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Outlaws Code of the Road
4.08.08 by Buffalo Bill

This was written nearly 20 years ago, but I think it is still relevant.

Outlaws Code of the Road by Daniel Convissor
Independent Courier Association News
December 1989

We all know how safe most of us ride, how many accidents are the pedestrians fault, and how messengers are constantly injured. But at some points most messengers, and other cyclists as well:

Ride fast
Go against the flow of traffic
Run red lights
Ride on the sidewalk


But are you scaring people or causing accidents in the process?


Did you know why the state has laws to ban running lights, riding on the sidewalk, and going the “wrong way?” Do you know why the NYPD is issuing summonses to cyclists? Do you know why there is licensing of messengers and much more severe measures proposed? Do you know why the city tried to ban bicycling in midtown? Do you know why the media puts out reports about “killer messengers?”

Since the number of accidents is quite low, the reason is partially because of near misses between bicyclists and other people, usually pedestrians. Often heard is the complaint “I was almost hit by a messenger.”

We are not asking you to obey all laws or slow down all together, just be safe and courteous. We know time is money, but the few seconds it takes to be cool are much more valuable as public relations than the added efficiency of not having to slow down. The positive public relations make the public like us and will allow the police department to stop harassing careful cyclists and the city will not want to regulate us further. In all actuality this code can and should be used by people in al modes of motion. For the circumstances here we are presenting the code to reduce the heat from other New Yorkers on cyclists. Following the code will make you and the entire bicycling community look good:

Order of Priority

other animal < pedestrian < skater < cyclist < scooter rider < motorcyclist < auto driver < truck driver

The Code

If you encounter one of these creatures that have a higher priority and you are on their turf (sidewalk, etc.) or where the signals give them the right of way (including people crossing where you are turning):

Let them go before you.
Go behind their path of motion whenever possible.
Don’t go in front of them by less than 10 feet.
If less than 10 feet, go through at walking speed.
If there is only room for one of you, they go first.

When you are doing something against the flow (riding on the sidewalk, running a red light or going the “wrong way”):

You must go slow.
Yield to everyone.
Never go fast when you can’t see around something (like a parked, stopped or moving truck; a doorway, column, or corner of a building). The safest way is to go at a creeping speed, look, then proceed.

Look out for people who are also going against the flow. They might not be looking for you, especially at intersections. If you hit or scare someone you are in the wrong and you give us a bad rep.

When approaching people:

Exaggerate your motions. Steer or slow down far in advance so they will not be scared and will proceed.
Give some sort of communication (hand, voice, or shaking your head). Whatever you do, communication will increase understanding so will avoid a collision or near miss.

When passing people:

Announce your approach, such as “passing on your left!,” so they will not unintentionally swerve into your path.
If you see someone coming into your space, scream! It could save you from being crushed.

This was written by Daniel Convissor, in collaboration with other couriers, for the December 1989 edition of the ICA News, a publication of the Independent Courier Association.

See this discussion on the forum, which inspired me to repost this.

  1. this is all common sense really.

    — iron eye    5 August 2008, 10:03    #
  2. Top rules, hereby endorsed by The Bike Show.

    To which I’d tack on Velocio’s Seven Commandments of Cycling:

    1. Keep your rest short and infrequent to maintain your rhythm.

    2. Eat before you are hungry and drink before you are thirst.

    3. Never ride to the point of exhaustion where you can’t eat or sleep.

    4. Cover up before you are cold, peel off before you are hot.

    5. Don’t drink, smoke, or eat meat on tour.

    6. Never force the pace, especially during the first hours.

    7. Never ride just for the sake of riding.

    Paul de Vivie aka ‘Velocio’

    Jack    6 August 2008, 23:41    #
  3. Having said that, I’m not so sure about Commandment #5…though I suspect that by ‘tour’ the old man means something inhuman like Paris-Brest-Paris in which case he might have a point.

    Jack    6 August 2008, 23:44    #
  4. 7. Never ride just for the sake of riding.

    eh? what better reason is there?

    — 8ace    7 August 2008, 12:35    #
  5. I also like Jean Stablinski’s custom of never taking any drinks with him on when riding for pleasure, just a few coins. That way he’d have to stop at a bar to get a drink, and would have the chance to meet people and chat.

    Stablinkski escaped his job in the Arenberg coal mines to become a pro cyclist, French champion, world champion and TDF stage winner. He was the one who suggested the Arenberg ‘Trench’ for the course of Paris-Roubaix. So there was a touch of the sadist about him too.

    Jack    7 August 2008, 16:31    #
  6. well, his nickname was ‘Stab’.

    — will    7 August 2008, 20:38    #
  7. Hey, I know it’s not totally related but have you seen that:
    Nice piece of code of the road…

    — Claire    8 August 2008, 12:59    #
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