I was recently riding the shoulder of a busy road in my area when I heard a muffled voice. It said something like, “Lllfff.” In another second, I was being passed by a guy on a high-end racing type bike. I realized he had called out a version of “On your left” to warn me he was passing.
The fact that I couldn’t understand what he said, although I knew what he said, concerned me. Thinking back to other times cyclists have announced themselves to me, I appreciated that most of the time, I can’t understand them. It’s the noise of the voice, rather than the spoken words, that serves as a warning.
That made me think about my own way of warning bikers I’m about to overtake. I do call out “On your left!” in what I think is a loud enough voice, and I make an effort to project it forward. Sometimes, it works. I’ve seen cyclists nod, or even wave, or simply ease a little to the right to give me more room to go by. Other times, it’s as though they never heard me — and they might not have.
Then there are the times I’ve called out and so rattled the cyclist ahead of me that it almost caused a crash. That seems to happen to family-type recreational cyclists who seldom venture onto roads and try to spend most of their rides on quiet suburban streets away from traffic. I haven’t figured out if they’re startled by my bellow or if they’re unsure of what to do, so they flail about on the edge of control.
I long ago learned that “On your left” is a call wasted on children. They have no idea what it means and what is expected of them. If kids are ahead of me, I try to maneuver around them as quickly as possible, leaving a wide berth so they don’t feel compelled to do something. However, if I catch up to a child cycling alongside his parent, especially on a controlled track like Austin’s Veloway, I might turn that into a teachable moment. In that case, I’ll make a special effort to speak clearly and slowly: “Passing — on your left.” In most cases, the parent will lean in toward the child and explain what I meant, then instruct the child to move right to leave me a little room. Really. It’s happened that way a time or three.
Another kind of warning is the abbreviated version: “Left!” That usually comes immediately before the biker flies by. I think that’s what the guy at the top of this post was saying. I don’t think it’s an adequate warning most times, because the cyclist getting the warning isn’t expecting it, and because the cyclists usually can’t understand it. By the time he does, the other rider has already gone by.
In large group rides, the warning gets to be old hat, and that often leads to the single word “Left!” because riders get bored repeating themselves time after time. Of course, in a group ride, you’re probably expecting to be passed at any moment, as well as to pass someone else at any moment, so you’re probably alert for the possibility.
I think I’ll keep doing what I’m doing, which is enunciate clearly, project my voice, and give enough lead time before I’m even with the rider ahead of me. But in some situations, maybe I won’t. How about you? Do you have a preferred way to announce yourself to other riders? And are there times you just let it go?