Share our roads: Berkshire cycling etiquette for all 

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By Monday, Jul 17 Life In the Berkshires  8 Comments
Ellen Lahr

We love cycling in the Berkshires. The breathtaking Berkshire roads we explore on two wheels are often the same roads explored by our visitors in cars. The views make us say to ourselves, or to our riding pals, “Can you believe we live in this place?”

Most of the time, cyclists and drivers get along just fine. But some drivers (and cyclists, for that matter) are poorly versed in sharing the road. Drivers wonder why that cyclist up ahead isn’t riding tightly inside the white shoulder line on the road. Cyclists go slightly wild and hostile when drivers feel the need to lay on their horns as they approach us, as if we are engaged in some reckless, illegal road crime. Sometimes fingers get brandished, and well, that’s just not nice.

On the other hand, a driver who asks a local cyclist for directions will be quickly rewarded – we know our way around and can direct you off the beaten paths and onto secret, scenic backroads. We are friendly folks, we are typically high on adrenaline, and we love imparting our road smarts about the Shire. Around here, most of us ride for enjoyment, fitness and camaraderie, where in cities, cycling is a commuting routine.

And cyclists are vulnerable – to you, the vehicle driver. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reported that, in 2014, 726 cyclists were killed on U.S. roads (8 in Massachusetts) and 50,000 were injured nationwide. Most fatalities happened in non-intersection crashes, and 31 percent died in intersection-related crashes. Half of fatalities occurred in broad daylight. And in 65 percent of fatalities, the car driver was stone-cold sober.

The etiquette of road riding is fairly clear, and here’s how we do it.

  • Group cyclists – and you’ve seen them around — are supposed to ride in a single-file line on well-traveled roads and use hand signals to indicate turns and stops.
  • Usually, the rear-most riders in a group are on “car alert” – they listen and look for rear-approaching cars — and will shout “car back” to their friends ahead. The message makes it way down the line so all can take note and hold their position or get into a single-file line.
  • On back roads, you’ll see cyclists bunched together in a group – think Tour de France – and they are drafting together, pulling each other along in their slip streams for speed and efficiency. A well-trained group will spread into a line for an approaching car.
  • We don’t ride in the road shoulders. Road shoulders are filled with debris, broken glass and other dangers to our tires, and we are less visible there. We tend to ride just outside the shoulder line – and this also gives us room for emergency maneuvers.
  • Smart riders do not wear earbuds – it’s the cycling equivalent of texting and driving. We simply must have full hearing to perceive cars approaching from behind. Although I confess that I once tried riding with earbuds on a remote back road, I really got into the BeeGees for a disco-ride playlist.
  • At a traffic light, we may stop right in front of you – not off to the side. We’re not being road hogs — this is a safety position. If we hug the gutter, we may not be visible to cars, and we may be squeezed and toppled by a right-turning car when the light changes. We also shouldn’t stop between two rows of cars at a light.
  • Those crazy shoes that attach us to our pedals? Those “toe-clip” shoes make for great cycling efficiency, speed and hill-climbing. A toe-clipped cyclist releases the clip with a quick flick of the leg. The one time I fell over, I was fatigued and waited too long to unclip, so I now release early when approaching intersections.
  • The best of us are courteous, friendly, and out for a good time. Say hi to a cyclist.

Here’s how we hope drivers will do it:

  • Be courteous. Assume you are sharing the road just about anywhere in the Berkshires.
  • Look before you turn right anywhere– as you would check for a pedestrian, check for cyclists.
  • If you approach a rider or group of riders and are concerned they don’t hear you, give a light friendly horn-beep from a good distance back. You will see an instant response from riders ahead.
  • Be patient if a group of riders is clustered and seems unresponsive to your warning or approach – sometimes we get to yammering away about the views and politics. Once we are aware you are there, we will re-organize in a single file line and wave you past.
  • In downtown areas, use caution when getting out of a parked car to avoid a cyclist getting “doored.” In Holland, where cyclists are everywhere, drivers open their door by reaching across with their right hand – which pulls the eyes around to check what’s coming up alongside.
  • Don’t text, talk and drive – your inattention can mean disaster for a cyclist.
  • See a cyclist on the side of the road with a possible problem? It’s always nice to ask if everything is OK.
  • If you have an accident with a cyclist, keep cool, offer assistance, avoid the blame game, check on the cyclist and cooperate with whatever happens next.

Accidents happen – but so do nice mutual exchanges between cyclists and drivers. We cyclists hope we can inspire you to ditch that car for a Berkshire afternoon and get out on your bike, or a rental bike. It’s a great way to see our area – and the scenery passes in slow motion, for more indulgent enjoyment. Not sure where to go? Ask a cyclist.

Pedal on.

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8 Comments   Add Comment

  1. C. D'Alessandro says:

    So SO important! Thank you, Ellen!

  2. peter greer says:

    thanks ellen. cyclist buddies be aware of your surroundings and take special care on the horrible roads in parts of the bershires. Deep potholes and a lack of general maintainance is an accident waiting to happen . Those towns should either repair / patch/ or warn riders via signage or road marker . This is not about a flat tire or minor scrape….

  3. Bob says:

    The ones that really get me are the folks who ride on the sidewalk . I can’t tell you how many times I’ve almost been ran over.

  4. anon says:

    I would like to remind cars that need to pass bicyclists to not swerve into the opposite lane, particularly on curvy roads. I almost had a head on collision with a truck yesterday that was swerving around a couple cyclists that were in the middle of the road and not hugging the white line. Let’s all do our part to be safe, thanks!

    1. dennis irvine says:

      Good advice. Bikes are not required to hug the white line- they are allowed to use the entire lane when necessary for reasons of safety(often the white line area is a mess of debris or broken pavement) and at their discretion. When this happens vehicles should wait to pass the bikes until the oncoming lane is clear- just like encountering any other slower moving vehicle, if the obstacle is in your lane, you wait instead of passing and entering the oncoming lane. And whenever a motor vehicle does pass a bike they are required to leave 3 feet of clearance.

  5. dennis irvine says:

    These are the rules for bikes, there are also rules for cars that I will find and post soon if The Edge doesn’t mind the length of the post.


    Section 11B: Bicycles; operation and equipment; regulations; federal product safety standards, effect; races; violations; penalties

    Section 11B. Every person operating a bicycle upon a way, as defined in section one of chapter ninety, shall have the right to use all public ways in the commonwealth except limited access or express state highways where signs specifically prohibiting bicycles have been posted, and shall be subject to the traffic laws and regulations of the commonwealth and the special regulations contained in this section, except that: (1) the bicycle operator may keep to the right when passing a motor vehicle which is moving in the travel lane of the way, (2) the bicycle operator shall signal by either hand his intention to stop or turn; provided, however, that signals need not be made continuously and shall not be made when the use of both hands is necessary for the safe operation of the bicycle, and (3) bicycles may be ridden on sidewalks outside business districts when necessary in the interest of safety, unless otherwise directed by local ordinance. A person operating a bicycle on the sidewalk shall yield the right of way to pedestrians and give an audible signal before overtaking and passing any pedestrian.

    Operators of bicycles shall be subject to the following regulations:

    (1) Bicyclists riding together shall not ride more than 2 abreast but, on a roadway with more than 1 lane in the direction of travel, bicyclists shall ride within a single lane. Nothing in this clause shall relieve a bicyclist of the duty to facilitate overtaking as required by section 2 of chapter 89.

    (2)(i) The operator shall ride only upon or astride a permanent and regular seat attached to the bicycle; a passenger shall ride only upon or astride a permanent and regular seat attached to the bicycle or to a trailer towed by the bicycle.

    (ii) The operator shall not transport another person between the ages of one to four years, or weighing forty pounds or less, on a bicycle, except in a ”baby seat”, so-called, attached to the bicycle, in which such other person shall be able to sit upright; provided, however, that such seat is equipped with a harness to hold such other person securely in the seat and that protection is provided against the feet or hands of such person hitting the spokes of the wheel of the bicycle; or upon or astride a seat of a tandem bicycle equipped so that the other person can comfortably reach the handlebars and pedals. The operator shall not transport any person under the age of one year on said bicycle.

    (iii) Any person 16 years of age or younger operating a bicycle or being carried as a passenger on a bicycle on a public way, bicycle path or on any other public right-of-way shall wear a helmet. Said helmet shall fit the person’s head, shall be secured to the person’s head by straps while the bicycle is being operated, and shall meet the standards for helmets established by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. These requirements shall not apply to a passenger if the passenger is in an enclosed trailer or other device which adequately holds the passenger in place and protects the passenger’s head from impact in an accident.

    (iv) A violation of clause (ii) or (iii) shall not be used as evidence of contributory negligence in any civil action.

    (3) The operator shall give an audible warning whenever necessary to insure safe operation of the bicycle; provided, however, the use of a siren or whistle is prohibited.

    (4) The operator shall park his bicycle upon a way or a sidewalk in such a manner as not to obstruct vehicular or pedestrian traffic.

    (5) The operator shall not permit the bicycle to be drawn by any other moving vehicle. The operator shall not tow any other vehicle or person, except that bicycle trailers properly attached to the bicycle which allow for firm control and braking may be used.

    (6) The operator shall not carry any package, bundle or article except in or on a basket, rack, trailer or other device designed for such purposes. The operator shall keep at least one hand upon the handlebars at all times.

    (7) Every bicycle operated upon a way shall be equipped with a braking system to enable the operator to bring the bicycle traveling at a speed of fifteen miles per hour to a smooth, safe stop within thirty feet on a dry, clean, hard, level surface.

    (8) During the period from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise, the operator shall display to the front of his bicycle a lamp emitting a white light visible from a distance of at least five hundred feet, and to the rear of said bicycle either a lamp emitting a red light, or a red reflector visible for not less than six hundred feet when directly in front of lawful lower beams of headlamps on a motor vehicle. A generator powered lamp which emits light only when the bicycle is moving shall meet the requirements of this clause.

    (9) During the period from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise, the operator shall display on each pedal of his bicycle a reflector, or around each of his ankles reflective material visible from the front and rear for a distance of six hundred feet, and reflectors or reflective material, either on said bicycle or on the person of the operator, visible on each side for a distance of six hundred feet, when directly in front of lawful lower beams of headlamps of a motor vehicle. This clause shall not prohibit a bicycle or its operator to be equipped with lights or reflectors in addition to those required by clauses (8) and (9).

    (10) No bicycle shall be operated upon a way with handlebars so raised that the operator’s hands are above his shoulders while gripping them. Any alteration to extend the fork of a bicycle from the original design and construction of the bicycle manufacturer is prohibited.

    (11) The operator of a bicycle shall report any accident involving either personal injury or property damage in excess of one hundred dollars, or both, to the police department in the city or town in which the accident occurred.

    Any federal product safety standards relating to bicycles which are more stringent than the requirements of clauses (7) through (10), inclusive, shall supersede said requirements.

    Competitive bicycle races may be held on public ways, provided that such races are sponsored by or in cooperation with recognized bicycle organizations and, provided further, that the sponsoring organization shall have obtained the approval of the appropriate police department or departments. Special regulations regarding the movement of bicycles during such races, or in training for races, including, but not limited to, permission to ride abreast, may be established by agreement between the police department and the sponsoring organization.

    Violations of any provision of this section except violations of subclause (iii) of clause (2) shall be punished by a fine of not more than twenty dollars. The parent or guardian of any person under age eighteen shall not authorize or knowingly permit any such person to violate any of the provisions of this section. A bicycle operated by a person under the age of eighteen in violation of this section may be impounded by the police department, or in a town which has no police department, by the selectmen, for a period not to exceed fifteen days. A violation of any provision of this section by a minor under the age of eighteen shall not affect any civil right or liability nor shall such violation be considered a criminal offense.

  6. dennis irvine says:

    Cars around bikes should follow these laws:

    As a motorist in the presence of bicycles:
    • Do Not Cut-Off After Passing: When passing a bicycle traveling in the same
    direction that is on your right, you must not return to the right until you have safely
    passed the overtaken bicycle. (Chap. 89, Sec. 2)
    • Do Not Make an Abrupt Turn After Passing: When passing a bicycle near
    an intersection or driveway where you want to turn right, you cannot turn unless you are
    at a safe distance from the bicyclist and you can make the turn at a reasonable and
    proper speed. (Chap. 90, Sec 14)
    • Do Not Squeeze Bicycles in a Narrow Lane: If a lane is too narrow to
    pass a bicycle at a safe distance, be PATIENT until you can safely use an adjacent
    lane or WAIT until it is safe to pass in the lane you share. (Chap. 89, Sec. 2) You should
    stay at least three feet away when passing.
    • Do Not Fail to Yield When Turning Left: When turning left at an intersection
    or into an alley, private road, or driveway, you must yield the right of way to a vehicle
    approaching from the opposite direction, including a bicycle, if it is in the intersection or
    close enough to be an immediate hazard. (Chap. 90, Sec 14)
    • Watch for Bicycles on Your Right: Bicycles can legally ride to the right of
    motor vehicle traffic. The law says it is not a defense for a motorist causing a crash with
    a bicycle that the bicycle was to the right of other traffic. (Chap. 85, Sec 11B)
    • Do Not Open a Door Without First Looking: Drivers and passengers can
    be fined up to $100 for opening a vehicle door into an oncoming bicycle. (Chap. 90,
    Sec 14) Before opening your door, you should always check behind you to make sure
    that no bicyclists are approaching.
    See Appendix E for color images of these signs.
    • Be aware that bicyclists can ride two bicycles side-by-side. However,
    on a road with more than one lane in the direction of travel, they must stay in one lane.
    (Chap. 85, Sec. 11B)
    • Be aware that bicyclists Do Not Always Have to Signal Turns!
    Bicyclists must signal their intent by either hand to stop or turn. However, the signal
    does not have to be continuous or be made at all if both hands are needed for the
    bicycle’s safe operation. (Chap. 85, Sec. 11B)
    About 75% of bicycle-related deaths and disabling injuries could have been prevented if riders wore a
    proper bicycle helmet.
    The Danger of Open Doors to Bicyclists
    Open vehicle doors pose a very serious threat to bicyclists.
    When opening a vehicle door, drivers and passengers are
    suggested to do the following:
    1. Check your rear-view mirror.
    2. Check your side-view mirror.
    3. Open the door with your far hand (the hand farther from
    the door).
    This is called the “Dutch Reach” method because it
    originated in the Netherlands. It forces your body to turn,
    which will better allow you to see approaching bicyclists. It
    also prevents the vehicle door from being opened too fast.
    This not only protects bicyclists, but can also prevent
    your door from being damaged or torn off by an
    approaching motor vehicle.
    Bicyclists should ride at least three feet from parked cars to avoid doors, both on streets
    with and without bike lanes. This will keep bicyclists outside of the “door zone” and protect
    them from getting hit by opening vehicle doors.
    Bicycle Boxes
    Bicycle boxes are pavement markings that are installed at intersections to allow bicyclists a
    safe way to turn when approaching a red light. Bicycle boxes are green and have an image
    of a bicyclist. At intersections, they are painted on the pavement before the crosswalk and
    they cover the entire travel lane.

    Drivers must stop behind the bicycle box (even when it’s
    empty) and wait for a green light.
    Bicyclists who are turning left should stop in the bicycle box,
    move to the left side of the box, signal the turn, and wait for
    the green light. Bicyclists traveling straight or turning right
    should stay to the right in the bicycle box, in a staggered
    formation, and wait for the green light.
    Bicycle boxes can also be used by bicyclists to make a twostage
    left turn. A two-stage left turn allows bicyclists to make
    a left turn in two separate steps, rather than crossing
    multiple lanes of traffic:
    Step 1: Cross straight through the intersection on the green
    light and stop in the bicycle box for the road you are turning
    Step 2: Wait for the green light and go straight through
    the intersection.
    Separated Bicycle Lanes
    Separated bicycle lanes, also know as cycle tracks and protected bike lanes, physically
    separate bicycle traffic from vehicular traffic. Where bicycle lanes cross an intersection, they
    are indicated by green pavement throughout the intersection with an image of a bicyclist.
    Bicycle lanes are not intended for pedestrians, who must stay on the sidewalk.
    At intersections, drivers must stop at the stop line to allow pedestrians and bicyclists to
    cross safely. When turning right, drivers must yield to pedestrians and bicyclists who are
    Bicyclists must ride in the proper direction on bicycle lanes. At intersections, bicyclists must
    ride in the lane through the intersection, while watching for turning vehicles. Bicyclists must
    yield to crossing pedestrians.

    Some of the text and images in the “Laws for Bicyclists and Motorists in the Presence of
    Bicyclists” section provided courtesy of the City of Cambridge. For more information, see
    the document “Street Code – Rules and Etiquette for Getting There Together”, which can be
    found on the website

    1. Abigail Crine says:

      Thank you. This is very helpful. I am sharing with other cyclists and hope that drivers also read this. Few are aware of or follow the 3 feet rule.

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