Traffic School: Salmon and Shoaling

So far in traffic school we’ve looked at the safest ways to handle yourself on the road. In today’s post, we’ll look at two common moves to avoid on your bike to stay safe and keep riding happily.


This is way more common than it should be, and it likely stems from a combination of misapplied pedestrian training and laziness. Put simply, Salmon-ing or riding salmon is riding against traffic. Get it? Because salmon swim upstream? Now, never do it.

Most people realize it’s a dangerous move for several reasons – cars aren’t looking up the road against traffic when making turns, when you meet a bike going the right direction one of you is forced into traffic (hint: if you’re the salmon, it’ll be you), and you increase the magnitude of any crash because the speed difference is magnified by the speed of the car going the opposite direction. In fact, riding salmon you’re more than 3 times as likely to be involved in an accident, and more than 6 times as likely to be seriously injured as opposed to riders going with the flow.

The most common excuse people give for riding the wrong way is that they were taught to walk against traffic growing up. While it may make sense for a pedestrian at 1-2mph, on a bike at 10-30mph you’re moving way too fast to react in time to any erratic driving, especially if they’re traveling at 30-50mph so the gap between you is closing at 40-80mph. Compound that with the fact that cars, pedestrians, and other riders aren’t looking “the wrong way” for traffic, and the fact that Salmon-ing is illegal in all 50 states and you’ve succeeded in making yourself invisible, unlawful, and unsafe. In short, just don’t do it.


Another aquatic-themed term, shoaling refers to waiting at a red light only to have other folks, who ride up later, pull in front of you and then wait for the light to change. Sometimes they pull past you into the crosswalk, sometimes they go all the way into the intersection. It’s a common theme you’ll notice after riding in the city for a while – and it’s maddening.

You now have to pass all the new “shoalers” when the light turns green which usually means a duck into traffic and then you’d better mash to beat the next light, otherwise they’ll just cut right to the front and force you to pass them all over again next time. Rinse and repeat for your entire commute and by the last mile you’ll be regretting not putting an engine on your bike to harness the power of the steam now shooting from your ears.

There’s no justification for it any more so than there’s justification for cutting in line at the movies, ATM, or at the bank – it’s just a rude behavior of the selfishly unaware. Besides, there’s no glory in passing someone who’s not moving, anyway.

Luckily the solution is simple: if you pull up at a light and there’s already a bike there, wait behind them. If there are two or three or ten bikes, wait behind them. It’s a great opportunity to say “hello”, make some small talk, and you won’t be surprised to learn folks are more friendly when you’re not cutting in front of them! And the best part is, you’ll only need to pass everyone once because even if you get stuck at the next light, now they’ll wait behind you!

See, we can all get along out there. Don’t salmon, don’t shoal, and ride safe!