I'm new to using cycle paths and seem to get dirty looks for riding on the left.

When driving along my usual commute this morning I saw others riding on the right and therefore passing to the left of each other.

Surely it's the same as driving? I'm also sure that the give-way markings when crossing roads are on the left.

Edit For clarity, I am using a single off-road cycle-path as opposed to a cycle-lane.

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  • 2
    Round here the long bike path is marked bikes on one side, pedestrians on the other. Nearly everyone ignores that (it's busy with bikes, few pedestrians, and they tend to be led by dogs) so people ride on the left anyway -- or left-of-centre for better visibility and hazard avoidance, tucking left if someone comes the other way or to be overtaken. On the otherwise unmarked paths (just a wide path through a park, the only indication bikes can use it is a small sign at one(!) end "cyclists" tend to keep left, "people on bikes" can be anywhere, just like pedestrians. So generally, keep left.
    – Chris H
    May 8, 2014 at 7:58

10 Answers 10


Of course you keep left, overtake on the right and queue like a good British person at junctions!

However, there are no rules. In 2006 British Waterways, concerned at the popularity and over-crowding problems on tow-paths did a consultation to work out if they needed a 'keep left' policy. It was deemed that such a move would be unpopular and not adhered to (and certainly not policed). Therefore, if there is no keep left idea then overtaking on the right cannot be deemed to be against any code.

Most cyclists over the age of five seem to appreciate the 'keep left/overtake on the right' idea, however there are some scenarios where this goes out the window in deference to safety. Going over Kingston Upon Thames Bridge the cycle lane is two-way, but you would be a brave cyclist to stick to 'keep left' when joining the bridge to go south - cyclists heading north are wanting to join the main highway and are crossing past your path. Going on the right is the expected norm at that particular point and, with it, overtaking on the left...

  • I'm going to stick to passing on the left and if I clatter in to anyone I can cite the Waterways example. Thanks!
    – mizzle
    Nov 18, 2011 at 16:12

In almost all situations, it is easiest to apply the British road standard (keep left: A), overtaking to the right of the slower user. However the following reasons change this in situations other than two cyclists passing in opposite directions:

  • Paths that are narrow, uneven, under bridges, or overgrown cause cyclists and other users to move to centre or vary their position.
  • Pedestrians following the roadway rule of walking facing oncoming traffic (e.g. on their right)
  • Pedestrians following the 'pavement' total lack of rules. (though I always keep left there too...)
  • Cyclists following the old 'pass pedestrians on the water side' rule (intended to avoid handlebar snagging)

The assumption of other's knowledge of standard roadway rules is also affected by:

  • Increased liklihood of use by young/ old / inexperienced/ non-road users.
  • Decreased spacial awareness by leisure use joggers, cyclists etc. using music/headphones; Age- or high-volume related hearing deterioration.

Therefore, it is easy and always best practice to slow down and signal (or call out 'passing on your left/right') to avoid collisions, crashes and dirty looks. This also works even on the rare cyclepaths with lane and direction markings.

Remember, just as cyclists come off worst in a road collision because everything else is bigger, everything else on a cyclepath (pedestrians, buggies, prams, fishermen, jakeys, cats) come off worse as they are smaller. Don't become the arse you're trying to avoid on the roadway.

Happy cycling.

  • Dave E.

I've checked the Highway Code, and Rule 160 seems to apply universally (I can't see anything in the Bicyclists section): "Once moving you should keep to the left, unless road signs or markings indicate otherwise." I have experienced a lot of dangerous situations recently on our local mixed-use cycle path, with oncoming cyclists on the wrong side (their right) who leave it dangerously late to move out of the way. Today a male cyclist ahead of me was riding on the wrong side (his right) and the young boy behind him was weaving around. Despite repeated tings and requests of "Can you move to the left, please?" from me, the adult refused to budge until the very last minute. His bad example was putting that boy in danger.


In the US most "aware" cyclists treat a path as a road, more or less -- moving to the right to allow traffic (opposing or same direction) to pass, moving to the left (and call out "On your left!") when passing traffic in the same direction. (Of course, you do everything backwards in the UK)

When on a relatively narrow path, however, with light traffic, there's a tendency to "cruise" more or less in the middle of the lane, though of course being aware of traffic approaching from either direction & being prepared to move over.

When on a wide path, one rider finds himself nearer to the "wrong" side as he encounters an opposing rider similarly on the "wrong" side, it wouldn't be too unusual to pass without switching sides. It can be confusing, though, so I generally try to stay to the "proper" side to at least a little degree to remove ambiguity.


Common sense dictates that you should use a dedicated cycle path the same way you use a road: Why would you do things differently? On a shared use path alongside a road the 'face oncoming traffic' idea makes perfect sense, but since there are no actual rules it is unwise to expect other people on the path to behave rationally whether they are on a bike or on foot. A good rule of thumb when encountering people going in the opposite direction is to assume that the other person is either stupid or selfish or both and go slow enough to stop if you have to.

I think the "On your right" call is a bad idea because you can't assume the other person knows what you mean. He may think you're asking him to move to his right. If I'm about to go past someone I ring my bell and look for some indication that they have heard me then pass on whichever side has more room. If they ignore the bell you'll just have to get close enough to speak to them and ask them to let you by.

  • "Passing on your left/right" seems much clearer than just "On your left/right", assuming the person actually hears you. Sep 20, 2018 at 15:47
  • Yep - but it takes the brain a second to latch on and start processing words, so the first bit can be lost. Also cyclist starts talking as they approach, so the first words get lost. Essentially the pedestrian hears ".... RIGHT! <zoom>" as you ride off. Which is exactly what we hear when vehicle-based yellers call out the window. So if I want to speak to the walker I end up slowing down to almost their walking speed, and using some sort of alert word like "Hey there! passing to/on the right" and then glide past in style and comfort.
    – Criggie
    Sep 20, 2018 at 19:53
  • Since I posted the above, I have been forced off the path and into a ditch by a cyclist of little brain. He started out on his left and switched sides at the last moment. I asked him why he did that and he said he didn't want to get that close to the kerb. I pointed out that he could see any oncoming traffic whereas I couldn't and he responded by threatening me with violence.
    – Andy S
    Sep 23, 2018 at 7:43

I don't think cycle paths are one-way in the UK unless explicitly stated (but I've never seen a direction sign). There are sometimes cycle paths on both sides of a road and I tend to choose the side with the best surface.

  • Me too (or at night the furthest side from oncoming traffic to avoid being dazzled).I have amended the question for more clarity
    – mizzle
    Nov 18, 2011 at 10:48

Generally speaking the genuine separated cycle paths that I use regularly (as opposed to lanes on the side of roads) are treated as if they were roads, i.e. keep left.

(Warning, contains several sweeping generalisations.) The thing to bear in mind, though, is that, cycle paths tend to have a higher proportion of cyclists who perhaps have less roadcraft than on those on the roads, so perhaps are just dawdling and ambling and being less concerned with getting from A to B as fast as possible. (The cyclists who want to get somewhere quickly are probably on the roads as in most situations that is the more direct option, cycle paths tend to be circuitous diversions.)

One common protocol one overtaking is to call forward "passing on your right" (or left) to warn, making it clear your intention. Are the dirty looks as much because you hadn't been seen as that you were on the left?

  • Sorry, I must not be making my question clear. I am asking about an oncoming cyclist. Should I treat the path as a road and keep to the left? Maybe it is just that, as you say, other cyclists are not as competent and aware as I
    – mizzle
    Nov 18, 2011 at 12:12
  • Maybe you're surrounded by river users or sailors - passing port to port!
    – Unsliced
    Nov 18, 2011 at 14:35

I keep to the left, as do the majority of other cyclists that I come across on cycle paths, with no problem. However, I have also come across a few "frosty" pedestrians using the paths, coming at me from the opposite direction, sticking to their right, grumbling that I should be cycling on the right. Can't win!

  • 1
    Pedestrians walking in the road in the UK are advised to keep right, so that they're facing the traffic they're sharing the lane with and can therefore see it. It seems reasonable for them to do the same on a shared cyclepath/footway. They're wrong to say that you should be on the right, but you should move to your right to pass them. Sep 20, 2018 at 15:45

I have been cycling on the most convenient side till I get to a safe crossing point...there are separated paths on both sides of the main road. I ride on the left of the path. I was shouted at by other cyclist saying you should be on the left meaning the other side of the road. I just yelled back I am on the left. There are no signs anywhere to say what you should do

  • The question is about Cycle paths in the UK, not on-road lanes. And riding headlong into traffic really is really one of the worst things you can do on a bike. Please change your riding behaviour.
    – Criggie
    Jun 22, 2019 at 21:33
  • 1
    "There are no signs" Maybe not, but the UK Highway Code clearly says gov.uk/guidance/the-highway-code/rules-for-cyclists-59-to-82 Despite not requiring a licence to ride a bike, all bicycle riders must be familiar with the local rules and regs pertaining to cycling. So go read that, please.
    – Criggie
    Jun 22, 2019 at 21:39
  • @Criggie I think you've misunderstood. "Separated paths" to me very strongly suggests shared pedestrian/cyclist use of the footway (sidewalk), not an on-road cycle lane. As you say, riding the wrong way along an on-road cycle lane is incredibly dangerous and would get them honked at by pretty much every motorist they passed, and yelled at by literally every cyclist and a good proportion of pedestrians. I doubt that's what they're doing. Jun 24, 2019 at 10:00
  • However, this doesn't answer the question. The question asks which side two cyclists should pass each other on a cycle path when going in opposite directions, not whether one should use the cycle path on the side of the road that corresponds to one's direction of travel. Jun 24, 2019 at 10:02
  • @DavidRicherby fair point - I'm not sure if Carhy means "separated shared ped/cyclist pathways" or what we'd think of as "footpaths"
    – Criggie
    Jun 24, 2019 at 10:50

I am surprised that a civilised country has such ambiguity as to which side to pass. The Government has surely been asleep. We keep left when walking on the pavement because UK Highway Code para 1 says "...avoid being next to the kerb with your back to the (adjacent) traffic....". Surely walking and cycling anywhere should follow the "keep left" convention in the UK, or "walk as you drive" in any other country.
Edit To Criggie 17 - Each pavement is for walking in both directions with the pedestrians nearest to the kerb facing adjacent traffic, so they can see what is coming (e.g. a car about to mount the pavement). Cyclists would follow the same convention where they share a pavement with pedestrians.

  • Sorry this is confusing "avoid being next to the kerb with your back to the (adjacent) traffic" To me that reads "you should not walk next to the kerb in the same direction as traffic" vis you should walk on the right side and towards the oncoming traffic ? Could you please expand on your answer using the edit link ?
    – Criggie
    Jan 21, 2017 at 20:33
  • 1
    There is no convention whatsoever of pedestrians keeping left in the UK. But this is irrelevant: the question is about cyclists, not pedestrians. Jan 21, 2017 at 22:50

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