A question on a bell had a lot of comments on how to notify pedestrians.

How do you notify a pedestrian you need to pass?

How do you notify a bicycle you need to pass?

I imagine this will be region dependent so please state your region.

This is getting a bit of response and it clearly varies by region. I will give it a couple more hours and just award the answer to the most votes.

  • Don't you want to state your region since you are the one asking the question? Jul 7, 2014 at 13:01
  • @RobertCartaino Well I was actually asking for their region. It seems the protocol varies by region.
    – paparazzo
    Jul 7, 2014 at 13:29
  • I live in Texas and we just fire our handguns in the air when we need to pass. Jul 7, 2014 at 17:03
  • Rather than reword I think should just leave it shut down. There was a tie so I could award an answer. Appears to be very region dependent.
    – paparazzo
    Jul 7, 2014 at 18:16

8 Answers 8


From Southern California, when approaching slower traffic from behind on bike lanes and paths: "On your left" meaning that you are passing them on their left-hand side. Only left. People hear the "On" portion of the call and they start moving to their right.

I can't ever recall hearing "On your right". Good thing, too. Would be a mess.

  • When there's a group ahead, taking the width of the path or being ambiguous in their position, I will shout "Passing!" or "Coming through!", to let the folks decide which way to move. Jul 7, 2014 at 15:29
  • "On your right" makes more sense in the UK, where we drive on the left, and overtake on the right. Jul 7, 2014 at 18:19

I send a single "ping" with my bell.

More pings only if I don't see the other person recognizing me (e.g. look at me, wave a hand, change direction etc).

  • It is region / culture specific. In Houston multiple bells would most likely get you a finger wave.
    – paparazzo
    Jul 7, 2014 at 14:58

I've noticed over the years that if I call out it startles people walking. Most walkers don't expect someone on a bicycle let along someone calling out something they don't understand.

So my strategy now is when I get reasonably close I cough. Yup cough, it is a familiar sound and if it's on a quite street the walker will usually turn around to see who's behind them.

As a pass I give a friendly wave and sometimes a polite hello.

  • It is also density specific.
    – paparazzo
    Jul 7, 2014 at 15:25

In Dayton, OH, the protocol seems to be sneak up on them and shout as your tire starts to overlap. Majority of riders tend to not use bells (and only shout when it is too late) and a smaller slice have the miracle bell (miracle if the other person hears it).

However, I have installed dual action bells on all our bikes (or a bugle on my sons) and it allows us to notify at a farther distance with a greater chance of hearing us. This works for both Bikes and Peds. People responding to it tend to be less jumpy than when I used to shout. It also saves my voice on the busier days.


Bristol, UK: "Passing on your left/right" usually works, but every once in a while peds (or even cyclists) will move the wrong way. To be on the safe side, I just bell from a good few yards back. If that doesn't provoke a shoulder check, I just roll up slowly and issue a polite "'Scuse me, mind if I pass?"... I think that's probably the best all-round approach anyway - why should pedestrians on a shared path be expected to know "bike lingo" like "on your left"?

If it's a numpty with headphones, I find a very quick "pip" with the AirZound works wonders ;)

If it's a runner, or a slower cyclist, who's obviously sticking to the left, I just pass on the right with ample space.

  • "on your left" is not "bike lingo" It's used by runners, cyclists, drivers...
    – Sparr
    Jul 7, 2014 at 16:46
  • 1
    @Sparr, fair enough, but I don't think the term is half as widespread as its proponents would have you believe. My cycling buddies know it, sure, but none of my "pleasure-cycling" friends do. Jul 7, 2014 at 18:16


(I should explain that I'm mostly biking to get to/from work, so this is about urban streets. But when I ride for fun on weekends, on the relevant paths there's seldomly so much traffic it requires significant regulation.)

  1. If there's a street present, usually pedestrians are on the sidewalk and bikes on the street, so there's no conflict.
  2. If there's a dedicated bikeway, I ring the bell from as far away as possible considering hearing conditions if pedestrians are on the bikeway, or to overtake another bike. On the bikeway, the usual rules apply (drive right, overtake left), so no need to announce the passing direction.
  3. Combined bike/pedestrian ways are an abomination which I don't use (biking on the street), fortunately they're largely illegal by current regulations.
  4. On a path in the woods or fields, there's usually traffic in both ways, so pedestrians as well as bikes tend to keep on the(ir) right side, allowing normal overtaking (giving a soft ping with the bell to notify). If there's a larger group blocking the whole path, the same as for bikeways applies.
  • Not US specific. It is probably too broad for this format. I am hoping the tie will break for top answer so I can award.
    – paparazzo
    Jul 7, 2014 at 18:03
  • @Blam I guess it's incomparable to some degreee as biking in the US is sports most of the time while it's mostly getting around (town) in Germany. Jul 7, 2014 at 18:06
  • It varies by city. The US is not a bike first or even a bike second nation. We love our cars. If they slapped a $4 gas tax then we would see more bikes.
    – paparazzo
    Jul 7, 2014 at 18:09
  • @Blam - I think it would need to be more like $8. $4 would cause riots but wouldn't change driving habits. Jul 7, 2014 at 19:26
  • @Blam - So what you'd see is bigger motorcycles. Jul 7, 2014 at 21:39

I post an answer but looking for other answers and will not give the check to my answer.

I live in Houston and the common protocol is bike left or bike right. Bike left is bike passing on the left. If the pedestrian does not know the protocol they will turn look to the left so things can go bad. If it looks like an experienced runner they probably know the protocol. Pedestrians don't do a good job of staying right. And if you have traffic both ways you may drop off the path and pass on the right. We get some bells but they are mainly Europeans. When I hear a bell I look for an ice cream truck.

For a couple hours a day a 1 mile loop is shut down and get some racers training. It can be a problem there. You will get kids learning to skate and all over the road. Racers can get irritated and it is not always a polite exchange.

I have a pretty loud cassette so on the sidewalk I just coast and let them hear me.

When I lived in Seattle there was more use of bells. Also many more blind turns. And pedestrians did a better job of staying to the right.

On the trails the protocol is rider up or rider back. Going into a blind turn rider up. Then when you pass you call out how many riders are behind you - e.g. 2 back or if none then clear back.

A runner will call out runner up. I guess if they passed you they would call runner back but I have never been passed by a runner.


Western Australia: It is a legal requirement here to have a bell or warning device fitted. I have bells on my bikes and generally only use them when approaching pedestrians or cyclists who are either making it difficult to pass (e.g., walking wide or in the centre of the path) or who I feel may make a sudden move that could prove not so good for either of us.

This is a bit topical here at the moment following the death of a 95 year pedestrian who was hit by a cyclist. There where on a shared use path. No details beyond the ABC news report.


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