It’s now four months since my commute has changed from wholly on-road riding to mostly off-road share paths. This has resulted in a decidedly more relaxed and pleasant ride now, but an inconsiderate pass (overtake) by someone the other day got me thinking…
When speed seemed to matter
Getting caught up in the race to the next red light used to be important. Riding to work used to be for exercise and fitness. Looking back I’ll admit now that I had small-wheel syndrome more often than what I would have admitted to then.
Avoiding being overtaken was not just a symptom of small-wheel syndrome though. Riding fast also meant I feel safer when merging with traffic, and I was over-taken by other cyclists less often. When you’ve got one eye watching for people in parked cars who might be about to open a door on you, an eye watching the path ahead for glass/obstacles/people in front signalling, an eye on the traffic to the right and an ear on the traffic over my right shoulder (yes, I can count, and no, I don’t have three eyes)… the last thing I felt I needed was another cyclist deciding to overtake me in the bike lane at an inopportune time.
Life in the slow lane
In April my employers relocated to a new office, which meant find a new route to ride to work. Slightly nervous about my first commute heading up Main Yarra Trail, my plan was simply to take it easy. Having heard first- and second-hand stories of crashes on this trail, my pessimistic prediction for my new route was that I’d be riding head-on into a peloton of cyclists coming into the city, each one intent on achieving as many Strava PB’s as possible.
Thankfully that wasn’t the case. Instead, two other factors really stood out; firstly, my need to adopt and adapt to a consistent paced ride from the stop-start one I was accustomed to (there aren’t any traffic lights along Main Yarra Trail!), and secondly, the need to both look out and slow down for pedestrians.
Role reversal – who’s the aggressor now?
Previously, despite a fair degree of confidence, I was often conscious of my vulnerability as a bicyclist when riding in traffic. All it would have taken was to be clipped in passing…
Now the shoe is definitely on the other foot. Pedestrians are the most vulnerable ‘road’ users and bicycle riders are the people whizzing by their right shoulders. Although I’m now on a shared path and not a street or road, the same rules and guidelines still apply.
For the number of times that I shook my head at an impatient driver and thought, “Couldn’t they have waited just 5 seconds?” I would be a complete hypocrite if I did not now extend the same courtesy to pedestrians on the path – regardless of the fact that, as a bicycle rider, I am also obliged to do so.
So how should you safely, and considerately, overtake a pedestrian or bicyclist on a shared path?
- Give way to pedestrians
“Pedestrians” includes people on foot, as well as on wheeled devices such as skateboards, scooters, wheelchairs, and motorised mobility devices.
- Give adequate warning
You cannot predict how people will react to the sound of a bicycle bell behind them, even if they’re on a well-used share path. I’ve seen people freeze, move to the left of the path, move to the right of the path, look around in panic, or continue on seemingly oblivious to my presence.
- Slow down
After sounding your bell, the next most important thing to remember is you that you should “slow down when overtaking pedestrians” (ref) and also “manage your speed so you can slow or stop safely” (ref). If a person reacts unpredictably, the last thing you want is to crash or come off your bicycle when trying avoid running into the person.
When approaching to overtake, I will usually ring my bell about 2 seconds in advance of when I will start to overtake the person, and also give a verbal warning (e.g. “passing on your right”) when nearly level with their right shoulder in case they haven’t heard my bell.
- Give adequate space
Warning people that you’re about to overtake is one thing, being respectful of personal space while doing so is another. If the share path is divided into two lanes, overtake in the right-hand lane, as you would if you were driving on the road. If no lanes are marked, still use the right hand side of the path to overtake.
If it is not practicable to use the righthand side of the path to overtake, either due oncoming bicycle riders, pedestrians, limited visibility, some other obstruction, or narrowness of the path, reconsider whether you should in fact be trying to overtake at this point.
- Make sure you have enough time to overtake
The same rules apply on share paths as on roads: don’t start overtaking until the righthand lane is clear; ensure you have time to safely overtake the person in front of you before you become an obstruction to oncoming pedestrian/bicycle traffic; don’t overtake on bends or just before a crest of a hill where you can’t see oncoming pedestrian/bicycle traffic and they can’t see you.
Refresh your knowledge of the rules for road and share path use here.
All the above applies doubly when overtaking people walking dogs, or even riding close by dogs off the leash. Although our furry friends are known for their superbly keen senses, it’s surprisingly easy to sneak up on them when you’re on a bicycle. They are also highly unpredictable! Slow down, use your bell, and be ready to stop.
Be Happy and Brompton on!
Being considerate and patient around pedestrians and slower riders will ensure a safer and more pleasant experience for all concerned. If you’re worried that this will make you late for work, try allowing more time for your commute.
I personally find the best way to enjoy my ride to work is simply this: