Passing this way and that

Over at Bike Tinker, Phillip (whom I’ve been reading on the sly for a while now) posted something about the best way to announce oneself when passing.

It turns out that I’ve been performing the same experiment for the last several years, so I can add some empirical-anecdotal data to his.

  • Ringing one’s nice Japanese brass bell, while soothing to oneself, has no effect whatever on the other people on the path (unless they are foreigners). In the US, a ringing bell does not mean “cyclist overtaking on the left” or whatever; it appears to mean nothing. Sounds nice though.
  • Merely singing out (or barking, if you’re feeling less charitable) “on your left!” will get you noticed, but not in the right way. Not only is it taken too to be too aggressive–especially here in the Midwest–but one’s audience doesn’t have enough time to process and contextualize the utterance. The exception to this rule: if you are riding with a group of hardcore roadies.
  • Using a complete sentence like “I’m going to pass on your left” works well because it’s gives the audience time to understand that you are speaking to them before you utter the important part of the sentence, which means that they are much more likely to hear what you need them to hear. Also, as Philip points out, it’s much less aggressive and a good deal more friendly and–in Californian–“chill.”
  • However, just talking to people doesn’t always seem to do the trick, so I’ve evolved another method. Instead of just talking, I flick my brake levers lightly a couple of times, wait a few seconds, and then say “I’m passing on your left” or some variant thereof. The quiet clacking of the levers gets enough of their attention that they know something is behind them, and that it might be mechanical in nature, which in turn puts them in a much more receptive frame of mind for vocal utterances.

Of course, if the person’s ears are plugged with little white knobs or covered with big cushy sound-emitting muffs, stealth passing still might be your best bet.

I’ve also been evolving a hypothesis that suggests that something goofy and mildly funny–like a clown horn, say–would actually be the best thing of all. It would announce one’s presence effectively, while also putting everyone at ease because you’ve been mocking yourself.

But I’ll need someone else to test that one out.


3 thoughts on “Passing this way and that

  1. Great post. I was like, “he’s saying the same thing as me, only much, much funnier!” I’m glad you bring up ‘flacking’ the brake levers. I used to do this, too. It really works, but I forgot about it. I just realized ‘flacking’ is a portmanteau of “flicking” and “clacking.”
    And… how do you read a blog “on the sly?” Someone local called my wife’s blog their “guilty pleasure,” which strikes me the same way. It makes me feel like I’m up to something.

  2. Flacking–that’s excellent–and exactly what’s going on. Nothing wrong with making new words; this is English, after all.

    As for “on the sly,” I guess I mean without commenting on it in any way, here or there.

    And this has to be the first time that anyone has applied “funnier” (or even funny) to anything that I’ve written–so thanks for that.

    I’d also point out that while riding to work this morning, I had “on your left” said to me (I was riding with my wife, so getting passed more often) 4-5 times in a way that I can only characterize as whispering. All but once, it was a young woman. And every time they were either half-wheeling me or right along side. So there’s another variation, which is even more useless than the rest.

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