Current headlines

Don't Be a Jerk: Announcing 'on your left' as you pass slower trail traffic is the right thing to do

Cyclists on a bike trail at Whalon Lake
Photo by Anthony Schalk

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, one unexpected side effect was a rush by many people to purchase bicycles. 

Store shelves have been cleared of two-wheel transportation as individuals and families looked for alternative outdoor recreation options.  

According to the Bicycle Retailer and Industry News, bike purchases “skyrocketed” in April and were up 75 percent reaching $1 billion in sales for a single month for the first time. 

But newbies and veterans alike should note that there is a delicate balance to sharing area trails with runners, walkers, rollerbladers and equestrians, and it is imperative that everyone use proper trail etiquette to avoid collisions. 

One of the most important things you can do as you are traveling along on a path is to announce your presence with a shout of “on your left” or "passing on your left" or even ringing a bike bell to alert other trail users you are approaching them and plan to pass. 

Slower traffic should always stay to the right and faster path users should pass on the left. It’s a simple concept, but one that should never be forgotten for the safety of everyone. 


Slowing down also is crucial as you wait to make sure your announcement was heard and the slower path users have time to react. It can mean the difference between a collision or a clean pass, Forest Preserve police say. 

"The people using our trails are our number one priority," said police Lt. Dave Barrios. "From the bike riders, rollerbladers, runners and families that are out for a nice walk, everyone has to be aware of their surroundings."

The key is to remember that you are not the only path user, he added.

"District trails are multiuse trails and all trail users must do their part by staying to the right on trails, moving to the shoulder when stopping and finally, when passing on your left, giving a clear warning signal before doing so. People who want to pass on the trail should not expect other trail users to move over right away and should slow down until they do."

Consumer Reports advises that all bicyclists should wear a helmet as well. 

"In the majority of bicyclist deaths the most serious injuries are to the head," according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. This highlights the importance of wearing a bicycle helmet. Helmet use has been estimated to reduce the odds of head injury by 50 percent and the odds of head, face, or neck injury by 33 percent." 

Other trail safety tips include:

  • Travel at safe speeds and proceed at a slower pace when the trails are in heavy use. Slower traffic should stay to the right.
  • Faster traffic, such as bicyclists, runners and rollerbladers, should pass on the left, announcing their intention to pass loud enough for other trail users to hear.
  • Don’t wear ear buds in both ears and have your music so loud you can’t hear others on the trail.
  • Walkers and runners who are out with members of their households should form a single file line while passing to maximize safety and social distance.
  • Do not block the trail. Use no more than half of the trail width when in a group, and be sure to watch and listen for other trail users.
  • On trails where dogs are allowed, pets should be on a leash no longer than 10 feet and they should be kept at their owner's immediate side.
  • Bikers should yield to horses. In these instances, use your voice rather than bicycle bells, which could startle the animals, to announce your approach.