joe commuter
Bringing you tips on bike commuting from one dedicated rider in Portland.

Cycling etiquette then and now

“If there is anything we like to see it is a neatly uniformed cyclist riding quietly on the public highway in a proper, decorous manner. It therefore gives us great pleasure to daily witness the passing by of the many thousands of wheelman who go about their business in a way with which even the most particular anti-bicycle cranks can not find fault.”
Cycling Etiquette

Those words were penned in 1895 in a Chicago-based bike industry magazine I stumbled upon the other day. Apparently some carriage drivers back then resented bicyclists as much as some auto drivers do today.

Two breaches of 19th Century cycling etiquette had alarmed the editorialist: One rider was heard to “sing out, in one of our most crowded parks, a characteristic insult to a carriage full of ladies who happened to go by as he dismounted from his wheel.”

Another impudently performed bicycle tricks out on the streets “where viewed by a few of his ilk who applauded, he did more to harm cycling and bring it into disrepute than a thousand quiet well-behaved cyclists could do to establish its credit and add to its fair fame.”

Though quaint-sounding in the particulars, the general argument remains solid. On streets crowded with motor vehicles, pedestrians and other cyclists, courtesy is an essential lubricant to avoid damaging friction.

These days, I’m pretty sure no one will mind of you want to to pop a wheelie or stand on your saddle.  But there are some definite dos and don’ts. Here’s a good introductory list I culled from the Davis, California, community wiki:

Don’t cruise through stop signs. You’ll startle and annoy pedestrians and drivers, or worse, cause an accident.
Cycling Etiquette
Photo credit: Theresa via

Do use hand signals. It’s helpful to motorists and other bikers to know when you’re gonna turn. Signal before reaching a turn so you don’t have to manuever one-handed.

Don’t  hog the whole bike lane. Riding slowly side-by-side with a friend is unreasonable when other cyclists are piling up behind.

Do yield the right-of-way to people on foot at crosswalks and at corners. “They do not have the right of way if they jay-walk, but that does not mean you have the right to run them over either,” the Davis wiki observes.

Don’t ride on busy downtown sidewalks. It’s rude to pedestrians and illegal in some cities. Plus it ups the risk of getting clipped by a driver backing out of a driveway or making a turn and not expecting a fast-moving cyclist on the sidewalk, which is unfair to them and unsafe for you.

Do put lights on your bike. You’re essentially invisible to cars and other bicyclists when you ride at night without a functioning headlight and flashing tail light, and it’s illegal to ride after sunset without them in many places. Reflectors on your wheels make you more visible from the side.
Cycling Etiquette
Photo credit: Darren Smith via

Don’t speed through parking lots. Drivers backing out might not be able to see a fast-moving cyclist, especially if you are riding the wrong direction in a one-way lane. It’s respectful to follow the flow of car traffic and avoid crossing lines.

Do announce when passing riders or walkers. A chime from a bell  or a politely voiced “On your left” works best. A loud horn honk or whistle, not so much. Warn before your approach startles them.

Don’t react aggressively to rude drivers or bicyclists. It’s tempting to lift the middle finger or hurl some choice cuss words, but it won’t do much good and could escalate the conflict. Nobody wins. “More love!” is a nice retort.
Cycling Etiquette
Photo credit: Richard Masoner via

What rules of bike etiquette would you add to the list?