It seems that bicycle shoaling has become such a widespread problem in the Ottawa area that CBC has a report about it. I’m not sure it’s that serious a problem, but it’s an interesting topic to explore.
So what is shoaling? Strictly speaking, it’s usually when a group of cyclists are stopped for a red light on a bike lane or pathway, and another cyclist comes up from behind and passes everyone to stop in front of the group. It’s sort of like jumping the queue at an ATM machine or supermarket lineup.
The CBC report modified the concept slightly to suggest that shoaling at a red light often occurs when someone wants to get ahead of a cyclist they perceive as being slower, but is actually faster. According to CBC this type of shoaling tends to happen when a male cyclist approaches a female cyclist waiting at a red light.
And finally, there is a broader definition which says that shoaling can occur when someone passes another cyclist on a bike lane or pathway, and then proceeds to pedal slower than the person they just passed. In this scenario, the pass can take place while riding along the pathway or bike lane, and not necessarily when everyone is stopped at a red light.
In addition to the situation where male cyclists think they are inherently faster than female cyclists, there are a number of other circumstances when shoaling can occur.
Ageism. There are younger people who make it a habit of trying to get ahead of older individuals, even if it should be obvious to them that the older person is the stronger cyclist.
Preconceived notions about heavier people. There are some lean cyclists who believe that heavier cyclists have no right to be in front of them. They can be surprised to learn that heavier individuals can be very fast cyclists. (Note that extra weight doesn’t come with a big performance penalty once a cyclist gets up to speed and is riding on fairly level terrain.)
Equipment chauvinism. Some people with high performance carbon fiber bikes (and matching kits) seem to think they’re entitled to be ahead of people with regular bikes. Although I may be riding at the same speed, I have noticed that I tend to get passed more often when I’m riding with my everyday, run-of-the-mill aluminum bicycle than when I’m using my expensive high-end carbon bike.
The type of shoaling I often experience occurs on the pathways when I encounter a pedestrian or slow cyclist moving in the same direction as me, and there is no room to pass because of oncoming traffic in the other lane. Under these circumstances, I slow right down and wait until it is safe to move over and pass. Any cyclist behind me will also have to slow down and wait. Once the other lane is clear I move over to pass, but I often find the cyclist waiting behind will try to jump the gun and get ahead of me before I can pass. This seems to happen regularly.
So there you have it, all (or almost all) you need to know about the politics of shoaling.