Love it or hate it, we’re “on your left!”

There’s this thing cyclists say. “On your left.” Except in Australia, New Zealand, etc where it’s “On your right.”

Some people love it and others hate it.

Runner friends the other day were posting about it on Facebook. They found it scary and harsh and off-putting. “Why do cyclists yell this at me? It’s not like I’m going to move.” Also, this: “Why don’t they just ring their bells?”

We replied: “But some of you do move into our way.” “We say this so that you know we’re there.” “It just means ‘hold your line’ really,” “And so many runners wear ear buds so we have to yell.” “Bells are just confusing.”

Cyclists reported ringing their bells and then having runners hop in front of them.

The stakes are really high.

I try to say “On your left” cheerfully. If people aren’t wearing earbuds, I say “Hey, I’m coming by on your left.” It’s not perfect, but it’s what I do.

The version of “on your left” that cyclists sometimes hate to hear is from other cyclists, when you’re being passed. One of the women I love to ride with on the bike rally used to be passed a lot (not any more, she’s getting speedy) and sometimes to offset the demoralizing cry of “on your left” she’d go first yelling “on your right” to the riders passing her. On big charity rides with large groups and lots of passing at the start I sometimes wish I had a recording so I could just hit a button rather than saying “on your left” over and over again.

What do you think? Do you love or hate “on your left”?




Still on your left! (The New Yorker)
Still on your left! (The New Yorker)

16 thoughts on “Love it or hate it, we’re “on your left!”

  1. I love this. I had no clue there was a controversy about it. I know it’s sometimes jarring to hear it and I know I’m not consistent in saying it (and I try to be casual and polite about it). But I prefer knowing someone is there when I’m walking especially. I find it more alarming when a bike whizzes past me without saying anything. These days I walk the path so much too and from work that more than “on your left” I hear “hey Tracy!” It always takes me longer to process who it was wlas they speed past on their bike. But it serves the same purpose as “on your left!” 😊

  2. As a runner, I love “on your left.” I find it helpful, direct, clear. A bell is too ambiguous since I’ve had stupid (or very lost Australian?) cyclists ring their bells and then pass me on the right after I moved to the right. I guess it doesn’t sound incredibly friendly, but I’m not really in it for a chat, and what’s friendlier than sharing space peaceably? I get that it would be demoralizing to be passed on the bike all the time.

  3. As a runner/walker, I’d much rather hear it. Especially if I have my dog with me! The warning gives me time to tighten his leash and make sure he doesn’t chase the bikes or get in the way.

  4. I’ve said this before but as someone with a hearing loss I definitely like it. Bells are hard to hear and bikes alone are impossible to hear. After the first few people say it I’m listening for it rather than startled, and I always say thank you.

    I’m moving to an area where the paths say bike left lane, walk right lane. Curious how well that works in practice.

  5. I think it really depends on the delivery. A polite “on your left” or bell is helpful but I have definitely had many dudes (always dudes) use it as a kind of a weird aggressive road warrior call.

    Also it’s worth mentioning the case when a cyclist does it to another cyclist but not because they are actually faster – they just want to be in front and like making a show of passing people. Then I get stuck behind their sorry plodding asses on the hills. Assholes.

  6. I think making the calls when passing close enough for it to matter is just common courtesy.

    It annoys me when cyclists don’t call out or otherwise signal their presence if they’re going to pass me without a large distance between us. I also really hate when riders are wearing headphones and can’t hear my call – I’ve had a few near collisions that way.

    The distance at which I’ll make the call though is much lower for runners. I notice that anything on wheels tends to drift from side to side quite a bit, but people on foot don’t. This risk of a cyclist drifting over while I’m passing is far greater than of a runner doing the same.

  7. I think of it as a kind of harsh way of saying, “I am coming, stay where you are”. But even after the warning little kids and moms with strollers often stop and turn around and put themselves right in the way. I am not a competition rider. I take 7 k rides along paths with my husband and still I find this frightening. I wish there was something else to say

  8. As a cyclist, I always announce “on your left” because I think it’s nicer than catching other people unaware. The problem I have is this : Serious, skilled, Spandex-clad road cyclists on $3,000 bikes who insist upon racing 25 miles/hour down paved trails utilized by casual walkers and cyclists. Here’s how it works: If you are man enough to shave your legs and wear a chamois, you are man enough to get your fanny on the road. (And yes, it’s usually men) I say this as a mother of a professional cyclist and the wife of a a guy who wishes he were a pro.

    1. I ride my pricey road bike on the multi-use pathway to school b/c it’s the best route. But I mostly abide by the 20 km/hr speed limit. Kilometer! I’m amused when I’m passed by young men on hybrid bikes who think they’re succeeding in a race against me.

  9. I feel like left-right confusion is going to be part of the issue here. A significant proportion of the population — can’t find a percentage easily, but think maybe “two figure percentage” — has to go through some kind of conscious process to remember which one is which (eg, wiggling their “writing hand” or something).

    For these people (I’m one of them, mildly, I can work it out consciously but without moving my body), the words “left” and “right” are pretty stressful to encounter, cause a distraction from the task at hand, and moreover having someone call to you from behind you does seem like a request to take action. So I can see where, under stress, someone with left-right confusion who would need two seconds to work through “passing left → I need to stay on the right → wiggle my hand → I am already on the right, phew” interprets a call of “passing left!” as “move out of my way!” and thus moves to the left.

    I wonder if there’s some alternative that doesn’t invoke the cognitive load of distinguishing left and right.

  10. I like it. I want to know when someone’s coming. Do some people use it to say “I’m faster than you!” Sure. It doesn’t bother me. I know I’m relatively slow, what someone else thinks of it doesn’t really matter. I want to know someone’s coming regardless of whether or not I’m being judged at the same time.

    I try to say it when I pass but the tone differs based on context. If you’re weaving a bit or have earbuds in I will be louder and firmer. Otherwise I aim for a friendly but loud enough to be heard sound. And when I was in the charity ride that was likely referenced above, I would find at the beginning of the day when we all started off that I would be riding faster than many and would end up passing a number of people at once. I would generally sing “On your left” repeatedly in as friendly a way as possible as I passed folks.

  11. For slow cyclists who don’t like other cyclists saying|: “on your left”, I’m sorry I really think that’s just getting too sensitive about your own slowness.

    I appreciate cyclist that ring bell behind me/say on your left. I HATE cyclists who just whip by me..very close and say nothing. .not good in a separated bike lane / tight road situation! In fact, dangerous.

    I often do yell out “On your left”, if my bell ring doesn’t seem to get person to move to left. If I am climbing a hill or speeding down a hill, I HAVE to yell, on your left. Cycling too slow, I might fall off the bike, especially going up a mini hill. Imagine on a spiral cycling bridge ramp…

    For children, I yelll out cheerfully: “Excuse me!” to give child enough time to turn around and look at me. I always try to thank the child when I pass by. A child needs to learn courtesy and reciprocal thankfulness if they act right/safely on bike /MUP paths. . I don’t want to have defensive parent /adult telling me I was yelling inappropriately at their child. Or scare a child unnecessarily if I give in enough distance and time in advance.

  12. I’m a walker/hiker, not a biker. I’m also a chef, and am familiar with the call “behind you” or “walking down”, when someone is entering your space. I appreciate when people say they’re on the left, but do find that some cyclists use it as an excuse to mow down pedestrians. Calling out your position or ringing your bell doesn’t mean you automatically get right of way. Here (Austin, TX), most trails are clearly marked that bikes should yield to pedestrians. We (pedestrians) definitely need to share the space, and I always make an effort to move over, but on a crowded trail with traffic in both directions, simply calling your position or ringing your bell may not be enough, and cyclists sometimes need to slow down. But there’s no need for us to yell and be confrontational with one another. We’re all just trying to get somewhere, right?

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