Courtesy in Three Words

“On your left!”

This is a common courtesy shout-out that bicyclists are supposed to give others on the trail system rather than silently passing and scaring the crap out of the person or persons walking or biking on the right.

I’ve already noticed that this courtesy has been in short supply as the weather has turned warmer.

I’m not sure if bikers are embarrassed to say those three words, if they don’t know they are supposed to say those three words (or something similar) (or ring their bell), or if they simply don’t care.

On Saturday, while passing a young couple walking on the local trail, I afforded this common courtesy. The woman immediately said thank you (to which I responded with you’re welcome) and then she added, “You’re the first person who has said that to us today.”

I waved the wave of understanding at them while moving forward, but wondered why I had to be the first person, perhaps the only person to announce myself to the couple. It’s the one lack of biking etiquette that irritates me the most. The portion of the trail I biked on Saturday is busy on nice weekend days. There are couples, families, groups, children, walkers, bikers, rollerbladers, and pets that share the trails. It scares me that a speeding silent biker could come along and take me or someone else out because we chose to wander left at the last minute. It especially scares me with young children who are easily distracted by the flower or bug or leaf on the left side of the trail and unabashedly run there if mom or dad don’t have the little one in their grasp.

Now, before you think I’m being a bit high and mighty about this, I have a confession to make. Initially, I was one of them. I didn’t know the rules and didn’t say anything when I passed. When someone told me about this courtesy, it took a few cracks at it to stop feeling weird and to say it like I meant it. With practice, it has come naturally, like turning on a car’s blinker when you turn a corner. If I can do this, anyone with a voice can.

So, in summation my fellow bikers, please announce yourself when passing others. Be loud and proud. Look out for the people on the trail, keep them safe.

And wear a helmet, just in case…


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42 responses to Courtesy in Three Words

  1. Dan Antion says:

    This is so important, Mary, and you’re right, it’s hard to understand why some people don’t say it. It’s also important for walkers, joggers and families to pay attention to people who do say it. I’ve mainly been walking lately, but I’ve noticed people not moving and people in groups, not giving up half the trail. Common courtesy doesn’t seem to be as common as it once was.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      You’re right Dan. There’s always the other side of the story and I’ve also encountered people who don’t follow the “stay right” rule. I’ve muttered “get over” a few times under my breath at groups who are taking up the entire trail, especially during Covid when we should be keeping our distance. The trails are so enjoyable when everyone pays attention to the etiquette.

  2. quiall says:

    A dear friend of mine was mowed down by a silent biker who left the scene. She ended up going to the hospital by ambulance and suffered a broken leg and numerous other contusions. Etiquette is there for a reason. Why is it the evolution moves forward and manners don’t?

    • bikerchick57 says:

      A hit and run biker, Pam? That was awful for your friend and exactly what I worry about…someone being injured. Manners are really not that difficult and the warning is not that hard to say (and much appreciated).

  3. Ally Bean says:

    When I used to ride my bike on trails I always said “on your left” when I passed someone. I amazed to learn that it is not longer the done thing. It’s good manners, you know? And makes for a safe and friendly experience. Why would people not want that?

    • bikerchick57 says:

      I really believe that some don’t know any different or are embarrassed to say it, Ally. And the rest may also be the people who think masks are stupid. I don’t know. It’s also possible that the courtesy is given more than I realize and I just happen upon the quiet ones when I’m out.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      True, John. I think most people are courteous, but the few seem to always make it feel worse. For the most part, my travels on the trails have been good…this is just one of those things that frustrates me when it happens.

  4. lois says:

    Husband and I were walking on a great shared trail a few weeks ago. Every single bike that came up behind us said, “Passing on the left.” I loved it and thanked them every time. Such a great courtesy.

  5. dweezer19 says:

    What Willow said is also true in Atlanta. Calling out is step one but when approaching a crowd it is wise to slow a bit and make sure you pass safely. Their calls in many cases meant β€œHere we come, clear out of the way!” It is definitely one of those tricky situations.

  6. Laura says:

    I don’t spend a lot of time on biking/walking trails so that might be why I’m not familiar but the handful of times I was on one I never heard this phrase. Sure would have helped, too, because a couple of times I jumped right out of my skin!!

  7. murisopsis says:

    Amen! Our riverwalk has wide paved paths that allow for lots of room to pass. I’ve heard “on your left” often and then there are the times when you are suddenly passed and nearly wet yourself! Seems the leisurely bikers have manners but the ones traveling at highway speeds never use a bell or any words. I can believe that a collision would result in serious injury!

    • bikerchick57 says:

      It seems to me that the speed racers in their cool lycra outfits should be the ones that know trail etiquette and abide by it. Guess not!

  8. Joanne Sisco says:

    I hear you, Mary. The lack of cycling safety – including signalling intentions, and calling out when approaching to pass – are 2 of the biggest reasons I stopped cycling with the Seniors’ Club I belong to. It’s just not safe … not to mention courteous.

    … and don’t get me started about the family/friend clusters on a trail who won’t share the path, or the garbage casually tossed to the side.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Funny you mention garbage. That is something else I noticed along the trail this spring. Not sure if it’s leftover from last year or new, but it’s not a pretty sight. I wonder if more signs would help with litter and courtesy, but I suppose only if people read them.

      • Joanne Sisco says:

        Garbage strewn on the ground makes me angry at the best of times. Now it just makes me sad beyond belief. I just don’t understand the sense of entitlement some people have.

  9. Jonathan says:

    Until the pandemic happened, and our office shut, I had cycled to work for 20 years. Part of the route took me along a single track road into a country estate – where people would often walk their dogs. I lost count of the number of times a group of people would be dog walking, and so engrossed in their conversation that they had no idea I was behind them, ringing my bell, trying to get their attention. Just discovered your blog btw – following πŸ™‚

    • bikerchick57 says:

      I’ve run into a few of the non-attentive dog walkers, dogs unleashed and people who can’t hear me because of their iPod and earbuds. It’s frustrating, but so far, I haven’t had any “incidents.”

      Thanks for the follow, Jonathan! I had to take a break from writing, but will be back soon.

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