Please don’t be a ‘shoaler’
That’s the way to do it – photograph from

First things first, I think you should be aware that this post will have a bit of a pop at certain cyclists’ behaviour. Don’t get me wrong now, cycling is a joy and cyclists are very nearly all sound as a pound. London is all the better for more and more cyclists getting on the roads. This, however, doesn’t mean I don’t get annoyed by some of my fellow cyclists. A bit of courtesy and common sense goes a long way, especially when you’re riding a bike.

One particular bad habit that I would like to see less of is known as ‘shoaling’. It is something that other people have written about elsewhere, so I won’t go on and on about it, but it’s certainly a debate that I would like to add my two-pence worth to.

Picture the scene: you’re riding along the approach to Blackfriars Bridge from the north side of the Thames and you see a lady on a bike going really, really slowly. You may not necessarily be a speed demon with the desire to overtake all challengers, but this lady is tottering along and wobbling about a bit. You’ll probably feel safer riding at a normal speed, so you overtake her safely. The traffic lights ahead are red, and you’re the first to stop, so you wait at the line and suddenly the slow cyclist trundles in front of you and stops in the middle of the pedestrian crossing, right in your path.

The lights change and she sets off as slow as ever. You try to overtake but everyone behind you is streaming past. Eventually you go round her and press on to the other end of the bridge. At the next main junction there are about 15 cyclists in front of you at the lights, so you sit behind them to patiently wait for the green light. To your right, you suddenly see the slow girl squeezing through between fellow cyclists to get past the stop line and sit in the middle of nowhere ahead of everyone. The lights change, she doesn’t see them because she has gone too far into the junction, and everyone has to wait for her to amble over to the left, cutting everyone up and causing people to move out into the lane of traffic.

This lady is a shoaler, and I saw it happen.

This was probably one of the most ridiculous examples of shoaling that I have come across in London, but I do see people shoaling on a daily basis. In his book ‘The Enlightened Cyclist’, Bike Snob NYC deals with this issue, rightly pointing out that if you were queuing for something you wouldn’t push in front. Granted, there are some situations whereby you might need to get in front of people, but this would usually be as a result of poor judgement and awareness of the road ahead and around you.

Shoaling really is a bad habit, and can put yourself and others in danger. This morning, for example, I was at some lights next to another rider and a lady who I had streaked ahead of previously pushed between us and stopped just as the lights changed to green. There was absolutely no need for her to get in front of us, and if myself or the other rider had set off a couple of seconds earlier there would have been a chance that we’d have had a collision with the shoaler.

So, if you get to some lights and you see cyclists waiting patiently, don’t try and automatically get in front of them, especially if you know that you are not as fast as them. Look ahead, think about what you can see at the junction. Don’t try and filter through all the traffic just because it’s not moving. You can always hold back and wait.

Be a sensible cyclist! It’s not a race.

by Duncan Palmer – @cyclodunc