Good Cyclists - Bad Choices

by Susie Jones

It is not uncommon to see experienced cyclists make the following well-intentioned mistakes.

Do you:

  1. Call "clear" to the riding companions behind you as you pass through an intersection?
  2. Wave cars by when they have been delayed behind you and you spot an opening for them to pass?
  3. Pull in front of cars when they are stopped at an intersection?
  4. Ride in a pack with friends?
  5. Pull into openings between parked cars so motorists can pass you?

Why these seemingly innocent actions are a problem:

  1. Even though you may think it is polite to let others know that an intersection is free of traffic, calling "clear" invites them to roll through without stopping to check for themselves. Although this follow-the-leader syndrome is very common on group rides, it is also illegal and extremely dangerous. Each cyclist is required by law to stop at stop signs and check for traffic before proceeding. In effect, calling "clear" just means that "the intersection was clear for me and it may be for you."
  2. When you wave a motorist by, you can be held liable if that motorist is involved in a crash. Although it may be clear when you signal, there is a the possibility that the motorist will wait a few seconds before proceeding. Those few seconds can make the difference between an opening in traffic and an impending collision. If you are occupying the correct lane position, and are riding predictably, the motorist will pass you when the space and traffic permit.
  3. Never make a motorist pass you twice. When you are traveling on roads too narrow for a car and bike to share easily, motorists may have to wait for some time before passing you. Once they do though, and you encounter them stopped at a red light, don't pull to the head of the line to get to the front of the intersection. Take your place in the line of stopped traffic just as you would in a motor vehicle.
  4. When bicyclists take off together on group rides, they often forget that they are sharing the road with other vehicles. It is important to leave a gap for cars between every three or four bicycles so motorists can "leapfrog" around your group, especially on narrow roads and up on hills.
  5. Pulling into an opening between parked cars so motorists can pass you may seem like a good idea, but it creates a dangerous situation when you have to merge back in with moving traffic. Instead, ride predictably three feet to the left of parked cars, and motorists will pass you when space and traffic permit.

This article is provided as part of the benefit package as an affiliated club of the League of American Wheelmen (LAW), and will focuses on various aspects of Effective CyclingTM.
For more information about the League of American Bicyclists, visit their web site,, or e-mail them at

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