30 Days of Biking, Day Seven: Left

Day Seven in the 30 Days of Biking, 30 Words, 30 Pictures series

Executing left turns.  Being left behind. Sure, I can write about those with “left” as the word of the day.

Sign on Burke-Gilman Trail bike path, "Use voice or bell when passing"

Good manners. Good sense. For goodness’ sake, say something.

For today’s ride, however, I mean “Left!” as in “On your left” or “Passing on your left” or any of the other trail etiquette warnings. I rode my bicycle for miles without hearing this heading northbound on the Burke Gilman Trail around 6:30pm or so.

Nor did the people passing me ring their bells instead, a perfectly acceptable alternative. That’s my preferred method because I get more response from people wearing earbuds when I use my bell and I think it sounds friendlier, but today my bell was broken so I called out repeatedly.

The idea behind saying “Left” is that you won’t surprise people you’re passing. It’s not only polite, it’s safer; a surprised rider/pedestrian is an unpredictable rider/pedestrian.

If I know you’re coming up behind me faster than I’m riding I can navigate accordingly. You don’t know I’m about to execute some maneuver I wouldn’t if I knew you were there, or that I need to swerve around an obstacle I could warn you about. Wouldn’t you like me to assist in keeping our interaction pleasant and collision-free?

Occasionally I try to keep track of who says it and who doesn’t. So far I haven’t identified any strong or stereotypical patterns. You can be wearing street clothes or Spandex, riding an upright bike or down in the drops, loaded with panniers or wearing a heart monitor, alone or in a group. You say it. Or you don’t. The “you don’t” people far outnumber the “you do” people, in my highly unscientific sample.

If you do say it when you pass me I say “Thank you!”.

I have one grumpy response I use occasionally. If you pass me without calling out or ringing your bell, I may say, “On my left!” as you pass by, particularly if you were extra-fast and extra-close. I figure that way at least one of us has acknowledged the interaction, and perhaps I’ve given you a motherly little reminder that you should be saying it. I can dream.

It’s not a totally crazy dream. I’ve noticed that my saying of it reminds others who weren’t saying it and they sometimes start up, which I get to observe when someone I passed fires up and passes me.

In my really crazy dream, people also say it when passing in a bike lane. Those tend to have less margin for error and more street noise and I appreciate it even more.

Left. It’s oh-so-easy. Just say it.

NOTE: We have trail etiquette rack cards available upon request to anyone who’d like a batch to give out. They’re really popular when we take them to events and we’ve seen them in brochure holders at some trail heads. Contact Louise to request a batch.

Related Reading

Your Turn

  • Do you say it or don’t you? Why/why not?


This article was posted in Attitudes, Legal, Safety, Trails. Bookmark the permalink. Follow comments with the RSS feed for this post. Both comments and trackbacks are closed.


  1. Chris
    Posted August 4, 2015 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    I was taught to say “on your left” but now I prefer just saying/hearing “passing”. I’ve found that for many people left/right directions can be confusing and often had people step to the left directly in front of me on pathways when I use “on your left”, saying “passing” is just less information for a brain to process maybe? Either way I have had less awkward trail moments using “passing”.

    • Barb Chamberlain
      Posted August 5, 2015 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      As long as you say something, Chris, you’re helping everyone keep moving without running into each other. Keep setting a good example and it will spread.

  2. HoBi
    Posted January 1, 2015 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    My husband has a disorder where he mixes up right and left, particularly under stress. He practices getting them right, but never will because it’s a disorder, and a surprisingly common one. I am hearing impaired. If you must say something when passing, say hello. If you get no response, you may be coming up on me, in which case you are responsible for not being a jerk.

    • Barb Chamberlain
      Posted January 4, 2015 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for the comment–really important to remember that some people on bikes have a hearing impairment. We’re all responsible for looking out for each other.

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