Motorist Questions for Bike Riders, Part 2

by Eric Meyer

In a previous article, we answered some questions that motorists might be thinking or wanting to ask bicycle riders. Here’s another batch.  We hope this helps us to share the road with a better understanding of why cyclists take certain actions. 

Q1-Why don’t bicycles ride on the shoulder and leave the travel lane for cars and trucks? The shoulder is not usually intended to be a bicycle lane. It is often narrow and filled with gravel or debris and sometimes drainage grates that can be hazardous for cyclists. On most roads, Pennsylvania law gives bicycles the same rights to use the travel lane as it gives to motor vehicles.

Q2-I came upon a bicyclist while driving down a country road. I moved to the left a few feet to pass her. She appeared angry and yelled at me. Why? It’s hard to say, but it could be that you didn’t slow down and allow the four feet of clearance required by Pennsylvania law (and safety!). It’s very unnerving when a fast-moving vehicle passes too closely. Larger vehicles can even create turbulence that might cause the bike rider to lose her balance. It’s always safest to slow down when you approach a bicyclist and wait to pass until you can give them at least 4 feet of clearance.

Q3-I see bike riders on the roads in town where there’s often a lot of traffic. Why don’t they ride on the sidewalk? In certain areas of a town, it may be illegal to ride on the sidewalk (around the square in Gettysburg, for example).  It can also be hazardous to pedestrians depending upon the width of the sidewalk and how many people are using them. Most importantly, bikes are considered vehicles and are allowed to ride on the roads. 

Q4-Are electric bikes legal to ride on the roads? Don’t they need a license to operate? Most e-bikes can be legally operated on the roads and are considered comparable to regular pedal bikes regarding the rules and regulations that must be followed. No license is required. 

Q5-I see bike riders roll through stop signs all the time. Isn’t that illegal? Yes, in Pennsylvania and most states, bicyclists are required by law to follow the same rules of the road as a motorist. But like motorists, sometimes bicyclists will bend the rules a bit and treat the stop sign as a yield. While we don’t condone this behavior, bear in mind that bicyclists are generally approaching the intersection at a much lower speed, can see and hear oncoming traffic better, and will stop if cars are approaching. 

Q6As I was driving, I was about to pass a cyclist but he seemed to move further left into the traffic lane. I had to wait to pass until the oncoming car went by. Why did he do that? Most likely, he wanted to discourage you from trying to “squeeze” between him and the oncoming vehicle which would not provide the 4 feet of clearance required by law. Unfortunately, this happens sometimes when a cyclist rides on the far-right side of the road.

Q7-Should I honk to let a bike rider know I’m going to pass? No, please don’t. A loud horn can startle a bike rider and could lead to an accident and most of the time, the bicyclist already knows you’re there. Please just slow down and pull at least four feet to the left to pass when it’s safe to do so.

Eric Meyer is President of Healthy Adams Bicycle/Pedestrian, Inc. and a retired engineer who rediscovered his love of biking about 25 years ago.