SF Cyclotouring

Ride reports and other ramblings from a San Francisco cyclist.


For Whom the Bell Tolls...?

My daily commute involves a stretch of riding on a paved, multi-use path, which crosses underneath a highway via a dark, narrow tunnel. At nearly every access point along this path are signs instructing cyclists to "alert others before passing". So this morning, I'm riding along, following behind another cyclist as we both enter this tunnel, and come upon a jogger -- who is of course wearing earbuds. I don't think she's aware of our approach, so I ring my bell -- exactly once. Out of nowhere, the guy in front of me slams on his brakes, and I almost collide with him, ending up between him and the opposite wall, leaning against it with my left shoulder.

Adrenaline pumping, I yell out "&^%@ dude! Why'd you stop in the middle of the trail?!?"

"Because you were trying to pass me, and she [the jogger] was in front of me" he retorted.

Although I didn't think I was close enough to indicate that I was trying to pass him -- I (sort-of) saw how/why he might think that, apologized, and continued on my way.

It could be argued that I was following too closely. I do a good amount of group riding, where everyone is generally comfortable with close-quarters riding, drafting, etc. -- but I need to better remember that the general public is not like this!

But the main thing I want to highlight is that, had I not rung my bell, this incident would never have happened! Trying to do the safe/polite thing -- warning the jogger of my approach -- had exactly the opposite result. Sheesh! What do you do when you encounter other people on a bike path/trail/etc?


Blogger ekr said...

It is impossible to know what the right decision is.
When in doubt, hang back and slow down.
I stopped using a bell, I yell the word UP.
Sometimes warning pedestrians only adds to the confusion.
There is no way to know how people will react.
Just hang back.
Headphones....not safe.

12:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A bell works better than calling out "bike left" etc., since most pedestrians seem to easily recognize the bell sound from a bike and will move over. That is, unless they are zoned out listening to music or OTP. I've considered an airhorn for these iZombies, but this will definitely piss people off more.

11:51 AM  
Anonymous AllanF said...

Yeah, I've rung my bell on behalf of the rider in front of me once or twice. It just seems to confuse everybody more.

7:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't see how the headphones were a problem in this scenario. The near-crash was caused by the person who heard the bell, not the person who didn't.

That's the problem with announcing the pass: most of the time, you want the passee to do exactly nothing and just hold their line. I find that non-cyclists often respond to the bell or "Left!" in a way that is counterproductive (e.g. startled, freezing in their tracks, turning around), so I've generally stopped doing it unless I really need them to move out of the way.

10:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My commute takes me over a mile and a half long bridge twice a day. It's got room for two walking side by side plus a bike carefully going by. It's never terribly crowded, but the joggers and walkers can be unpredictable, especially when reaching the ends, where many abruptly pull a U-turn to head back in the other direction. These days at least 60 percent are wearing headphones. When approaching from the rear, I slow down and start ringing the bell gently from a distance.

When I get in their hearing range (if they have one) they glance around and then slide over. Since I'm not yet in "their space" they are less likely to startle. Now the regulars wait for my bell, scoot over, and wave as I pass.


2:57 AM  
Blogger Gino Zahnd said...

Move to Japan. Bells seem to work there.

11:26 PM  
Anonymous Chester said...

Yeah...calling out/ringing usually causes people to get a little squirrelly, so I only call out when I need the person ahead to move over, or will be passing them with little room to spare.

In the latter case, I want to make sure they don't suddenly drift to the left, so I shout a warning and make sure it's absorbed before passing. So I shout well in advance of my passing and make sure they've reacted before actually passing. Well...I try to be this conscientious, anyway...

So, yeah...in the end, I think you were following too closely. If you're riding with serious cyclists, the guy in front is to blame for not signalling or whatever. But when you're riding with the general public, I say the same rule used for driving a car should be used: if you rear-end someone, it's your fault, period.

Maybe they did something dumb -- as the guy in your story did -- but, ultimately, you need to follow at a distance that allows for him doing something dumb. For your sake as well as his.

9:48 AM  

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