Why cycle in the middle of the road?

I recently heard  a cycle campaigner who suggested that one of the best tips for cycling position on the road is to always cycle one metre from the edge. Interestingly, the Dept of Transport have also given out advice to cyclists that it is advisable to cycle 1 metre from the edge (Direct Gov link).

The problems is that although this is good advice, motorists can get very impatient when they see a cyclist in ‘middle of the road’.

1metre

 

One metre from edge is just over 3 feet and much further out in the road than the average cyclist will generally be. In fact I remember when I was very young and starting to cycling someone told my I should cycle in line with the outside of drains (basically 1 feet). When I was looking through photos of people cycling in Oxford, it was much easier to find people cycling by double yellow lines than it was 1 metre from the edge!

Even Transport for London advise taking the lane in certain circumstances.

Stay central on narrow roads. Try to ride away from the gutter. If the road is too narrow for vehicles to pass you safely, it might be safer to ride towards the middle of the lane to prevent dangerous overtaking by other vehicles.

drains

Don’t feel obliged to ride in the gutter.

For many years I thought that is where I should be. But, I don’t advise this position.

Benefits of Cycling 1 Metre from Edge

If you are 1m from edge, you are more visible to cars turning right. This avoids the “Sorry, I didn’t see you mate type accidents”

The car doesn't see the bike hugging the curb. But, he does see Bike 2 out in the middle of the road.

The car doesn’t see the bike hugging the curb. But, he does see Bike 2 out in the middle of the road.

  • You are more visible to cars turning right.
  • You are more visible to cars coming from behind
  • It is harder for cars to turn left just in front of where you are cycling. This is a big problem where cars overtake cyclists and then soon turn left, leaving you squeezed on the inside.
  • It gives you more flexibility to avoid potholes. If you are in the gutter and swerve out a foot to miss a pothole cars will sometimes beep because they are overtaking you too closely. But, with a metre you have room to move in
  • It is where motorbikes tend to position themselves.
  • It could make cars more careful in overtaking because they can’t squeeze through when traffic is passing in opposite direction. They have to wait for a genuine gap.
  • You avoid nasty accidents from cars opening their doors into your path and other obstacles in the road
  • Sometimes cars will be in a long line. The car immediately behind you might see you, but if they overtake close to you, the 2nd car in line might not

Taking the lane

Clarkson's infamou picture of cyclist in middle of road. If I was turning right, I'd do the same. I hope he wasn't using mobile phone while driving.

Clarkson’s infamous picture of cyclist in middle of road. If I was turning right, I’d do the same. I hope he wasn’t using mobile phone while driving.

Sometimes it is advisable to take the lane. This means you take the middle of the lane (like a motorbike) and so prevent a car from squeezing to the side. Taking the lane is important for

  • When you are turning right
  • Approaching a roundabout

Bear in mind average traffic speed in London is close to 10mph. So a cyclist taking the middle of the lane isn’t going to change much.

What is is like to cycle 1 metre from the edge of road?

  • It’s hard work! Instinctively, you want to ride closer to the edge of the road.
  • I was often thinking of the cars waiting behind me.
  • It takes a certain confidence to cycle that far out.
  • It means ignoring ‘cycle paths’ which are often 1-2 feet wide.
  • You subconsciously feel you ought to be cycling quicker to justify taking up whole road.
  • It does give a greater flexibility for taking the best line over potholed roads.
  • Often cars and buses overtake into your lane. If you stick to 1m from the edge, you are heading for a straight on collision. Many cars expect you to
  • move into the gutter so they can overtake, I can’t say I’ve ever wanted to stick to my position and see if they are going to stop overtaking!

Benefits of 1 Metre from edge of Road

  • On the country lanes for long training rides, it really wasn’t too bad. With relatively low traffic, I didn’t get beeped as much as I expected.
  • When going round sharp left hand bends, you instinctively take a wider angle anyway to get a better view around the corner and give more chance for cycling back.
  • Although it seems almost counter-intuitive to cycle so far out, once you get used to it, I actually quite like it. You feel you are taking up a more visible presence on the road and cars are more aware of you. After a while, you also think ‘so what if cars have to wait a few more seconds’

Pragmatic Approach to 1 Metre Rule

I can’t take a rigid approach to the 1 metre rule. If I’m on a narrow road and a car is waiting behind me for a long time, I will move inward to help the car overtake, I sometimes even pull over on rural roads. Car drivers appreciate that and a bit of good will never did any harm. There’s no point frustrating drivers.

On busy town roads, there are also times when you just can’t cycle 1 metre from edge, especially when you see buses overtaking on wrong side of road. The problem in Oxford, is that everything is narrow and some cycle lanes don’t help give you much space

oxtube-bike

However, having said that, there are great benefits to often taking this position and remembering we don’t have to be in the gutter. I definitely feel it is better to cycle further out, especially when you are approaching potentially dangerous junctions. Sometimes it is necessary to take the lane and put yourself in the best position. Just remember, even if motorists get a little frustrated, it won’t make any real difference. If they have to wait 5-10 seconds, that is more important than putting your own safety at risk.

Other tips for a safe ride

When you’re cycling on busy roads you need to show drivers what you plan to do. Motorists usually travel faster than cyclists and may have less time react to hazards. Try to anticipate what a driver will do and:

  • ride positively and decisively
  • look and signal before you start, stop or turn
  • ride well clear of the kerb – 1 metre away or in the centre of the left lane
  • make eye contact with drivers to let them know you have seen them
  • acknowledge any courtesy from drivers
  • ride a car-door width away from parked cars

Related

Defensive Cycling

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