Yesterday it occurred to me that three out of the four "altercations" I've had on the bike path in ten years of cycle communing came when people got mad at me for passing them without warning (the fourth was when someone called me out for drafting behind him, and he was totally right to do so—I don't do that anymore!). There was that "on your right" guy, and then another time I almost got in a fight with some office bro who yelled at me to get a bell. I was thinking about all this because the fourth incident happened yesterday morning.
I was riding along on the bike path just east of Arlington Center. Just by Spy Pond I caught up to a gentleman wearing street clothes and riding a road bike, who was moving at a moderate pace at the far left-hand edge of the lane. There were a few walkers on the path and we were coming up to the crossing at Linwood Street, so I slowed down to stay behind him (at a reasonable distance, as per the previous paragraph!). He must have known I was there; the bike I'm riding these days has an audible ratchet noise when coasting, and I as slow as he was going I was mostly coasting. Far from moving over, though, he moved even more to the left: a foot or so into the opposite lane. So I didn't pass him. After we crossed Lake Street he was going slower than ever and I saw my moment—since he'd rung his bell when passing a walker I knew he was that sort of person so I gave him a quiet "on your left" as I started to go around. I guess he didn't hear me, because as I came up on him he moved even more left and yelled at me in an aggrieved tone, "let me know when you're passing!"
As I went by I told him that I did, and I apologized that he hadn't heard me, all in kind of a rush since I was already leaving him far in the rear. And I'm not good at saying things fast. Which made me wonder. What was his behavior all about? I had thought at first that he just wasn't paying attention, which is why he was taking up the whole path in the manner of a six-year-old out on a two-wheeler for the first time. But he hit me with the angry comment so fast I couldn't help but think that he must have known I was there the whole time! That made me wonder... was he trying to keep me from passing? Or trap me into passing without letting him know so he could make a remark? I don't know.
I do know why I don't ring a bell or say "on your left" every time I pass someone: it's super annoying (that, and I don't have a bell). When I'm riding I stay over on the right hand side of the path, and I trust anyone who's going faster than me can pass without comment and without any problem. I want to say that at least half of the people who do say "on your left" do it just to point out that they're passing you, and therefore are better cyclists. Not necessary, since their superior speed shows that on its own. The only time any notice might be necessary is when the rider being passed is coming up on an obstacle that might make them swerve—but in that case, it's clearly the responsibility of the overtaking rider to hold up until the way is clear. Without any verbal communication needed. Especially not yelling.