Riding back and forth to work daily for the past 15 years has exposed me to lots of different behaviour on the roads. It’s pretty clear that most people — motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians — behave politely and with courtesy. Those that don’t, the ones that irritate or even infuriate, those are the ones that you remember. Most of the problems come from people ignoring the law, the “rules of the road”. But some of the problems come from just interacting with other road users. So, in an effort to advance peace and harmony on the bike routes in Vancouver, here are a few thoughts on “bike commuting etiquette”.
1. It’s not a race.
No, really. It’s not a race. If you’ve been passed by a faster cyclist, it’s not a challenge. They’re not questioning your self-worth. They’re going faster than you and needed to get around you. Speeding up to pass them might sound fun, but guess what? You’re going to slow down, and … they’re still going faster than you. How do you know that? Well, if you’re caught by someone from behind, by definition they’re going faster than you. Unless you’re consciously dragging your butt, they’ll need to pass you again. After having to pass you for the second or third time, you’ve done nothing but irritate the other cyclist.
Related: you pass a faster cyclist by blowing through a stop sign that they’ve stopped at. They pass you before the next stop sign, but then you pass them again by blowing the next stop sign. And again. REALLY? Stop it. That’s the very definition of irritating and irresponsible riding.
2. First in, first out.
This applies to stoplights and stop signs. If you arrive at a stoplight or stop sign behind someone else who’s waiting there, give them the chance to go through first. This is easy if you queue up behind them instead of crowding beside them or blowing through without stopping. Look, it’s hard enough to navigate intersections around Vancouver, particularly if there are pedestrians and motorists that are trying to predict what’s going to happen, who’s going to go, and when. But if you come up beside someone (or blow past them) you’ve just confused everyone, and no one more than the waiting cyclist who didn’t see you until the last minute.
Related: motorists, it’s nice that sometimes you yield right-of-way to cyclists. Let’s face it, it’s probably safer given how many cyclists blow stop signs. But, you’re not helping. For one thing, you don’t often physically indicate you’re yielding. Instead you just wait. Sometimes you wave your hand. FYI: In the wintertime, it’s pretty unlikely that I can see your frantically waving hand. The best way to communicate with cyclists is by flashing your lights. We see those. But also, by yielding right-of-way (particularly stopping at intersections where you don’t have a stop sign but cyclists do) sure makes things confusing.
3. Cyclists need space too.
The key to safe riding around the streets of Vancouver (and, well, anywhere) is keeping space between you and things that are going to hurt. Safe cyclists instinctively keep a bubble of space around them. Try not to put yourself into someone else’s bubble. Sitting too close to another cyclist’s rear tire makes a lot of cyclists uncomfortable, and if you’re close enough you’re actually slowing them down. Passing too close (particularly without ringing your bell, announcing an “on your left”, etc) falls into this category too. Another problem on Vancouver’s bike routes, particularly during club rides or on Tuesday nights as riders head to the UBC criteriums, is cyclists riding beside each other. Two abreast? Violates the Motor Vehicle Act, but usually isn’t so bad. Riding three abreast? Seriously? Not so great for cyclists coming the other way.
4. Hands-free riding doesn’t make you cool.
If you want to ride hands free, do it on the seawall. People there will be suitably impressed. On the roads? Well, it’s a clear indication you’re going to be a problem. Why? Because you’re not going very fast. And you’re wandering all over the road. Everyone needs to take their hands of the bars every once and awhile, but not for the whole stretch of the Kits valley. Hands-free riding while talking on your cell phone? I don’t understand how you survive.
5. Fenders keep everyone happy.
If you’re commuting in the rain, get yourself some fenders. They’re pretty cheap and you’ll keep your back reasonably dirt, oil, and grime-free. More importantly, you’re not going to have a huge rooster tail behind you, spraying the same dirt, oil and grime all over the cyclists coming up behind you (or the one you just passed).
Do these etiquette “rules” ring true, or am I off the mark? What other cycling etiquette can you suggest?
Last modified: November 26, 2012