I bike to and from work in New York City, and I have noticed that while I stay very far to the right in the bike lane (literally on the line that marks the right most boundary of the bike lane), maybe about 70% of the cyclists who pass me do so on the right, despite the fact that there is more room on my left than on my right.

I was wondering...

  1. Am I wrong to try to stay to the right?
  2. What's the correct way to pass another bicyclist in a bike lane?
  3. What else can I do to make it easier for others to pass me? (I would say I am an average speed commuter, and I probably pass about as many people as pass me)

*Edit: many bike lanes in New York City are on the left side of the road, and sandwiched between the side walk and parked cars

  • 6
    (1) no; (2) on the left (right side roads countries); (3) randomly swerving to the right constantly that way people will have no choice but to pass on the left.
    – Rider_X
    Aug 11, 2016 at 20:56
  • 15
    You're not "very far" to the right if there's room for a bike to fit between you and the right.
    – Chris H
    Aug 12, 2016 at 9:34
  • 1
    Just want to point out that a lot of bike lanes in New York City are on the left side of the street (e.g., the ones on First and Second Avenues). Aug 12, 2016 at 14:34
  • You could do what I do, go so fast that no one ever passes you :)
    – BSO rider
    Aug 12, 2016 at 22:25
  • 1
    i think being passed on the right is as bad as being cut off, and i tend to yell at people to let them know. Despite this, I ride on the outer part of the bike lane to avoid being doored and so I'll have reaction time if someone steps into the road. If you're in an urban environment and don't constantly signal and look behind you, you're doing it wrong. Aug 12, 2016 at 22:38

4 Answers 4


You're doing the right thing by generally staying to the right. Nobody should pass you on the right, which is a bit dangerous because you don't expect it and because there isn't as much room. (I'm speaking for countries where people drive on the right side of the road. In countries where people drive on the left, then bicyclists should pass on the right, of course. Also, as @g.rocket points out, if the bike lane is on the 'left' side of a one-way street as is common in New York City, that is to say on the other side from where it would be if the road were two-way, then one should ride on the 'left' and pass on the 'right'.)

The correct way to pass is to first announce your intent, either by ringing a bell or saying "passing on your left" or something similar. Then pass on the left.

I think the best way to make it easier for others to pass is to be aware of your surroundings (a mirror helps), to stay to the right, and to ride predictably. As @JoshCaswell notes, when you are being passed, resist the urge to move further to the right and just keep going in a straight line. Point before you turn!

  • 8
    Further to "predictably", when someone does signal that they're passing you, try to resist the natural impulse to swerve right. Just keep on going smoothly in the same path.
    – jscs
    Aug 11, 2016 at 23:52
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    @JoshCaswell there's a difference between swerving and tucking in a little to make it easier for them. The former could be confused with a wobble while the latter could be smooth enough that you wouldn't notice the maneouvre if you weren't watching for it, just the extra space. It can be a good way to acknowledge the overtaker's warning on a narrower stretch, as you often cant be heard by someone right behind you when there's traffic around.
    – Chris H
    Aug 12, 2016 at 9:33
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    I don't think ringing a bell should be necessary under normal circumstances. When you drive a car, you don't honk either at every car you overtake!
    – gerrit
    Aug 12, 2016 at 12:48
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    @gerrit, most overtaking cars enter another lane to overtake. Most bike lanes are not lined in a similar way and [some proportion of riders] don't realize they should ride on the right, and so they take up more room by riding in the middle. A simple bell ring to let them know you're there is fairly common.
    – Matt
    Aug 12, 2016 at 15:38
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    @gerrit When you overtake in a car, you normally do it on a separate, marked lane, which has sufficient room for extended travel of two cars side-by-side. If you're on an unmarked lane where two cars side-by-side is a squeeze, then you definitely should be making sure the vehicle ahead of you is aware that you're passing - and honking is one way to do so.
    – R.M.
    Aug 12, 2016 at 15:41

There are good reasons to stay to the outside of the bike lane (left in your case): Less debris, fewer potholes (e.g. around drains), better visiblity for both you and people you don't want to drive into you. There are also good reasons to keep tucked in, such as letting people pass easily (though this only realy applies in the lane is wide). If the bike lane passes parked cars , I'd want to be on the side further from them, even if the lane isn't a door's width.

In Europe, including the UK, but to varying extents, the rule of the road (for cars and bikes) is keep tucked in (right in US/most of EU, left in UK) unless overtaking, for which you pull out. This seems much less the case in the US (certainly the LA freeways were interesting from this point of view), which probably affects cycling behaviour as well.

Bike lanes that are wide enough to pass in are rare enough in many countries that the etiquette isn't well established. I don't think I've ever seen an on-road bike lane in the UK that was twice as wide as my (mtb-style) handlebars despite living in a relatively bike-friendly city; I have seen bike lanes that were narrower than my bars. Wider bike paths are often off road (and shared with pedestrians); passing there is less road-like and tends to happen on both sides. A polite warning is never wrong, though being heard can be tricky.

  • The LA freeways are certainly interesting when cycling on them! And noisy. And I would be a bit nervous passing another cyclist on the left, which would have me moving toward passing motor vehicles. Aug 12, 2016 at 16:34
  • I've only driven on the freeways, thank goodness. If you pass another cyclist on the right and don't give them enough space (in their judgement not yours) or there's a sudden hazard you're forcing them towards the traffic. That's much worse than a planned manoeuvre towards the cars. Here to overtake on a straight you have to pull out of the bike lane into the traffic lane as the bike lane are too narrow.
    – Chris H
    Aug 12, 2016 at 21:37

In a narrow bike lane, there is insufficient space for one bicycle to safely overtake another.

Therefore, to overtake another bicycle, you should pass into the car lane when it is safe to do so, overtake there, and then pass back into the bicycle lane, again when it is safe to do so.

Change lanes for the overtake maneuver — just like you would in a car. In my opinion, you should not need to ring your bell when you overtake, unless several cyclists are cyclist abreast and making it impossible for anybody to pass, but this is more likely on a bike path than on a bike lane.


In my experience, the convention is for the overtaking bicyclist to shout "on your left!" or simply "Left!" whenever they want to warn/demand something ahead of them to move to the right to make room -- another bicyclist, a pedestrian, whatever.

Personally, I find the traditional bicycle bell more polite.

  • This convention appears to be exclusively North-American. I've been cycling all my life, and the first time I noticed this was when I visited Boulder, Colorado, at the age of 27. In particular without the "On your" prefix, I was totally confused and had no clue how to respond.
    – gerrit
    Aug 14, 2016 at 10:09
  • @gerrit "On your ..." is common here in Australia. Simply calling "Left" or "Right" would, as you say, be totally confusing.
    – andy256
    Aug 14, 2016 at 11:57
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    But a bell merely tells me you're somewhere behind me. It gives me no information as to your intentions. Are you going to pass me? On which side? A bell says nothing. Aug 14, 2016 at 20:32
  • 1
    @andy256 Right. My point exclusively North-American was exaggerated. I've never seen it in Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Norway, or England.
    – gerrit
    Aug 15, 2016 at 7:56
  • 1
    Yes, I agree it unambiguously announces a bike, but it doesn't tell me what its rider's intentions are. However, something as simple as "Left!" does (though I've never heard just "left" used in the US; it's always "on your left"). I don't think this is a huge big deal, and either is better than nothing, but I'd generally like to know what the intentions are. Aug 15, 2016 at 13:58

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