Have you ever been shoaled? You're not alone

Maybe you've never heard of 'shoaling,' but if you're a cyclist in Ottawa, there's a chance it's happened to you. Especially if you're a woman.

Depending whom you ask, 'shoaling' is either a frustrating scourge, or 'no big deal'

No one pictured in the above photograph was shoaled once the light turned green. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Maybe you've never heard of "shoaling," but if you're a cyclist in Ottawa, there's a chance it's happened to you. Especially if you're a woman.

It's a sore spot for many two-wheeled commuters who report feeling snubbed or judged. Others believe there are bigger fish to fry in the cycling world, and encourage victims of shoaling to chill out and enjoy the ride.

Either way, it makes for a lively debate.

So what is shoaling?

Picture Mary stopped in a bike lane, waiting at a red light. Another cyclist — let's call him Bob — approaches from behind. But rather than line up behind Mary, Bob stops next to or in front of her.

Keep in mind Bob hasn't spent any time riding behind Mary, so he can't realistically know how fast — or slow — Mary is. Nevertheless, Bob has automatically decided he's faster, or perhaps more important, than Mary.

The light turns green and Bob begins pedalling ahead of Mary. Turns out Bob is actually slower than Mary, especially up that hill. So now she's stuck behind him, unable to pass because they're in a segregated bike lane where passing can be tricky and dangerous.

Mary has just been shoaled by slow, presumptuous Bob.

What is shoaling?

7 years ago
Duration 0:31
Watch this video to learn all about shoaling.

Sexism in the bike lane?

Philiana Dollin knows how Mary feels.

During her morning commute along the Laurier Avenue bike lane through downtown Ottawa, Dollin stopped to chat about shoaling and share her theories as to why it regularly happens to her.

I do try to beat them. I'm now on a mission.- Wanda Caird, cyclist and shoaling victim

​"I often get shoaled by men. I don't wear the full gear, I look like a regular person on a bike — I guess maybe because I'm a woman," Dollin ventured.

More often than not, Dollin said, she'll easily blow past the offending shoaler without uttering a word. 

"I figure just them seeing my butt in their face is good enough," she said.

Another woman, Wanda Caird, described herself as a positive, enthusiastic cyclist, but said that doesn't mean she's willing to let a shoaling pass unchallenged. 

"When that happens I feel highly frustrated," Caird said. "I do try to remain calm, but ... I do try to beat them. I'm now on a mission. I am going to beat them to the next light and if we get to a red light I will beat them leaving. That is a fact. It's going to happen."

Ottawa cyclists on shoaling

7 years ago
Duration 2:09
The CBC's Giacomo Panico speaks to Ottawa cyclists about what it is like to be shoaled.

Shoaling no big deal

While shoaling may be a source of frustration for some cyclists, others believe it's no big deal.

"Whatever happens, happens," opined Colin Stuart. "People should use their common sense. I'm not going to worry about it. Hell, I'm 75. If somebody passes me and then slows down, I understand it perfectly." 

Cyclist Sophia Wong compared shoaling to walking on a sidewalk when someone in front of you suddenly slows down or stops to check their smart phone. 

"Doesn't sound like a big deal," Wong smiled. "I think people just have to lighten up. It's not a race, it's not a competition. Let's just enjoy the fact that it's a beautiful day, take our time, get to work safely."