looking, etc.



You are correct you wouldn't be in error. However, announcing you are passing is a LOT easier than picking yourself up off the road and cleaning gravel and tar out of the road rash.

Jeff Hall

On STP, there were lots of times I was passing someone who was passing other cyclists. In these situations, the biker that you are passing needs to pay full attention to the cyclists they are passing, for the reasons already stated. It becomes important to let that rider know they are being passed, so if it becomes necessary to swerve out, the individual knows there is a limited amount of space to safely swerve into. It also behooves the cyclist that's on the farthest left to provide a tad more space than is normal, just in case. Unfortunately, just the opposite often happens, because by this time it's easy for the whole array of bikes to extend into the on-coming traffic lane.

The obvious solution is to slow down and wait for the bike traffic to thin out. Now, try telling this to one of those biker animal pace lines.

Don "enjoying this thread" Gross


We could go round and round with this and we will get nowhere. So, I'll make this response my last response (Yeah!). I will always feel that when I am passing a biker I need to give that biker room and I need to be prepared to move even further left. It makes no difference if I am on a bike or in a car. To do less is unsafe. To do more is good. But (IMHO), saying "on your left" adds little value and can add confusion - as can honking the car horn. I tolerate those who say/do it to me. But, I would prefer either silence or a soft bell/whistle or a personal conversation.

Ron "lets start a new thread about my stereo being a nuisance" Zahm

I've been enjoying this thread, too. It's nice to see civil discussion from all sides.

Let's see if I can put something in here without screwing that record up.

The key points have all been made, but so far not really wrapped into one package. It IS the responsibility of the passing cyclist to make sure that the pass can be made safely for all concerned. It's also the responsibility of all riders to obey all of the rules of the road, including those that proscribe riding more than two abreast. It's NOT a requirement to announce your intent to pass, but it is (often) a gesture that's appreciated. Passing shouldn't be considered a RIGHT, especially when doing so endangers anyone. No matter how fast one may be capable of going, tucking in behind a slower rider for a while may be the only safe way to deal with a specific situation. Getting impatient and surly isn't productive, and passing in too-tight quarters is both rude and dangerous, so you wait for a safe opportunity and announce yourself (politely) when you're coming around.

Now, if you're a rider who spends most of your time passing other cyclists (especially on well-attended rides), saying "on your left" all day long gets old, especially if you feel duty-bound to let every single person you overtake know where you are and when you're there.

So, here's my personal policy: If quarters are tight and/or motorized traffic is a potential threat making it necessary to pass within a yard or so, I say "on your left". Same thing goes ANY time I'm passing on a descent, as speeds are higher, risks are greater, and riders are generally more nervous. If, on the other hand, there's significantly more than a couple of bike WIDTHS available, I give passed riders a wide berth and sometimes don't say anything. Whether or not I do depends on the situation. If the passed rider looks unsteady or unaware, I call it out. If he/she is riding smoothly and competently, I frequently won't... I just make sure I'm not close enough to startle anyone.

If I'm on the point of a paceline, I announce the presence of the line, even if there's a lot of room, so the passed rider realizes that it may be a little while before he/she will have unimpeded clearance on the left. If I know that I haven't collected any Klingons, I'll say how many riders are following.

There's a lot to be said for riding quietly, after all. On rural roads, especially when climbing and wind noise isn't a factor, an approaching bike can be just as audible as a car, so why screw up the relative silence with an unecessary "on your left"? Now, saying something encouraging to the rider you're overtaking is another matter, and is seldom a bad idea, but that's a matter of personality, not safety.

Scott Saulsbury

I had a bell, but gave it up. I find that "passing on the left", spoken in a moderate voice, a fair distance before you pass works the best. I had to learn to give people a little more warning than when I started, I used to startle people by being too close before speaking.

Phil (look out here I come) Ford

What I wanted to add to the thread is support for the comments about when to announce. It does need to be far enough back to not startle the rider and even give them time to wobble a bit before you pass them. The speed at which you are overtaking them factors into to this. If I am going to creep by someone I usually chat them up a bit. If I am going by them fairly or very quickly I usually use my bell. On downhills I often do both.

Jim "lately I am being passed more than passing...slug" Bombardier

I picked up the Oregon Bicyclist Manual from the DMV. Here are excerpts:

"The most important rule to remember is ride on the right, in the same direction as the traffic next to you. Riding on the right doesn't mean hugging the curb or edge of the road. Times when you shouldn't ride too far to the right include: … when you're passing another bicycle …"

"Keep an eye on the road ahead. Avoid running over potholes, gravel, broken glass, drainage grates, puddles you can't see through or other unsafe road conditions. But first look over your shoulder to avoid swerving suddenly into traffic. If necessary, signal before moving over."

"Mirrors can provide opportunities for increased awareness of your surroundings. But use the mirror only as an aid – you must look over your shoulder to make sure adjacent lanes are clear before turning or changing lanes."

"In general, you shouldn't ride a bicycle on sidewalks. Sidewalks are for walkers, not bicyclists. Be courteous and ride cautiously. When passing a pedestrian, slow down, give an audible warning, and wait for the pedestrian to move over. A bicycle bell works best. If you must say something, make your intentions clear. For example, `passing on your left'."

"Learn to ride while looking ahead, to the sides and over your shoulder (this is needed to check for traffic before turning). Avoid distractions such as listening to a personal stereo while riding."

All quotes were taken directly from the manual.

The manual makes no reference to other distractions such as sociable women in spandex shorts!

Ron "cautiously distracted" Zahm

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  Page Last Updated: Jan. 20, 2003  
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