urban trail etiquette

keep left keep right

Does that look problematic?  Not if everyone is going in one direction, right?

I do a lot of urban trail riding.  The trail system in my city is paved and well maintained and it’s used by walkers, runners, skateboarders, rollerbladers, and cyclists.  Learning how to navigate well-traveled urban tails is a bit of a learning process.  Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:

  1. Definitely keep right if you’re cycling.  Even when you’re going faster than others, there may be someone coming from the opposite direction, right at you.  Don’t hog the center of the trail.  Only move over when passing.
  2. Don’t get too hung up on which side others are walking.  Who wants someone being scoldy and telling them they’re walking on the wrong side?  It’s worth it to be kind.  They may be new to the trail system.  And you may need their help someday.
  3. Slow down when you approach to pass someone who is slower than you are. Many people feel intimidated by cyclists.  Buzzing past them doesn’t help anyone and reinforces the “asshole cyclist” image.
  4. Use a bell and your voice.  When you approach someone going slower than you, use a bike bell and your voice.  Tell them of your presence.   I’ve had several people say that the traditional “on your right” can be confusing – does that mean move right?  Does that mean stop?   I say “behind you” and “passing” because as you can see from the picture above, walkers and runners in my city can get confused and they can be on either side of the trail. I let them pick which side and I go around.
  5. Be visible.  Wear bright colors.  When riding in and out of sunlight on tree-lined trails you can blend into the shadows.  When riding at dusk or dawn or on cloudy days it helps to use your lights.  Part of defensive riding is being visible.
  6. When riding in a group, keep aware of others who may want to pass you. Look behind you often.  Also, ride in single file unless you know there’s absolutely no one around.  But be aware.
  7. Ring your bell at intersections.  Yes, even trail systems can have intersections or blind corners.  It never hurts to preemptively ring your bell in case someone is approaching and can’t see you.

You can meet people who have earbuds pumping music so loudly that they can’t hear you when you try to let them know you’re passing.   I ring my bell and I look for a hand wave or some acknowledgment that they hear me when I signal my presence, but if they don’t seem to have heard me I assume they can’t hear me and I approach with caution.  I also nod or wave when I pass.  It keeps the trails friendly.

Sometimes you’ll meet people who hate sharing the trails with cyclists.  If they hassle you, just tell them to “have a nice day,” and move on.  Engaging with people who are angry leads to no good outcome.

Most of all, enjoy your rides.  Don’t let the jerks get you down.  The more you ride, the better you become at knowing your trail system and the regulars you see every day.  It becomes a community resource.

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