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When riding on bike paths or mixed-use paths, there are usually pedestrians walking along them as well. Pedestrians tend to be somewhat unpredictable; they may suddenly turn around or step to the side.

What is your preferred method of warning pedestrians when you are overtaking them? I've been taught to say "on your left" or "passing on your left", but many times when I've tried that, the pedestrians have misinterpreted me and stepped to their left, or turned around to look in a way that actually caused them to move left as well, putting them closer to my path.

More recently, since my current bike came equipped with a bell, I've tried the approach of just ringing my bell once to indicate that I'm there. I worry that this might indicate to pedestrians that I'm impatient to pass them, and I recently had someone yell at me to "say something" when I did so.

What is your preferred method safely overtaking pedestrians you are passing? Verbal warning, a bell, no warning at all and just giving them a wide berth at low speed?

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    I am impatient to pass, when the lane is bike-only, and someone decided to walk their dog/parents/baby-cart there.
    – Vorac
    Nov 22 '13 at 17:13
  • @Vorac Sometimes it's a bike only lane, but a lot of times when this happens it's on a mixed-use path. Nov 22 '13 at 22:00
  • The question could also be asked about crossing pedestrians, as lots of them now keep looking at their mobile phone when walking, and have a field of view of 2 meters ahead of them.
    – rvil76
    Sep 8 at 7:51
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    Dont sweat the "say something" yell, some people will always try to find fault - there's a good chance that if you shouted they would have said "you're supposed to have a bell"
    – Mr_Thyroid
    Sep 8 at 12:32

19 Answers 19

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Probably the most important thing isn't what signal, but when you signal. Try to give the pedestrians several seconds of warning. I've notice that many cyclists don't give the pedestrians enough time. The pedestrians you're about to pass need to hear the signal, look around trying to figure out where the signal came from, decide with their friends whether to step right or left, move to the side, decide that the other side is better and move to the other side... And that takes a few seconds... ringing your bell when you're 10 feet (3 meters) back and moving fast doesn't really help. This may mean needing to slow down on paths in general, and especially needing to slow down (or at least stop pedaling) as you approach pedestrians.

  1. Bell. From a good distance back. And maybe again when getting closer if it didn't look like they noticed the first time.
  2. "Good Morning (pause) Bicycle" as a vocal warning. (adjust the first part as appropriate). That way you get their attention with the greeting, then once they're paying attention tell them that you're a bike.

What I usually do is ring the bell ("ding") when I'm a good distance back, then again twice ("dingding") if I'm getting closer and they don't seem to have noticed. I do this whether they're in the way or not, to warn them not to suddenly step into my way. If they did have to move, or especially if had to go to some effort (holding a dog back, keeping their child on the right side of the road, etc) I say "Thank You" and smile as I pass. Otherwise I just say "good morning" or something like that.

I would avoid anything like "on your left"; most people will move right when you say that, but a small percentage will just hear the "left" and move left instead.

Also, avoid horns: they confuse people.

If it's a big organized group of runners, yelling out "bike back" has worked well for me; that's what local runners use to tell runners further up in the pack about a cyclist, and usually results in a combination of them all yelling "bike back" up the line and moving to the same side of the path.

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    "On your left" works for me almost all the time. It's the one-in-a-[big number] pedestrian that worries me. Oct 2 '10 at 19:31
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    @neilfein: it's that "almost all the time" thing that eventually leads to either running over an innocent pedestrian or hitting a tree. :)
    – freiheit
    Oct 2 '10 at 20:42
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    +1 for ringing the bell once with enough notice and saying Good Morning, etc. This generally works well and people don't mind so much when you greet them. Saying "on your left" works well with other cyclists but doesn't work so well with pedestrians. My guess is that cyclists hear this often; pedestrians don't. Oct 3 '10 at 1:48
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    Also kids generally don't have the reflex to move to the right. So be aware around smaller kids. Jan 12 '11 at 17:56
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    The problem with this approach is, that it does not work within a busy city. Your bell simply cannot be heard far enough on a noisy street, especially by a group of people chatting with each other. And it's asking a lot from the cyclists to slow down for each and every pedestrian on their path. If you want to signal early, you must use something much louder than a bike bell, ideally something that's just as legal like your own voice. Sep 6 at 22:20
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I'll ring my bell once or twice. If the pedestrians move over, all well and good. If not, I'll slow down a bit and call out "on your left". If that doesn't do it, I'll slow down to walking speed and politely tap someone on the shoulder.

Of course, every situation is different. If there are dogs or kids, I get even more cautious. Pedestrians with headphones... I assume they to be erratic. There's no perfect way to handle this, and that's why bike paths aren't my preferred way to get around. (Except in the rain. It's amazing how a little rain empties the paths!)

Above all, keep in mind that pedestrians usually have the right of way over bikes and be polite.

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I usually just ring my bell and say excuse me, then once I'm actually passing them I'll usually say thanks.

I tend not to tell them which side due to the unpredictableness of the pedestrian and then just play it by ear depending which way they step.

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As a hiker on mixed use trails, I've been hit from behind once and sideswiped on another occasion. Both instances were "Hit-and-runs". An amazing number of bikers overtake me completely silently. Marginally better ones say something like "left" as they are actually passing me. That's zero notice.

I know from experience that If you're wearing a full frame backpack you can not hear any of the typical "bike noise" a bike makes.

A bell is mandatory in my state, though I suspect it's only selectively enforced.

As a biker, I ring the bell (one ding) about 3 seconds from behind to let them know I'm a bike and I'm overtaking them. One second before, I'll say "on your left". And then if they look like they are trying to share the usage of the path at all with me (staying on the right-hand side, or not walking 5 abreast) I'll say "thanks" after I've passed.

Share the trail with pedestrians people.

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    It depends on where you are, where I am ringing your bell when about to pass a pedestrian is considered poor form, only when they are really in the way you should use your bell. Other bike noises are less seen as 'bad' so I often change gear as a way to make a modest amount of noise.
    – Willeke
    Apr 3 '20 at 17:32
  • @Willeke Your gear change cannot be heard over a distance of 20m, which would be the necessary distance for signaling to pedestrians when you are riding at about 25km/h. Neither the bell can do the trick, nor the chain noise. Your voice can do it, but never assume you've been heard unless you see a clear reaction to your signal. Sep 6 at 22:27
  • @cmaster, that click can be heard, and does work, in low noise environments. It may help that on mixed paths I rarely go 25km/h.
    – Willeke
    Sep 7 at 2:24
  • @Willeke Ok, a solitary pedestrian on a quiet park path may hear it in time. I'm thinking more about a busy city with a chatting group of shopping people on a noisy street. Because that's where you have the most need to make yourself heard, and it's by far the more frequent if you use your bike as a vehicle. Sep 7 at 7:46
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When I first started cycling more than casually I bought a bell to warn pedestrians. I found that the bell was ignored about ten times out of ten. I now almost always shout "On your left" (or right, where appropriate).

As stated, the trick is to announce your presence early enough, as pedestrians will usually jump a bit and wobble back and forth before they process what you said. (This is especially true if you're right behind them when you shout out.) I find that if you announce yourself early enough you have little trouble.

Additionally, if you regularly bike the same route then the other regular users of that route become used to your announcements and know how to respond to them. So it's worthwhile to always announce yourself, even when the way seems reasonably clear, as a sort of teaching exercise.

I regularly get irritated at other cyclists who pass me without notice. On a bike it's damn hard to hear another bike approaching, and on the trails where I often bike the birds are chirping too loudly to hear a bike bell. Maybe one in 50 cyclists, when passing me (I'm kinda slow), give an audible warning (and a lot of those that do just yell "Left!" in your left ear -- thanks a lot!). So give cyclists the same audible warning you'd give peds.

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  • Yeah, there are definitely places I ride where "on your left" is almost always understood and places where it's not. Where it is, I gauge the distance by the type of pedestrian: the more likely it is that space will be an issue, the earlier I say it and the slower I approach. (More caution when approaching groups, pedestrians with dogs, and people listening to music.) Jun 8 '11 at 19:00
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    For dogs on the loose with apparently clueless owners I shout "Mind your dog, please!" For large groups I shout something like "Coming up behind you!" And I generally shout loud enough to be heard through headphones, especially if I see them. Don't be bashful about using a loud voice. Jun 9 '11 at 11:15
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A squeaky brake?

I make this kind of "bip-bip" noise, not quite as aggressive "beep-beep" but more than just a timid, polite cough.

I've never liked bells - they seem to imply that you can't summon the courage to actually talk to someone and would rely on mechanics to bridge that gap!

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    Bells say "bicycle" better than any other noise. There's a lot to be said for the human touch, though, and I often thank people for moving over as I pass them. Oct 3 '10 at 18:48
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    If you've got disk brakes and it's a bit wet then pulling the brakes creates a noise like an articulated lorry screeching to a halt, which tends to make pedestrians jump out of the way rather than step.
    – Amos
    Oct 3 '10 at 20:04
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    Yeah, squeaky brakes do seem to get the point across, but my brakes don't squeak reliably, only usually when it rains, so I need something a bit more dependable. Oct 4 '10 at 4:11
  • Some of the bike paths where I ride have quite a bit of ambient noise (near busy roads and such), so it's not uncommon that a pedestrian isn't going to hear anything said at normal volume even if they're not listening to music. Jun 8 '11 at 18:55
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Where I live, it's actually mandatory to have a bell on your bike, although I don't recall anyone ever getting a ticket for not having one. It seems to be common courtesy to just ring the bell. Most people understand what it means, and I can't recall anyone getting angry because they think I'm being rude. Although I live in an area where cycling is quite popular. The main problem I find is from people with headphones on. Usually they won't hear a bell, or anything else. Make sure you have plenty of time to steer out of the way, or stop in the case where they don't/can't hear you (some people are deaf). Just because you rang your bell, don't expect that they won't step out in front of you.

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I've noticed that sound of tires works a way better than bell or speech :D

Actually, the best way is to keep your speed low.

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I generally go silent. In case the road is blocked completely I slow down, choose a side and say "Excuse me." just behind the ear, so it's clear where I need my space. If going in the opposite direction, I lean my head to my chosen side. It's is clear enough signal to allow me to pass on the left in my right-hand traffic country, when I choose.

Adults are pretty predictable, in case they stand sideways I pass behind. For children I leave at least 1m space, slow down and look for possible distractions and points of interest, to predict unpredictable.

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A friend of mine has an AirZound; a very loud air horn for bikes. He pecks the trigger to emit a short chirp when about 100 feet behind pedestrians. It's loud enough to get peds' attention, brief enough not to cause pain, and far enough away to give peds time to turn around or step aside.

If they don't respond to the chirp, a half-second blast makes them scurry out of the way pretty quickly.

Bells are fine at low speed but people might not hear them over traffic noise until you are quite close.

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    Pedestrians shouldn't have to 'scurry out of the way'. You friend should ride slower.
    – bdsl
    Feb 24 '15 at 21:29
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    I have one of these, so that drivers inside sound-padded cabins can hear me. I'd never ever use it on unsuspecting pedestrians. Sometimes I've even scared myself with it, bumping the lever when packing my bag or swapping out a light.
    – Criggie
    Jul 1 '20 at 9:19
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Get a Hope hub for your rear wheel. They're super loud! I stop pedalling and it alerts people walking that I'm there and want to pass.

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  • A bell is (hopefully) still louder and for the hub to make a noise you have to stop pedaling. But I agree that it can be helpful, especially since it’s a continuous noise source which makes gauging direction easier.
    – Michael
    Jul 1 '20 at 5:18
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Use the 3-seconds rule

When you signal to a pedestrian, you need to have some time left for the reaction to take place:

  1. 1s for the pedestrians to hear you. To identify that the sound came from a bike. To identify that it came from behind. And to realize that they need to act on it.

  2. 1s for the pedestrians to react. To actually move out of your way. Or into your way. Or whatever they are gonna do.

  3. 1s for you to react to a botched reation. Sometimes pedestrians simply move in the wrong direction. When they do, you need to be sufficiently far away to still come to a stop without accident.

So, you need to signal when you are still still 3 seconds away from the pedestrians. If you go at 25km/h (7m/s), that's a whopping 21m.


Forget your bell

Your bell exists for the looks. And to apeace the occasional policeman that looks at your bike. It's not designed to be heard by a distracted pedestrian 21m away. So, you might as well forget that it exists. You need to use a more effective signalling method.


Use your voice

Shout something like "ring ring" instead. Use a singing attitude. You need to be loud. Not high, not aggressive, just LOUD. In my experience, this has the best chance of being heard while being 21m away. And many pedestrians react quite positively to that. Much more positive than they would react to your bell (if they actually heard it).

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  • If your bell can not be heard at 21 meters, make sure you go slow enough that you can use your bell and it be heard. 5 meter is surely close enough for your bell to be heard.
    – Willeke
    Sep 9 at 18:24
  • @Willeke 5m/3s = 6km/h That's walking speed. Do you honestly suggest that I slow down that much because of people who have not learned to honor a bike path? What would happen if you mindlessly walked on the car lane? Exactly, a concert of honks. And pedestrians that don't honor a bike lane deserve the same concert of rings from us. Alas, the politicians do not allow us to have effective bells, so we need to get creative. I'm more than willing to brake for pedestrians should my attempts at communication fail, but I'm not willing to brake needlessly. Sep 9 at 18:50
  • We were talking about mixed use paths, not bike lanes. But yes, if you can not get your bell heard at 10 or more meters, you should slow down on mixed use paths. (Not on bike lanes, although there you should be ready to use your brakes if the walkers do not give way.)
    – Willeke
    Sep 9 at 18:53
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    @Willeke The first sentence of the question reads "When riding on bike paths or mixed-use paths", emphasis mine. And yes, I expect to be able to use a bike path at 25km/h. And even on mixed paths, note that I said "not high, not aggressive, just LOUD". That's my point: If you use your voice effectively, it's actually less stressful for the pedestrians as well. Sep 9 at 18:58
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    @juhist The problem with such bells, like bells that look like a bottle dynamo and are pressed against the tire via a brake lever, is that they are not legal in some (many?) jurisdictions, and most certainly not in mine. Every bell that's legal in my country is definitely too quiet. Sep 10 at 17:35
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What is your preferred method of warning pedestrians when you are overtaking them?

I have given up warning pedestrians if the group of pedestrian has a gap where I can safely ride my bike through. My experience is that when you ring a bell, the all of the pedestrians think they're in an inconvenient location, and rearrange, thus causing you to lose many seconds because of the rearranging pedestrians blocking your way.

Use the bell only if the pedestrians block your way, making it completely impossible to pass.

Otherwise, use your brake lever. Adjust your speed to be safe to passing the pedestrians. A wide path and one pedestrian on its side can be passed with full speed, but a narrow path or a group of pedestrians requires you to drop your speed to not much more than walking speed.

My experience is that these multi-use paths often have really poor quality pavement, so there are locations I'd prefer not to ride through at 30-40 km/h. Most of the time, when I'm braking, it's not due to pedestrians but rather poor quality pavement that I cannot ride through at full speed or else I'd risk snakebite pinch flats.

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As a pedestrian who faces this issue repeatedly, I can tell you that most cyclists ten to yell at the last second which causes a fear response rather than a thoughtful reaction. When I hear a bell, a comment or a word far enough in advance it creates the scenario desirable for all. Waiting until you're less than a second away and yelling is decidedly not the answer, but I think I may be preaching to the choir here...

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    Excellent point. Problem is the velocity of the bike - a bike doing 15 km/h (just ambling along) is doing almost 5 metres/second. a 1 second warning means being loud enough to be heard from 5 metres, 2 seconds is 10, and 3 would be a yell from 15 metres away (the other side of a road) ... up the speed of the bike to 25 and its 7, 14, and 21 metres.
    – Criggie
    Sep 6 at 20:55
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I ride through pathways with pedestrians fast and silent. It might seem dangerous but in fact it is safer.

Basically you don't give any time for pedestrians to react. When they passed it is all done.

Yeah, I look like a jerk but it safes a lot of time and it is actually safer. However I announce my passing approximately half starts jumping all possible ways around and I have to get out of the clips and stop.

If I see kids I go around very slowly and trying to get as much clearance as possible. Unlike adults they are less predictable and apt to sudden moves.

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  • Kids and animals - both are highly unpredictable and neither are known for having situational awareness.
    – Criggie
    Sep 9 at 22:14
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The first and most important thing is to ride according to the prevailing conditions. I might cruise along in upper-6th gear on the open road, but switch down to middle-5th (about 2/3rds the gear inches) or even lower for the shared-use paths in the middle of town. Urban streets are not the place to ride fast, even in the name of "conserving momentum". Some of the paths on the outskirts allow for higher speeds, due to good visibility and lack of other traffic.

It is the inner-urban context where you will encounter pedestrians most often, and they constitute hazards which you must give yourself time to negotiate. Halving your speed halves your stopping time and quarters your stopping distance. It also means you can sound your bell while being close enough to be heard.

A typical bicycle bell sounds in the frequency range that the human ear is most sensitive to, and can thus can be heard at a greater distance than an equivalent volume of shouting. It is the right tool for the job, usually. They're available in a variety of styles and colours, some more stylish than others. Mount it so you can operate it without moving your hands from the normal urban riding position.

At night, use lights front and rear, even if you're not on a road, and even if you're under effective street lighting. It will help people see you coming and plan what to do about it. Bicycles are uniquely invisible under street lighting, even though you can see perfectly fine. Virtually every bicycle sold in Europe these days comes with some sort of lighting set, and any that don't can have one fitted very cheaply and easily. Use it.

In my town, pedestrians are usually aware enough of cycle traffic to avoid blocking the whole path; they naturally walk to one side, and I can pass them without needing to give a warning. Give them some space so that you won't be dangerously surprised by a small deviation in their path, and also so that they don't feel threatened in the same way as you do when a huge lorry squeezes past at 50mph.

If there is not enough space to pass safely without a warning, then give a warning in good time and watch for a reaction. Some will simply move further to the side without bothering to look. Some will turn, see you, then decide what to do. Yet others will fail to notice, and you'll have to give them a second warning from a closer distance. Be ready for any of these, and be prepared to stop short of the obstruction until you can see that it has cleared.

Also be aware of other traffic, including other cyclists coming the other way. Stepping out of your path might put pedestrians in somebody else's way. Adapt to the dynamic situation.

Also be aware of destinations off the path that pedestrians might abruptly turn towards, such as crossings, shops, other paths, or benches. Try to pass on the side away from these attractions. Where a dedicated cycle path is provided adjacent to a road, a pedestrian crossing over the road must also cross over the cycle path, and cyclists are expected to be alert to this. Often a miniature traffic light is provided for cyclists to obey, synchronised with the one for road vehicles alongside.

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I personally think "on your left/right" is confusing to a lot of people who are just walking there thinking their thoughts. Also where I live there's quite a lot of foreigners (myself included) which will result in extra latency in their processing of your information. It works pretty well with the club riders, who are trained to audial cues, but pedestrians should really be treated like farm animals.

I found shouting "bike behind" helps, because

  1. you would typically shout it while still behind them, so some distance away, which gives them time to react,
  2. you are not making any choices for them: you observe their reaction and overtake accordingly
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I've been experimenting with pedaling backwards for a bit to get the freewheel to click, which has the advantage of creating a distinctly 'bicycley' sound. OTOH, it's not very loud. Also, not advisable on a fixie.

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  • I think this would work better for young ears than old ears. I was walking with elderly friend, and became aware of a bike behind us. My friend had no idea it was there until rider passed us, but a collision would have done him much more harm than me. The rider did ride slowly and carefully but the speed differential is still great and we don't feel it is when we ride.
    – Swifty
    Apr 3 '20 at 18:43
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I approach at walking speed and say in a highly positive, joyful and friendly voice "Good morning!". This works very well, at least in cases when two or more people obstruct the road so that I simply cannot pass. You cannot hope for a high constant velocity when there are people on the road.

I have observed that from the sound of the bell people tend to jump like scared rabbits in a completely random direction that may be dangerous. Differently, after hearing the voice they first look at me so at least know where I am.

The sound of the approaching bicycle itself is usually no sufficient. Before learning to talk, sometimes I was riding for half a minute a meter behind the pedestrians very obviously without them noticing.

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