Is it safer for bicyclists to ride with traffic or to ride against traffic?


Bike Messenger - "Wrong Way" Cyclist Example of 'Salmoning'

Bike Messenger – “Wrong Way” Cyclist
Example of ‘Salmoning’

Bicyclists should ride with traffic. One of the keys to safe bicycling is to be as predictable and as conspicuous as possible so that motorists always know you are there and can predict what you are going to do. By riding against traffic — especially on the sidewalk — you make yourself almost invisible to motorists turning at intersections and driveways who may not be expecting or looking for road users coming from your direction. Indeed, as many as one in four bicycle/motor vehicle collisions involve a rider who is either riding against traffic and/or riding on the sidewalk.

In a lengthy article explaining why riding the wrong way against traffic is dangerous, author Ken Kifer explores the three principle dangers:

  • Turning motorists are not looking where wrong-way riders are riding.
  • The motorist and bicyclist have limited time and little space in which to react to each others’ presence.
  • The closing speed of a bicyclist and motorist riding head on into each other is higher than if the bicyclist and motorist were traveling in the same direction.

He also points out that riding with traffic decreases the number of vehicles passing you, and doesn’t bring you into conflict with bicyclists who are riding the right way with traffic!

Because the problem is so widespread and potentially dangerous, there are hundreds of brochures, leaflets and other materials that encourage riders to ride with traffic. For example, the Florida Department of Transportation publishes a fact sheet on where to ride your bike. The Oregon DOT has a similar statement in its bicycling manual, and there are numerous city government publications that are similar.

More information on safe riding practices is available at


With the new thrust aimed at Bike Comfort and no longer safety it seems odd that this question is still being raised. Randy Cohen the Ethicist for the NYTimes made the claim that you could run red lights and stop signs and still be ethical although illegal. So why the concern about the legality and safety of ‘salmoning‘?

Part of this notion is based in a firmly rooted racist viewpoint in the Liberal Urban Cycling Community. Because it is largely ‘people of color‘ who do this and their presence inconveniences white riders, the issue has risen quite high on the agendae of Urban Cyclists. But I find it hypocritical to pick and choose which rules can be broken and yet remain ethical if the choice is weighted towards your own preferences.