‘On your left! No, no! Other left!’

I got yelled at by an old lady a couple of days ago. Well, she wasn’t that old, but it still makes you feel bad. Even if she was wrong.

I was cruising along the clumsily if appropriately named Ruth Bascom Riverbank Chain-link Corridor, a little bit east of EWEB. I came up behind another cyclist. Here she is:

I took the picture only because I was marveling at those jumbo-size panniers, like she was riding along with a couple of Honda Elements lashed to her bike.

But she was riding courteously, well over to the right side of the path, as you can see. So I pulled out and passed her. I wasn’t going especially fast. In fact, I had slowed down to her speed to take the photo. I had to start accelerating in order to pass her, and I don’t accelerate like Alberto Contador exactly.

As I went by, she yelled out: “Say ‘On your left!’ next time!”

Now, for all I know, this might have been Ruth Bascom herself — though I think she’d be well into her 80s by now, so probably not. Still, if it was her, I’ll humbly apologize and thank her for all the great things she did for cycling in Eugene — like this very path, for instance.

If it wasn’t Ruth Bascom, then I am going to respectfully disagree.

Granted, it’s not every day that someone implores you to yell at them, so maybe I should shouldn’t complain. But frankly, I find the whole “on your left/right” thing to be a decidedly mixed bag. Perhaps this woman has had different experiences than I have. But when I call out “On your left” before passing someone, more often than not, one of the following is likely to happen:

  1. The person jumps damn near out of their underwear. And it is difficult to say whether shouting “On your left” or just zipping past would be the more startling and/or more dangerous course of action.
  2. Absolutely nothing. And that’s because this person, I realize as I finally make my way around him, is listening to an iPod, and I might have had better luck trying to connect with him telepathically.
  3. I call out “On your left,” and the person I am coming up behind swerves wildly and inexplicably to — yes — to the left.

So, often, I don’t bother. But I try not to be a jerk about it. If it seems safe for both me and the person I’m passing, I just go by. If there’s something amiss, something that seems unsafe I’ll slow down and, yes, call out something. I don’t do this every time I pass someone. I try to make a judgment on whether it seems warranted.

For instance:

  1. I might call out “On your left/right” if the person I am about to pass appears staggeringly and unpredictably drunk.
  2. I might call out “Excuse me,” if I come up behind a blockade of power-walkers who are conversing eagerly as they stride along the path four abreast, leaving no pavement at all for anyone to pass.
  3. I might call out “On your left/right” if the person I’m about to pass appears oblivious to the fact that other human beings actually roam the planet, too — and who is making their merry way exactly in the middle of the pavement, leaving not enough room to pass comfortably on either side.

So, if this woman were to be charitable for a minute, I think she’d see that my failure to shout at her could be taken as a compliment. It means that I judged that she was not inebriated at 8:30 in the morning. Nor inconsiderate. Nor clueless.

In fact, she was riding in such a way that I could pass her on the left quite safely. Thank you.

But if she is really that concerned about what’s going on behind her, I’m not sure that shouting at every cyclist who goes by is the best approach. I have to imagine she’s out there yelling at a lot of cyclists, as she was moving none to spritely. But instead of trying to correct everyone else, might not the better idea be to buy one of those little square mirrors that you mount on your helmet?

Oh, wait. She wasn’t wearing a helmet. OK, well, I shan’t say anything more about that.

I’ll just go get a bell — or maybe a vuvuzela.

7 thoughts on “‘On your left! No, no! Other left!’

  1. This is exactly why I got a bicycle bell. Yelling on your left (or whatever side you are trying to pass on, as they may be riding on the left) only seems to confuse a lot of people. They will turn to their left, move to their left, jump or never hear you. I picked up a great little bell from Blue Heron that seems to even get through earbuds, and it saves a lot of yelling.

  2. I would be more than happy to provide you with a FREE bell from the City of Eugene’s Eye to Eye Safety Campaign! You can stop by 99 E. Broadway (4th Floor) to pick one up. We could also mail it to you. Thanks for your wonderful, funny blog!! lindsay.r.selser@ci.eugene.or.us

    1. Wow. Thank you. I appreciate the offer. But I do like supporting our local bike shops, too, so I’ll go to one and spend a few meager dollars. Glad you’re enjoying the blog. Thanks for the encouragement.

  3. Gotta love the bike path culture. There is the winter crowd, the summer crowd and all that goes between. The summer crowd hands down create the most challanging navigation challanges. The electric wheel chairs, power walkers, kids learning to ride bikes, the spandex speed racers, the hand in hand strollers, the familiar faces who’s names I do not know and the homeless folks. The path hogs with the ear pods booming away clearly are my pet peeve. You can call “left” or “right” and there is absolutely no response and more than once I have graciously accepted the “one finger salute” as I slip by.

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