Bike Commuting Manners: Is a Smile or a Nod Too Much to Ask?

Cover illustration for the book Quest for Good Manners

This illustration is from www.aquestforgoodmanners.com, a book by Karen Lefranc. Try your local bookstore or buy on Amazon http://amzn.to/rFcalI (affiliate link). Administer to bike riders as needed. (I haven't read it--I just liked the title and the cover.)

This was going to be another rant about Rider #1, the guy I chicked recently. See, I chicked him again Monday morning, same way as last time (by taking a different route to the same point).

He whooshed past me with no verbal warning, ignoring my cheery “Good morning!” as he whizzed down Southeast Boulevard just below 14th riding with Lance Armstrong-approved cadence, knees nicely tucked in, racer focus written on his face. (I know what that looks like because Sweet Hubs races with Spokane Rocket Velo.)

Do you know this man? He’s white, perhaps in his 30s, built like a bike racer. When he got to work this morning sometime after 8:15 a.m., possibly in the downtown core, he was wearing bright blue bike tights (you look like Superman, man), black shorts, a red jacket, and a backpack.

This is a small town, so surely one of you knows him and can say, “Hey, man, is it too much to ask that you just let the lady on the bike with the Donkey Boxx who rides on Southeast Boulevard know that you’re passing on the left? She’s writing about you. And you may want to pick a different route to work because apparently she keeps passing you on Division. Don’t underestimate the skirt and high heels.”

My mother raised me to respond to greetings in kind. If someone says “hello” or “good morning” you respond, even if you’re wearing your grumpy pants at that particular moment.

Sweet Hubs tells me I need to let this go because some people say hi and some people don’t. He’s right, but…. Let’s make this about safety instead of manners, although I think it’s about both.

In the bike world, many of us—obviously not all—call out when coming up on someone from behind. This isn’t about being my best buddy. It’s about letting me know you’re there.

If I hadn’t heard his whooshing from behind me this morning I wouldn’t have known he was there. A startled cyclist (particularly a beginner, although I’m not one) can be an unsafe cyclist.

If a squirrel had run out in front of me or I’d swerved suddenly to avoid a tree limb or nest of pine cones—things that happen often riding in a Tree City USA—I would have maneuvered quickly around the hazard, much to his unpleasant surprise.

With a clear signal that someone’s coming up from behind I can make choices about whether I go left or right to avoid a hazard.

This is equally true whether I’m riding on city streets, bike lanes, or separated paths. The Centennial Trail can be full of hazardous interactions that leave you muttering like a crabby driver in rush hour traffic, or you can ride courteously and let people know you’re coming with a cheery “Passing on your left!” or a ring of your bell.

So it’s not about my need for social interaction, it’s about your safety, Mr. Can’t Be Bothered to Say Good Morning.

When I last saw Grumpy Pants (other than in my rearview mirror on Division at Sprague—ha!), he had moved over into the far left lane on northbound Division and probably took the left turn onto Spokane Falls Boulevard. This was sometime between 8:15-8:30 a.m.

Say hi to him for me, will you? And let me know if he says anything in return.

Your Turn

  • Do you say hello to riders you meet or pass? Why or why not?
  • Do you know this man?
Sharing is karma--pass it along!

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10 Comments to "Bike Commuting Manners: Is a Smile or a Nod Too Much to Ask?"

  1. I commute via rail trail in the northern Virginia suburbs and have noticed that most bike commuters will nod or say hello while passing in opposite directions. I can’t speak to whether the same is true while being passed in the same direction as I have a reverse commute and nobody else is commuting my way. 🙂 The cyclists who do not present as commuters (racing clothes, no panniers/backpack, etc) pass silently in both directions with very few even calling out that they are passing from behind.

  2. Tori says:

    Part of my commute is down a really nice path meant for cyclists and pedestrians, but in the evening when I get there everyone else is out of work too and getting a run or walk in. It’s like I’m playing a terrifying game of pinball, trying to anticipate every more so I’m prepared when someone darts into my path without looking. “On your left!” is more than a courtesy, it’s a must so we all make it home accident-free.

  3. I say hi to EVERYONE I pass on my commute. From spandex folks, to teenage boys on those little bikes that would fit a six year old, to mumbling folks with shopping carts. I love the community all of us who aren’t in cars create in our city. I don’t understand any reason to not give a warning and/or greeting. And, yes, Spokane is currently squirrel and leaf-full, so we need to be aware of those behind us!

  4. Sam says:

    I’ve complained about this too! I’m more of a waver so I like to wave. I’m okay with verbal greetings too though. Gimme something though, to indicate human feeling!

  5. I don’t initiate a hello unless I know the other person. That’s just who I am… I’m even like that in the office (and I actually see those people once in a while – I only say hi to people I work with regularly). But if someone says hi to me, even a stranger on a bike, I’ll try to return the gesture. I like not talking though, and I like leaving my hands on the handlebars … so people often get smiles or nods, and I’m not sure if they notice them or not?

    Along the same lines of liking to not talk, I don’t announce when I’m on someone’s left very much (only when I’m passing them close enough that I think there’s a chance we could collide – I’d say, within 6 feet).
    Perhaps I should reconsider that one.

    I’m wary of the bell… because I worry people become annoyed by it. Although, my bell makes a big DING-DONG sound. I actually took it off my bike because it’s huge and loud and was taking up hand positioning space. Sure is pretty though.

  6. […] Bike Commuting Manners: Is a Smile or a Nod Too Much to Ask? […]

  7. Karen says:

    I’m with you Spokane! First of all, being on my bike just makes me feel less grumpy in the morning. I am not a morning person. I ding my bell to let people know I’m coming up from behind and as a warning not to suddenly move into my space. I’d call out if I were out running and approaching from behind. It’s just good manners and good safety.

    My husband bike commutes and trains for triathlons. He has this issue as well on his training rides. Some, not all, people who race have a very car-like attitude about sharing the road. If you aren’t going fast then you shouldn’t be on the road. He thinks that some of these same people are the ones who also don’t check in with riders who are stuck on the side of the road doing an obvious repair. In general he feels pretty safe and well supported by his fellow racing cyclists but he acknowledges that some are just big jerks.

    I’m happy to report that the guy I see on my way to work always smiles and waves. He’s out every morning for a training ride; seems to be on his way home as I am going the opposite direction on my way to work. Bright yellow jersey, bikeing shorts, slick helmet and sunglasses. Always greets me pleasantly. In fact, on Friday morning he actually called out “good morning”. Very nice.

  8. […] When I sprint through traffic—when I look over my shoulder to gauge how close that person behind me is (in a car) to see if I have time to make my move—when I ride in a pack all streaming through a turn (with the rest of them in vehicles, of course)—when I have to slow down on the climb and I know the person behind me has (ahem) more gas in the tank and therefore can go faster and will pass me—I’m racing. Politely, of course. […]

  9. […] I make it a point to say hello to everyone I pass (yes, EVERYONE) from spandexed runners, to street people with their shopping carts, to kids on skateboards, to folks exiting their Hummers. I figure these moments allow my community to see that cyclists are nice people and they give me the lift as well. I keep my eyes up and enjoy the view of nature and my neighbors. I feel immense gratitude when I can bike to work, and I hope to share that joy with everyone I pass. […]

  10. […] This pointed cartoon by Bikey Face reminding us that people on bikes should demonstrate good manners toward other people on bikes, a topic I’ve been known to weigh on in myself […]

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