Don’t Be a Jerk

I’m going to go on record here and say that if you’re a bike rider, and you don’t let me know you are coming up to pass me – whether I’m on foot or on a bike – then you are a jerk.

There. I said it. You are a jerk.

In cities with huge numbers of bike riders combined with an active bike culture – like Amsterdam and Copenhagen – bike bells are ubiquitous and are used to indicate proximity. Hearing a bell behind you means, “Watch out! I’m coming along!” Or, it could mean, “Hey, stop swerving around and pay attention to the traffic!”

I’ve been called a “self-appointed hall monitor” before; if that means I embrace educating people on how to effectively share space with bike riders and pedestrians, I’ll accept it.

We have some lovely greenways here in Nashville, and their usage has increased quite a bit in the past 5 years. (I’ve got a call in to Cindy Harrison of Metro Parks/Greenways 4 Nashville for specific figures; will update this post accordingly.) There are trail rules posted at each entrance, one of which is “[bicyclists] should give audible signal when passing”. (Another one is “[maximum] speed on trails is 15MPH”, but we’ll get to that some other time.)

Part of the human experience is the courtesy we extend to others in public spaces. Part of being on a greenway includes being aware of the surroundings you occupy – to that end, please take those earbuds out so you can listen for “audible warnings” – and also to make others aware you are going to pass them.

I’ve got friends who have asked why they were chastised for walking in the “opposite direction” on the greenway – “I like it because I can see the bike riders coming!” my friend told me. I understand her position – having been buzzed one too many times by a bike rider, she’s unnerved and wants to be more prepared to see who is coming. It’s possible to walk in the opposite direction on the grassy path next to the greenway, but that’s not ideal (besides, you’ll have dog poop-covered shoes by the end of it, thanks to dog owners who don’t scoop their dog’s poop).

I’ve been called a “self-appointed hall monitor” before; if that means I embrace educating people on how to effectively share space with bike riders and pedestrians, I’ll accept it. I’m issuing a general plea for courtesy on the trail – after all, what you do as a bike rider affects me, too.

A side note on notification when you’re on the roads – as pointed out in a thread on Facebook, it’s useful to be able to scan behind you to see if someone is coming up on you before you move out to the left, but if that bike rider is coming up way fast and you’ve got to move to avoid a pothole or roadkill or a construction cone or a piece of metal, sometimes you don’t have time to look. The onus is on the person PASSING to let the person ahead of them know they are coming. And if you don’t have a bell, you can just say “hello”.

Nashville’s bike riding community is growing by the day and we all have to look out for each other, whether we’re on a bike, on foot, or driving a vehicle.

Related: If you’re interested in learning more about bike maintenance basics, bike safety and law, and how to ride safely around Nashville, sign up for Bike Fun’s Biking Basics sessions through Nashville Community Education! Classes are twice a week for two weeks at the end of July. Spaces are still open!


  1. You can publish my e mail. No worries here. Your article, is very well put. If people would use just 1 ear bud.They would hear us yell “on your left” ,or ringing your bell. Alot comes from the jerks who care less what we think . Maybe. Just maybe , there should be a hall monitor on the trail. Keep up the good work.

    1. Oh, absolutely – it is frustrating to try to do all you can to indicate to someone that you are passing and have them get startled when you are overtaking. I definitely get that. We could all do better on our shared trails and greenways in Nashville. Thanks for your comment!

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