Car back!

One of the first things I learned on my first group ride was to call “Car back!” if a car approached the group from behind.

The warning served two purposes: to let everybody know a car was around, and to tell everybody to get into single file to let the car pass.

So why is it that more and more, I hear “Car back!” or call it myself, and the group blithely continues along, blocking the car from passing?

If you’re riding in the right lane of a multi-lane road, the call is unnecessary. Cars can pass in the other lane. ┬áBut if you’re riding on a two-lane road, it’s a different story.

Make way for the car. It’s bigger than you. In a tangle, it will always win.

And I can think of no quicker way to antagonize drivers than not moving out of the way.

One of the more amusing cases I witnessed was on a club ride, when a big pickup was held up by our group — a couple of riders were riding side-by-side, chatting. The pickup pulled into the oncoming lane to roar past, but the passenger rolled down her window and started shouting the Bicycle section of the Texas Transportation code – the part about riding single file.

Problem was, another big SUV was coming at the pickup, and had to dive for the soft shoulder of the road when the pickup couldn’t get back into its own lane fast enough. Amusing, but dangerous. And even though the pickup was too impatient in that incident, you know those folks are not going to be kind to cyclists when they come across them in the future — even if in single file.

What I’ve noticed is that most of the time, bikers are engaged in a conversation when the “car back” warning comes. It must be a really important conversation to not break it off, get into line, and then resume it when the car passes.

Lots of bikers seem to have an “us versus them” mentality when it comes to cars. Bikes are greener than cars. They take up less space on the road. To heck with them.

I don’t buy it.

Under state laws, bikes are vehicles. We have certain rights when it comes to using the road. We also have certain responsibilities.

The next time you’re with a group and someone calls, “Car back!” do what you’re supposed to do. Cut off the chatter and get into a single line. It won’t hold you up at all, and it will do its small part to ease relations between us and motorists.

Picture from the fine Commute Orlando blog. Lots of good safety information there, although set in a more urban environment than I talk about here.


  1. says

    I’ve stopped riding with a certain group of riders because, even though I call out car back or whatever, they never move over. I’ve been in a conversation with someone who is notorious for that, and when I heard the call from someone else, I hit the brakes so he’d go ahead of me. Annoying to no end to us cyclists who understand the rules of the road, and very dangerous to those who choose to ignore them.

  2. says

    As far as I’m concerned, if riders are too stupid to use common sense and move over, then they probably get what they deserve. A bit harsh maybe, but I believe in removing idiots from the collective gene pool. I also believe in contraception in the water, but that is another story.

    But…moving to the far left of your lane (as it is in Australia, guess it is far right in the US) isn’t enough to guarantee safety.

    Yesterday I almost got wiped out by a 4WD (ie SUV) towing a caravan. I moved as far to the side as I could and the car passed – but then moved into the lane as soon as he could, which meant that while the car was passed me, the caravan was pulled across to within an inch of my head. Luckily I was paying attention.

    So sometimes you can do the right thing, and it still isn’t enough.

  3. says

    There is no conversation important enough to risk getting hit by a car. Is it too difficult to move over when a car needs to pass, then continue the conversation afterwards? Seems pretty simple.

  4. oldguy says

    Great post Ray.

    Ditto on the above comments. Unless it’s a marshalled, closed route, we need to be considerate to our motorist brothers/sisters. Oh yeah, and follow state law — it’s what we expect of them.

    • Ron J says

      I’m with Ashley, I don’t ride with my club any more for the same reason. Some of them wouldn’t move to single file on 2 lane roads. I felt they where putting my life in danger. Now I ride mostly solo.

  5. JJ says

    I fully acknowledge that the 3000lb vehicle will win any battle against me. Even though I have the legal right to be on the road, this doesn’t entitle me to be a disrespectful operator of a vehicle (in my case, a cyclist).

    I’d be happy with mutual respect. Cars watch out for me, give me the lane when I absolutely need it and for me to ride single file, ride on shoulders or even pull off the road to allow cars to pass.

    Also, I think it’s wise to promote our own advocacy within the cycling culture. Confronting the gross violators about proper etiquette should take place also, even if it’s the unpopular choice (ie you telling the cyclist they need to ride single file).

  6. atxanon says

    The problem is.. the cyclist can be disrespectful to the motorist.. and as long as the motorist is nice in spite of that.. the cyclist will probably live and be safe.. however.. the 1 in 50 cars that are typically anti-cyclist and disrespectful.. creates a “you might die” situation for the cyclist.. and I’m not sure that cyclists always being polite to cars will persuade that 1 in 50 to being safer.. the infrastructure sucks, granted, so no alternative. The bottom line, idiots exist.. some drive cars.. some drive bikes.. education and common sense don’t necessarily exist in their world.. punishment does.. so the police need to enforce laws.. for both sides.. And give the cyclists a little leeway.. they don’t have a big metal cage.. so the safety is skewed..

  7. says

    We use the same thing on the trail: rider back, rider up, hiker up, on your left, or even a stern TRACK! if the rider in front is oblivious to your attempts to pass.

    The biggest problem I see so far (both on road and off) are the ones with the blaring earbuds. I’d be curious to see if that happens much in group rides, or if it is such a social no-no that it never even occurs or needs to be addressed.

    • says

      I’ve never seen anyone on a group ride use earphones, it’s kinda a ‘social no-no’ in the group. I will admit that I’ll have my ipod playing music if I’m riding solo, but I only ever have one bud in, and have the road-side ear aware of what’s going on.

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