19

I am going to assume right side traffic for this question. Switch all the left and right if you are in the UK. If you are cycling on a road with or without a designated bicycle lane you should stick to the right. If one cyclist wants to overtake another they should do so on the left, the same way cars pass each other. Of course they need to check whether the road is sufficiently free and it is safe to overtake and this is the faster cyclist's responsibility.

Now consider a bike path on the sidewalk. A typical arrangement would be as follows (in Berlin, Germany) when looking in the driving direction:

                                                           ┌───────────┐
│                                                          │           │
│                                                          │  ┌─┐  ┌─┐ │
                             ┌───┬─┐                       │  │ │  │ │ │
│                            │   │┼┼┬─┐                    │  │ │  │ │ │
│                            │ ┌─┼┼┼│ │                    │  └─┘  └─┘ │
                             └─┼─┼┼┼│ │                    │           │
│                              │ │┼┼┼─┘                    │  ┌──────┐ │
│                              └─┴┼┼┘                      │  └──────┘ │
                                  ││                       │           │
│    ┌────┐     ┌────┐    ┌───┐   ││                       │  ┌──────┐ │
│    │    │     │    │    │   │   ││                       │  └──────┘ │
     ├────┤     ├────┤    ├───┤   ││                       │           │
│ ───┴────┴─────┴────┴── ─┴───┴─ ─┴┴─ ───── ────────────── └───────────┘
│
          car road       parking tree  bike   pedestrians     houses

The dashed line on the left indicates that it is mirrored on the opposite side.

Now a typical bike lane is not wide enough for two bikes to pass each other so one bike has to go on the pedestrian sidewalk (and check that it is free and save to use). StreetView shows the situation as follows:

enter image description here

If you overtake on the left that means the slower bike needs to move to the sidewalk to allow the faster one to pass. This seems odd because the responsibility should lie with the faster bike whereas the slower one can just mind their own business.

If you overtake on the right responsibilities lie where they should but the rules suddenly change depending on how the bike lane is build.

In practice I observe both which especially for a slow, somewhat insecure child cyclist can be confusing and feel unsafe. It also makes me as a parent wonder what to recommend: stick to the left/right/center of the bike lane? React somehow if they notice someone behind them?

Here is a google satellite image of the configuration in Berlin. The bike lane is just north of where the shadows of the parked cars are. The pedestrian sidewalk is quite wide, maybe 4 meters which is not untypical for Berlin. Hence cyclists often use it to overtake and can do so without inconveniencing any pedestrians.

4
  • Would you be able to include a photo of the described arrangement? Can't find anything on Google images that matches your description. May 18 at 8:08
  • From dutch perspective this cycle path is narrow, but it would allow overtaking on the left, if the overtaken cyclist is requested to stick to the extreme right.
    – slingeraap
    May 19 at 11:29
  • "In the UK" - or Ireland, or India, or Japan or any of the other places which ride on the left, presumably? May 20 at 13:33
  • The important thing is that you call out "On your right" (or "left", depending on which) well before you overtake the other cyclist. May 23 at 13:30

11 Answers 11

9

In practice I observe both which especially for a slow, somewhat unsecure child cyclist can be confusing and feel unsafe. It also makes me as a parent wonder what to recommend: stick to the left/right/center of the bike lane? React somehow if they notice someone behind them?

My take, as both a cycling/supervising parent and a cyclist who may want to overtake, is that all 3 people have a role to look after the kid, but the kid's role is the smallest. Obviously there will come a time when a child is big enough to look over their shoulder regularly but until then the parent, probably behind them, has to do that (another reason to like mirrors). The parent can then deal with approaching hazards, which may mean instructions to the child, delivered so the approaching cyclist can overhear.

If faced with a really risky cyclist, it may mean taking the risk on yourself rather than the child - if your child is prone to drifting across the bike path when they hear noises from behind, take it all for yourself, weave if necessary, then once they've slowed down tuck in behind the child. This is a very rare last resort, but when someone is on a bike path used by families, and they think they're in a time trial, you have to shield the kid above all else. I say that as someone who likes to ride fairly fast on the local ex-railway path when it's appropriate and will choose a different route if I want to go quickly on a sunny weekend afternoon.

As an approaching cyclist, it's quite easy: first, slow down and cover the brakes. A bell might be appropriate from a distance especially if people are unnecessarily occupying the whole path. Teaching kids to ride isn't unnecessary. Once close behind, my tone is along the lines of "Do you mind if I come past when there's a good moment?", and allow them time and space to handle it. Drivers doing unusual things because of kids makes teaching the kid how roads work so much harder (e.g. drivers stopping to let a kid make a turn when they never would for an adult and just after you've told the kid where to stop). Cyclists can also cause problems by assuming they're going to pass on the wrong side, if the kid expects to tuck in to the right (in your country) to be passed.

Approaching a solo adult rider, greet them, then ask if you can pass, perhaps saying which side if there's loads more.

The hardest one is riders who don't hear you. Loudly announcing where you're coming through may be more audible at that point. If they still don't hear, pick a good point when there's not going to be a reason for them to swerve, and get past as quickly as possible leaving as much room as you can, on the side with more room.

15
  • 10
    @Lundin (i) according to the question, they're on a bike path, not in traffic, and (ii) everyone has to have first experiences of riding in progressively trickier places otherwise they only time they'll ever ride in their boring little lives is if someone drives them to the park. The responsible adult has to help them learn, and that's what I'm talking about here.
    – Chris H
    May 17 at 15:26
  • 5
    And don't underestimate your ability to shock a child into falling or swerving by coming up suddenly into the edge of their field of view.
    – Chris H
    May 17 at 15:27
  • 2
    @ChrisH they're on a bike path, not in traffic - do you want to say bike traffic isn't traffic? The same rules apply, public road is public road, no matter how wide or which surface. It's just bikers normally don't care, so it looks like there are no rules for bikes.
    – Haukinger
    May 18 at 12:30
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    @Haukinger bike traffic on a bike path is a different safety situation to motor traffic on a road. And a bike path should be full of kids who can ride, but wouldn't be safe mixed in with cars. That's a large part of the point. I set out rules for competent adult cyclists which go beyond the rules of the road, to protect the vulnerable cyclists.
    – Chris H
    May 18 at 12:54
  • 1
    @Haukinger a significant difference is that pedestrians on a path adjacent to the bike path are quite likely to stray onto the bike path, especially four-legged pedestrians that can't read, and small human ones. The turning circle of a pedestrian is infinitesimal, so the can be walking along next to the bike path, not a hazard, then in it, in a fraction of a second. Wheeled vehicles, powered or otherwise, don't do that except after they've started to crash
    – Chris H
    May 19 at 7:57
8

Legally an adult is not allowed to ride a bicycle on pedestrian paths. Some jurisdictions have exceptions for children below a certain age.

So riding on the pedestrian path to allow other cyclists to overtake you is not allowed. Same for overtaking other cyclists.

I have to admit that sometimes I’ve broken this law to overtake other cyclists. But you really have to make sure that you don’t endanger pedestrians and that no other cyclist is overtaking you at the same moment. So check over your shoulder thoroughly, give hand signals early enough, overtake with enough space and speed and so on.

Under no circumstance would I expect a slow cyclist in front of me to break the law to make space for me.

As for where to ride in the lane: If it’s too narrow for someone to safely overtake you, just claim the whole thing and ride in the middle. If it’s wide enough treat it like a normal road lane i.e. ride on the same side you’d ride on a road.

6
  • 3
    If coming past on the "wrong" (imagining you're on the road) side, always tell the rider in front. You don;t want them to suddenly hear a bike coming up behind and instinctively tuck in to let you past, hitting you. Call out early enough for them to look over both shoulders and wobble without risking a crash.
    – Chris H
    May 17 at 10:16
  • 2
    This is untrue everywhere in the U.S. I know of -- bikes are allowed on sidewalks unless specifically marked otherwise.
    – JoshuaF
    May 17 at 20:34
  • 1
    @JoshuaF Most bikes are. Some states prohibit certain types of e-bikes on shared paths (usually based either on the max speed of the power assist, or how the power assist is triggered). May 17 at 20:35
  • 5
    @JoshuaF It is true in most European countries I know of. Traffic law essentially says: Cyclist go on the road and have no business being on the pedestrian sidewalk unless there are specific signs saying otherwise or they are small children.
    – quarague
    May 18 at 5:38
  • 2
    I didn’t know (and couldn’t imagine) that there are jurisdictions which actually allow grown adults to cycle on pedestrian paths. In most of Europe there are some shared bicycle/pedestrian paths but they have to be explicitly marked with signs. And honestly they are a nightmare for both pedestrians and cyclists.
    – Michael
    May 18 at 8:59
8

I would imagine there are slightly different rules in different countries. I'm taking Sweden where I live as an example.

If dedicated bike paths are available, you should use those. No matter if you are biking on the road or on a bike path, you must stick to the far right side.

This means that you must always overtake other bikes on the left, period. Essentially the same rules as for cars. The cyclist in front of you has no obligation to give way, given that they are keeping to the right as they are supposed to.

If they are keeping to the left, well they are a traffic hazard and you must improvise... the best decision might be to ride up behind them on the left and make them aware of their presence. However, continuously educating the various traffic hazards you encounter every single day when commuting gets old quick... we have no obligation to educate/police other cyclists.

You are not allowed to bike on sidewalks etc unless explicitly marked with signs as combined bike/pedestrian paths. Pedestrians using a combined bike/pedestrian path with no explicitly marked bike path must walk to the left. The cyclist always has duty to yield for pedestrians in pretty much any situation (slow down/brake if needed). How to overtake pedestrians depends on which direction they are going:

  • Pedestrian on your left side (correct) moving in the same direction as the bike: overtake on the right side.
  • Pedestrian on your right side (wrong) moving in the same direction as the bike: overtake on the left side.
  • Pedestrian walking on their left side moving in opposite direction as the bike: overtake on your left side.
  • Pedestrian walking on their right side (wrong) moving in opposite direction as the bike: overtake on your right side.

As for multiple people walking side by side or dogs on leashes, you must slow down and make them aware, then carefully overtake on whatever side they make available.

There are no special rules for children riding a bike - if they aren't aware that they should keep to the right (or can't tell left from right), they have no business being out in the traffic to begin with. They might still be too young - knowing how to ride a bike isn't the same thing as knowing the traffic rules.

I commute with bike and I always encounter many dangerous situations caused by children on bikes. Biking on the wrong side, not yielding to pedestrians, thinking they themselves are still pedestrians when crossing roads, playing in various ways while biking in traffic and so on. As a parent you should tell them the rules - most importantly: stick to the right.

5
  • Where I live bike paths are not wide enough for two bikes to overtake each other safely, see question. So in your strict interpretation cyclists do not overtake each other, period. Which makes it totally irrelevant whether a kid cyclist bikes in the center or on the right of a single lane bike path.
    – quarague
    May 18 at 5:43
  • 1
    @quarague So you have two options: either slow down or check that the car lane is free.
    – Lundin
    May 18 at 6:34
  • You are writing from the perspective of the faster cyclist. I'm interested in both perspectives and especially the one of the slower cyclist. Even if you are the faster one, you can't just move over to the car lane in the setting I described, there is a row of parking cars in between.
    – quarague
    May 18 at 6:49
  • 1
    @quarague The perspective of the slower cyclist: keep to the right and keep pedalling. As for why your local bike paths were badly designed, you'll have to ask the person who designed them what they were thinking.
    – Lundin
    May 18 at 6:52
  • 1
    Pretty sure this is true for Germany as well. If the path is not wide enough to overtake, you’re not allowed to do so, full stop. (Of course, people will still do that. Try to make it so nobody gets harmed, and tend towards overtaking on the left side, or really swerving wide onto the footpath on the right, which ofc has to be empty of people for that to work. A bell or verbal announcement doesn’t hurt.)
    – mirabilos
    May 18 at 18:40
4

A UK answer here so, as you expected, left and right are reversed. The "should" is fairly obvious and simple: keep left and pass on the right.

However, the reality is often very different. In my area (The Midlands), the reality is anarchy. I am pleased if cyclists coming the other way pass me on the correct side and I have no expectation that they will pass others in the same direction on the correct side. On combined pedestrian / cycle paths with just a painted line separating the two, neither the pedestrians nor the cyclists pay any attention to it. Just be prepared for anything. It can often be a game of chicken. I will often encounter another cyclist approaching me on wrong side and hence on a collision course. I will stay left as long as I dare hoping that they will switch to the correct side. Quite often, I lose the game and give in and pass on the wrong side.

I have heard people from other parts of the UK where cycling is more common tell of very different experiences. So, this answer does not reflect the whole of the UK just a few counties in the middle.

4
  1. The overtaking cyclist is "burdened" in the analogy to the nautical rules of the road. The overtaken cyclist (or pedestrian, or stopped cyclist or pedestrian) is "privileged".

  2. You should always alert the person you are passing with a bell or a loud "passing on the left" (usually), although rarely (e.g. if someone is stopped, wrongly, on the left side) "passing on the right". This is NOT just a courtesy. It is critical. If someone else drifts the the left (e.g. to avoid an obstacle or for whatever the reason) and you are overtaking, YOU are at fault for the collision. This is particularly important since bikes are silent and fast/dangerous. FAR too often cyclists disregard this...and it is both rude AND unsafe. [See also midlining on a rail trail between people on the right and left, vice slowing and waiting, until you can safely move into the oncoming lane to pass. You're there to work out...not to time trial.]

  3. The only responsibility of the privileged vessel...err, I mean bike/pedestrian, is to maintain course and speed, once alerted that someone is passing. It is nice to give a "thanks" or a hand wave to acknowledge. But not required. (International rules of the road.)

  4. In the situation above, I would wait for a safe point and then pass on the right (yes going temporarily on the pedestrian sidewalk). If this means slowing and waiting until you are clear of pedestrians, shops, bollards, then slow and wait. From the look of the picture, it seems like offpicture to the lower right, there might previously have been a reasonable passing situation. I would obviously not do it where the lady is walking, upper left. You might be able to do it in the middle of the picture, but I kind of doubt it unless the other cyclist was extremely slow. Just too short a distance and lots of bollards and stuff around, more than I'm used to (even a danger to the left of the privileged cyclist). I would wait until you get a clear chance. You don't want to slalom. Want a clear chance to pass, that does not endanger you or others.

1
  • Among experienced cyclists it is a common practice to announce yourself as you approach by calling out "on your left" a bit prior to making the passing move. A bell is much less useful.
    – Buffy
    May 19 at 15:41
3

With such bike lane there is little you can do. It is the classic useless lane invented by the politician who pays lip service to the public without touching the interest of the powerful car lobby.

From the point of view of the overtaker in theory they should pass on the left side, but definitely there is no space there. If it is possible to pass on the car lane, that is the safest thing to do, otherwise the only thing to do is make their presence know to those in front and wait for a point where the sidewalk is free and ... if someone has to break the rules let the overtaker pass on the sidewalk because they will be quicker. The slow cyclists in front should just keep going straight and let the other to pass where they can.

From the father point of view the above approach would be very easy. Just teach the child to go straight and maintain that direction. If he is surprised because he sees other cyclists passing from all the sides just tell him not to worry if he stays on his course without zigzaging they will avoid him.

One thing you can do is tell him what he should do and add few short phrases with a stronger emphasis. Repeat them as if they were commands, in this way if you see that the child is distracted and changing direction you should be able to recall quickly his attention.

2

In general, the faster cyclist should overtake to the left of the slower cyclist. In general. However, that is the guideline, not the rule.

Other factors can change this. It depends on where the slower cyclist is on the path, conditions of the path (debris of all types or surface condition), other moving hazards (other riders, pedestrians, dogs, children at play), etc.

So the faster cyclist should overtake on the left leaving some space between themselves and the slower cyclist, but be prepared to go to the right if the conditions warrant it. And the faster cyclist ALWAYS should attempt to alert the slower cyclist to their presence as to not startle them. It’s just common courtesy, even if it is not reciprocated.

3
  • 1
    @VladimirFГероямслава the user asking the question said to assume driving on the right side of the road and stressed it was not the UK - and to reverse the logic in the answers for a UK/other region where people drive on the left side of the road. I followed that direction in answering the question.
    – Ted Hohl
    May 17 at 14:33
  • 1
    Sorry, I missed this notice. Please note that I did not downvote your answer. May 17 at 14:35
  • 1
    @VladimirFГероямслава noted, and thanks! I try to add productive, positive content in this type of forum.
    – Ted Hohl
    May 17 at 14:45
2

I have had several times where I was a bit too much to the middle of the bike path/lane and people passed me on the wrong side without warning me about going to do so, which may have resulted in accidents if I had noticed I was a bit too much in the middle and had swerved to the proper place, still without noticing them coming up on the wrong side.

Never pass a person on the wrong side unless you have warned them and get a signal that it is safe to pass them that way.

If there is no space to safely pass on the proper side, you can not pass. Just like a car on a one lane road can not be passed if there is not space to pull over to the side and let the car(s) behind them pass.

As a slow cyclist (or parent with a smallish child) it is nice if you pull over and allow the faster ones to pass if possible and safe to do so, but it is not a right to overtake. And even less to 'undertake' and that might result in needing an undertaker if the resulting accident is bad.

2

I'd say you have to assess the whole situation. This bike lane was obviously not designed with "bicycles as transportation" in mind. It's more like the usual useless kind, designed for a slow stroll with the kids... in a place that's totally inappropriate for a bike ride with the kids.

It is not meant to allow you to ride fast. Here is a reason why:

enter image description here

First, if you are the cyclist riding on the blue arrow, the driver in the black car will not see you, because you will be hidden behind the red car. So the driver will turn, and you will smash into their right door, fly over the car, and impale your face on one of the many little metal poles littering the place, which always seem intended for such purpose.

So, if you want to stay in the bike lane, you'll have to take it slow anyway, and perhaps not overtake that often. If you want to go fast, and you look over your shoulder and see a car that may be about to turn right and smash into you, then you should follow the path in green. It allows a lot more distance between you and the turning car. But don't get too close to the buildings either, otherwise the car coming out of the underground car park will also smash into you. It is, of course, illegal, but that doesn't matter. Also you have to look behind you on the left for the turning car, on the right towards the underground car park, and aim straight between the bollards, all at the same time, while looking for kids, dogs, moms with baby strollers, etc.

On the other hand, if you want to do 35 km/h, and you do it on the road when there's no traffic jam, you will be much safer. It is wide enough to not smash into a surprise opening car door, there is a lot of space for cars to overtake you, and if the speed limit is 30 km/h, with a bit of leg work you'll be over the speed limit anyway.

So this is a bit of a frame challenge, you ask how to go faster in a place that isn't designed for that at all. In my opinion, the best answer would be to ride somewhere else, like on the road.

0

I am not entirely familiar with the situation but I agree with you it is the passing cyclist's responsibility to overtake safely.

This is something that the road code does not really forsee in. Technically you could argue that overtaking is not allowed, but let's consider a practical solution.

I would consider slowing down behind the cyclist in front and seeing if they make any attempt to go to the right onto the pedestrian walk. If not, I would announce "Excuse me, passing on your right!", wait a second in case they make any unexpected maneuver and then go.

1
  • Wait till they show having heard you and aprove your passing on the wrong side, do not just assume they have heard you.
    – Willeke
    May 23 at 4:10
0

By the usual road traffic code, just a faster driver must always overtake on the left side. A slow driver must keep on the right lane to make this easy. A very slow driver must finally stop in a suitable place and allow others to pass. A standing cyclist is a pedestrian and can push the bicycle into pedestrian area if otherwise there is no space.

However when turning to the left, one normally slows down on the left lane instead and gives the hand signal indicating the left turn. After that the other drivers are expected to pass on the right side (otherwise they are in the course of collision). A driver making such a turn must only yield the front traffic.

Finally, if for any reasons (riding with a trailer, etc) the turn can only be made from the right lane instead, crossing the complete width of the road, a driver doing such a turn must yield the other traffic in any direction. This other traffic then always remains on the left.

If somebody is driving very unpredictably yet still has enough room for stopping or turning, I usually apply the complete stop with foot on the ground. This way I show that no further action is expected from my side so think yourself. I hope that nobody will ram on purpose into the standing obstacle.

4
  • The whole premise of my question was that in the situation described 'keep on the right lane to make [overtaking] easy' is a contradiction. In this particular setting overtaking is made easy by going on the left side of the single lane [or by leaving the bike lane completely].
    – quarague
    May 19 at 8:29
  • The bicycle lane is separated from the the pedestrian zone by the single white line that normally means "do not cross". If you are slow and have multiple bicycles behind, you should push only (not drive) into that area to allow them to pass.
    – nightrider
    May 19 at 8:52
  • If you apply literally the road traffic code such cycle lane would become unusable. You know well that in practice not every slow rider would pull aside and stop to let every single faster rider to pass. The lane would soon get clogged. If then you want to apply the rules that if the cycle lane is present cyclist must use it an leave the car lane you have done the job for the car lobby, you killed cycling as a reasonable substitute of the car.
    – FluidCode
    May 19 at 11:29
  • There is a sign in the traffic code "no bicycles allowed" and that is better to respect. I am not sure if the presence of the lane mandates using it.
    – nightrider
    May 19 at 13:13

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