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Home » Cycling » A Note from a Cyclist to Motorists… Why Cyclists Ride the Way We Do.

A Note from a Cyclist to Motorists… Why Cyclists Ride the Way We Do.

November 2014
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We know that there’s a small chance you hate us, a cyclist on the road traveling exactly where your right (left if you’re in the UK) tires go, forcing you into the other lane to pass us.  Yes, believe it or not, we do hear your horn blaring in protest and yes, we know you want us to move over further towards the edge of the road so you can sneak between us and a car in the oncoming lane.  And yes, there is a reason we don’t move.

Those of us who have been cycling for a while know that if we give you just two extra feet, you will try to fit three feet of vehicle in that space and the chance that we end up in the hospital, or worse the morgue, increases exponentially.

In the 16,000 plus miles I’ve ridden on the road in the last few years I’ve witnessed one bicycle accident.  We were traveling west as close to the edge of the road as we could because we, unfortunately, had two miles of busy road to get through before we hit the country back roads and sparse traffic.  An older man tried passing our eight man and one woman pace line (that’s where we ride one directly behind the other).  A car came over the hill the other way so the man moved right, reflexively, clipping the last rider in the group with his mirror.  He went down, bruising two ribs and breaking his arm.  He was lucky as were the rest of us.  Road rash heals, but had that driver clipped the first or second of us in the train, we’d all have gone down and someone would have likely been run over.  Later, after the police, fire dept. and ambulance arrived, the investigating officer asked the old fella why hit the cyclist.  His response was simple:  “There was a car coming the other way”.

See, if you (the motorist) only have two choices, wait for opposing traffic to clear or run a cyclist down, you will be less than happy and delayed by a few seconds but you’ll give us enough room so we won’t be dead.  On the other hand, given three choices, the third being trying to sneak your vehicle in between us and the oncoming traffic, you’ll take that one every now and again and that’s where this gets dangerous for us.

As cyclists and (usually) motorists as well, we know this sucks – especially when you’re in a hurry and you don’t want to be thirteen seconds later than what you will be already because you left late.  Really we do get it, after all chances are we’re the same way with the sole exception being we’re more understanding when we come up on a cyclist on the road.

The point is, “the farthest right that is practicable” is dead center of where your right (left in the UK) tire would be.  It seems counterintuitive I know, but ride a bike for a while and you’ll see it as well.  That’s the safest place on the road to be (unless there’s a decent shoulder or bike path though those require a different vigilance on the part of the cyclist because they’re actually a little more dangerous than riding on the road for a few other reasons – chief being that motorists will cut cyclists off to make turns in front of them, happens all of the time).

Next, and I can only speak for the group I ride with, most of us don’t want to ride on busier roads.  If we’re out there on an excessively busy road, it’s only to get to somewhere a lot less congested.  Think about it, the biggest danger we face on the road is a motorist, the last thing we want is to increase our odds of not making it back to the driveway to see our spouse and kids.

Finally, and this goes for everyone – motorists, cyclists and politicians:  Get us off of the road surface.  All we need is a 3′ wide shoulder on each side of the road and you’d never have to slow down for another cyclist again.


10 Comments

  1. I’m still surprised at how many still cycle in or close to the gutter. As well as the danger outlined, there also so much crud, stones, glass etc there.

    • bgddyjim says:

      I think that is a reflexive behavior, partly based on a misunderstanding of the equipment. For instance, road bike tires are more prone to puncture than mountain bike tires. Most of us grow up riding mountain or bmx bikes so people mistakenly think their road tires will be as trouble free. You and I know this is absolutely not the case. Also, I think the knee jerk reaction is to stay as far away from traffic as possible, not knowing that this can often be worse than riding as I describe in the post. There is no dout that you’re right.

  2. trikatykid says:

    This is a great post. When I first got my bike I was scared to death of riding in/near traffic. I am much more comfortable now, and mainly because the person who taught me to ride taught me exactly that – the more you hide yourself in the shoulder (or “bike lane” as they are called here, even though they are not marked as such), the more liked a motorist won’t exactly see you or recognize they need to move over. Plus it takes away any room for error on your part. I learned to road cycle in Upstate NY, rural NH and VT. Now I live in Bend, OR, which has been named “bike town USA”. I am very fortunate. I imagine that 80% or greater of the motorists that pass me on the road wish they were riding with me. It’s great to not be in the minority as a road cyclist. The respect out here is second to none. A very important post, indeed. We have a lot of roundabouts (traffic circles, whatever you want to call them). Not everyone on a bike is “a cyclist” and it irks me to see people pedal through incorrectly or timidly. It’s a great way to cause an actual accident – ride through a roundabout like a car. Take over the lane until after you exit safely. Yes, you’ll slow people down but who cares? There is no shoulder or bike lane in a roundabout and the reason for that is simple – a roundabout must be taken single file, or there will be a pile up at the exit. That’s my $0.02 on the matter.

    • bgddyjim says:

      I’m pretty lucky here in Michigan too… It’s better out on the west side of the State, but it’s not bad near the middle. Still, bike town USA? That would be some kind of awesome.

      • trikatykid says:

        It’s pretty awesome! You should come out for a visit sometime. Tour Des Chutes, crit race, or any number of events would be happy to have you. In our small town of about 90k, we have over 14 bike shops – and that’s just what’s in town.

      • bgddyjim says:

        WOW! We have TWO (One shop, two locations and another fifteen miles south of us).

      • trikatykid says:

        We have a bike/ski shop called Crows Feet Commons, where active outdoor enthusiasts gather for drink, snacks, stories, music. It’s also where I bring my bike for maintenance and they have a huge fleet of rentals. I might rent a fat tire bike this winter and have fun!

  3. Chyrel says:

    You know the city is live in is pushing for bike lanes and stuff, but, I honestly don’t know if there are road accidents involving a cyclist and a motorist. I mean I know it happens but no numbers or stats. It’s not reported on the paper or news. If nobody knew it happened, how are other people made aware that this is happening.

  4. Frank Burns says:

    The debate over the legality/advisability of the primary (riding in the middle of the lane) and secondary (riding about one metre from the verge) positions rages here in the UK as well. Curiously, it has been shown that the ‘higher’ you ride from the verge, the wider the overtaking space given to you by passing traffic. Which, of course, makes it doubly safe.

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