City Desk

Gear Prudence: Help, I’ve Been Shoaled!


Gear Prudence: Southbound on the 15th Street bike lane during the morning rush hour, there is usually a line of riders waiting at any given stoplight. And almost every day I see somebody who passes all of those who have stopped at the red light and cuts to the front of the line. I realize that this doesn’t slow me down at all, but doesn’t it seem rude, and give some weight to the stereotype that many bikers out there don’t really have a regard for the rules of the road? Is it crazy that this annoys me so much? —Sitting Here On A Light Every Day

Dear SHOALED: Nothing vexes bike commuters more than situations like this. For once, you’ve actually stopped at a red light, and then someone pulls in front of you like you’re not even there. But you were there! And presumably not invisible!

As you’re doubtlessly aware, the best way to handle the rudeness of others in public situations is through passive aggression. But maybe you like your passive aggression on the more aggressive side. Every time you reach a stop light, hop off your bike and practice capoeira, the Brazilian, breakdance-like martial art. Flail about wildly and ginga until the light turns green. A few leaping kicks will get your point across with ample verve. This will most assuredly dissuade your fellow bike commuters from attempting to pass.

But what if you’re unfamiliar with the fighting styles of the Southern hemisphere? Is the best alternative then to take a few deep breaths, ignore the infraction, and accept it for the annoying but ultimately harmless breach of urban cycling etiquette that it is? Yeah, do that instead. Please don’t kick people.

But let’s not let the shoalers off too easily. Stop passing people when they’re stopped in front of you! It’s callow, self-regarding, and pisses off your fellow cyclists to no end. Bike commuting is a lot closer to standing in the grocery checkout line than racing from Milan to San Remo. You don’t cut to the front of the self-checkout because you think you can scan your Skittles the fastest. Accept the constrictions of riding in the city. Waiting your turn is the only option for the polite cyclist. Use the time to sip some coffee or admire someone else’s bike. If you must borrow something from the bike racers, steal their habit of only passing others while they’re on the move. It’s the sporting thing to do. —GP

Gear Prudence is Brian McEntee, who blogs at Got a question about bicycling? Email

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  • guest

    In my experience, shoaling is often men in fancy cycling clothes passing folks in normal clothes and/or women. Why do men always assume they're going to go faster than women? It gives me so much joy to see women pass a shoaler after the light turns green.

    My unsolicited advice: I recognize that it's generally safer to pass while at a stop light than when traffic is moving, but maybe consider that the folks in front of you are in front of you for a reason, and don't pass till you know they plan to ride more slowly than you. Judging a cyclist's speed based on gender and lack of expensive lycra makes you a sexist, classist pig.

  • washcycle

    Yes...admiring their bike. That's what I'm admiring.

    An alternative to shoaling is to get off your bike and nonchalantly walk it along the sidewalk past everyone else Then jumping on it in the street once past them all. Must be accompanied by a devilish sneer and a "mu-wha-ha-ha-ha" laugh. Mustache twirling optional.

  • MLD

    I don't have a problem with shoaling if you are actually going to go faster than everyone else. But if not, get in line.

  • wreckfish

    I don't mind shoaling as long as the shoaler does indeed go faster than me. I mind it when someone who is obviously slower than me shoals me. What's the point of that?

  • TakomaNick

    I run into this a lot on 14th St between U and Thomas Circle. I usually just let them go ahead of me and then I pass them if I'm faster. I hate the guys in spandex. This isn't the Tour de France.

  • Ryan

    The only time this bothers me is if I just passed the person before reaching the light and I am forced to pass them again once we resume moving.

  • Peter

    I don't think that it matters if the shoaler is riding faster - it is a basic courtesy issue. Pass while you're riding, not while stopped at a light. Fortunately my commute is along less-traveled routes so I do not encounter shoaling, or other rude commuter cyclist behavior that often. But when I do, I will usually inform the offender of their impolite behavior. Politely, of course.

  • dcrat

    I'm with Ryan on this one. Generally, shoaling does not bother me although when someone is on a bike share and wearing business clothes, I do wonder why they do it b/c the odds of them going faster than me seem a bit long.

  • Crickey7

    Is not my backside worth the wait?

  • I shoaled you so

    I shoal people all the time. I like to think that I do it with some courtesy and grace. Here are my, until now, unwritten rules.

    1) Only shoal cyclist(s) you have witnessed being slower than you. (There MAY be exceptions – a cargo bike fully laden with bricks heading uphill; someone using a phone while on a tiny BMX bike – but don’t base judgment on gender, dress, age, etc. If you don’t know their pace, just wait.

    B) Execute your pass without crowding the shoalee(s) or interfere with their navigation of an intersection.

    And lastly, go faster than everyone you've shoaled. If you aren't faster, get out of the way so they can pass without having to merge with traffic. Apologize.

    If performed thusly, shoaling is a victimless ‘crime’. In fact, it may not even be shoaling, which I consider to be more specifically the instances described by others here (@wreckfish, @Ryan, and @dcrat).

  • Dexter Span

    If I say I like to admire the guys in spandex from behind, will they be less likely to shoal? Dudes, I'm objectivizing you from behind my mirrored wraparounds. I will keep pace with you just to let you know what I'm staring at

  • NWbyNWBornandBred

    Um, I haven't really done any scientific studies, but generally speaking I notice everyone shoaling. More often than not it's men, but then again, more often than not most riders are men. I'm not sure it's a symbol of sexism by definition of existing. It's more of a reflection of data, ie more likely of an outcome.

  • NWbyNWBornandBred

    I really don't care if anyone shoals, but don't be slower than me or others you shoaled. If I have to play leapfrog because you shoal and you're slow then I am going to call you out on it after the first instance. If you keep doing it then I'm going to passively-aggressively shoal you and make you think that your cadence is just about to overtake me when I pull out a cat 6 game.

    This is particularly egregious by shoalers who not only go slow, but then fiddle around then the light goes green/crosswalk goes white walking man. Shoaling to the front is bad enough not to need some idiot typing away on a phone, checking panniers, or otherwise being a tool.

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