Learn to speak Bicycle

Years ago, I was in Vancouver with my bicycle and I saw the sign posted here. It was a revelation. A major city could actually think well about modes of transportation other than the automobile! I didn’t think it was possible.

On that same trip, I saw another sign, which read:

Learn To Speak Bicycle

The sign provided some basic information, and it turns out that speaking bicycle requires a refreshing and accessible small vocabulary.

The Speaking Bicycle Dictionary

ring-ring: A sound made by a bicycle bell; a signal made by a cyclist, out of courtesy, to alert a pedestrian that a bicycle is coming their way

honk-honk: A sound made by a bicycle horn; (see ring-ring)

on your left: A vocal signal provided to a pedestrian by a cyclist, indicating that the cyclist would soon be passing on the left.

thank you: A vocal signal provided to a cyclist by a pedestrian, out of courtesy, indicating that the pedestrian has received signals from the cyclist such as ring-ring, honk-honk, and on your left

And that’s it! Super easy!

Like any language, speaking Bicycle depends on two-way communication. For instance, a cyclist could use the correct grammar — ring-ring and on your left — correctly, but if the pedestrian they are trying to communicate doesn’t speak Bicycle, or they have their noise-cancelling earbuds in place, blasting Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, a crash and serious injury could occur.


This morning I was on my daily commute to work and decided to take the scenic route, to lengthen the ride in order to get more exercise, and as I pedaled across the Taylor Dock, as is typical on this popular bike-pedestrian pathway, I came across a number of folks enjoying an early stroll.

As I approached the first cluster of folks, who were taking up the entire pathway, I said to them in Bicycle, “ring-ring. on the left!”

To my delight, as I passed by, the pedestrians spoke back to me in Bicycle, “Thanks for the ring-ring!”

Of course, as I approached the next gaggle of walkers, using my best Bicycle to communicate with them, the woman I came closest to as I passed seemed to go into a little panic, and she certainly didn’t speak any Bicycle back to me.

I’d love to see a Learn to Speak Bicycle public education campaign in Bellingham, because Bicycle is so easy to learn and it so mutually beneficial for cyclists and pedestrians.

One thought on “Learn to speak Bicycle

  1. Great post! I can totally relate – I crossed paths with so many people on one of Indy’s primary bike trails, the Monon, who don’t speak bicycle…even other cyclists! You definitely can’t depend on the accepted bicycle language. As a cyclist, you always have to be prepared to make corrections due to others lack of understanding (or hearing!)

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