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What You Don’t Know About How To Pass Fellow Cyclists Safely


If you ride your bike on a regular basis, you’ve probably had a close call or two with a fellow cyclist who came a little too close. And while zipping through congested traffic on busy city streets does feel really good (who doesn’t like to fly past a bunch of cars that are all stuck waiting?), it’s important to keep yourself and those around you safe when you’re passing other cyclists and cars.

While passing might seem like a pretty basic skill, there are a few things that are worth making sure you know and do, and some San Francisco bike lane laws to be sure you’re familiar with, so that you and everyone else can get home safe.

Make sure you’re going a manageable speed

Sometimes it’s necessary to speed up a little bit to get past a fellow cyclist; however, going too fast can make you unstable, which can cause the kinds of mistakes that cause crashes.

Even if it means not getting to pass someone as soon as you’d like, it’s better to gain speed slowly and at a rate you can handle when you’re passing. You want to still be able to brake or change direction in the event of an emergency.

Give an audible warning that you are passing

In some places, it’s actually the law to give an audible warning if you are passing someone; whether it’s the law where you live or not, though, it’s good etiquette. Nobody likes to be scared by someone coming up quickly behind them, and startling your fellow cyclists could even cause an accident if the other rider swerves or makes a sudden change to avoid you..

Always pass on the left, never on the right

Just like when you’re driving a car, you should always pull to the left in order to pass someone. Even if it’s a tight squeeze where passing on the right might look more convenient, it’s safer and more polite to stick to convention so that expectations aren’t confused.

If you are coming up to a stoplight or stop sign where cars are turning right and blocking your way, never attempt to pass them on the right (even though they may be turning into your bike lane). This is how many, many cyclists get hit; cars don’t see you coming on their right side and simply make the turn and accelerate right into you. San Francisco bike lane laws do allow for you to pull into traffic, assuming you have sufficient space to do so safely, to avoid a car turning across your path, so be sure to pick the safest option.

Bicycling.com suggests:

“When lanes or roads are too narrow to safely share with a motorist, you are allowed according to most traffic laws to take the full lane. If, say, a driver in front of you is slowing to park or enter a driveway, you may make a legal pass to the left, just as if you were driving a car.”

Be careful merging into traffic

If you’re passing a fellow cyclist on a road that’s also busy with cars, you’ll have to keep an eye out both on your left and your right.

If the bike lane is wide enough to accommodate two cyclists side-by-side, start by pulling slowly and deliberately to the left and alerting the other cyclist that you are coming up on their left.

Then check over your left shoulder to see if you’ll have cars passing on your left; if there are cars nearby, do your best to make eye contact so they see that you will be passing in the bike lane close to them. Even if you won’t actually be leaving the bike lane in order to pass, it’s best to make sure the cars around you know what you’re planning so you don’t startle them. Then pass the cyclist swifty and pull back to a safe location in the bike lane.

If the bike lane is too narrow to allow you to pass without leaving the lane, you will need to merge into car traffic in order to pass. Before moving to pass, make sure that there is a gap in car traffic to allow you in. Better to slow down and not pass as quickly than to accidentally merge into a car going much faster than you.

Once you’ve seen a safe gap, communicate visually or verbally with the drivers nearby that you are coming over to pass, and then move deliberately past the other cyclist as quickly as you can safely, before pulling back into the bike lane.

Passing safely keeps everyone moving

Collisions happen when there are changes to the traffic flow that people can’t react to fast enough. Passing is extremely common, and yet it is also extremely important to get right, since it changes the flow of traffic and can leave you vulnerable to cyclists and drivers who aren’t paying attention.

By doing your best to pass safely, you’ll make sure you not only have a nice speedy ride, but that you’ll get home in one piece too.