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Cycling on the Proper Side of the Road (and Why Cycling Against Traffic is Cycling With a Death Wish Part 174)


April 2021

I was out for a Saturday afternoon cruise, all by my lonesome a few weeks ago. It’s a rare Saturday I’m not with my friends, but things just worked out that way. I exited a subdivision onto a short, punchy climb and was out of the saddle pushing my way up the incline when I saw a woman and her two young boys riding on the wrong side of the road with a minivan bearing down on them. I, in the correct lane, stopped pedaling and waved to the minivan that it was okay to pass them in my lane. I could see the hesitation by the driver, but he realized in short order that it was going to be safe to pass and did. The boys and their mother had no clue what was going on – they were completely oblivious to the accident they could have caused.

Had I not been paying attention and just kept trucking, head down, it could have gotten messy. In fact, this is exactly how many cyclists riding on the proper side of the road are killed, when a vehicle traveling toward them in the opposing lane comes into the lane the cyclist is riding in to pass – and the driver of the truck, with a mother and two boys bearing down on them on bikes in the wrong lane would have no choice but to try to thread the needle between them and me. Thankfully, I saw that coming a half-mile away.

Now, I’ve made comments to riders in the wrong lane before, but in this instance I chose a new approach. I pulled alongside the mother and started, “Good afternoon. I appreciate that you like to ride in the wrong lane, but I would like to make a couple of observations that you may not be aware of.”

First, I said, if your boys are that far ahead of you and they approach an intersection, say a car is making a right hand turn into their lane, where is that driver looking when he gets to the intersection?

She actually got it, immediately. “He’ll be looking left”. I said, right, and he’ll be pulling out directly into your boys without looking. So that’s the first scenario you have to worry about. Second, you’ve got a car coming at you that wants to pass as you’re pedaling towards it, but there’s a truck coming the other way. The driver coming toward you can’t get into the other lane and you’re closing distance on the truck… surely, you can see the trouble on the horizon. If you’re in the proper lane, with the flow of traffic, the car behind you can slow until oncoming traffic clears, then go around when safe. Not so if you’re in the wrong lane.

And with that, we exchanged pleasantries and I sped off down the road. It’s amazing how a difficult topic like that can be diffused with a good attitude and a smile. The last time I had a conversation with a woman about riding on the wrong side of the road (with her child in tow, for God’s sake), she ended up hollering something about the patriarchy… I’m going to have to change my tactics from now on, because this time turned out much better.

File these two under the old, “We don’t care if you think cycling on the wrong side of the road is dangerous, we know it’s safer, nah-nah-na-nah-nah”… and remember the important rule here: People are going to do what they do. We have to keep our own eyes peeled because we can still, doing the right thing, get stuck in between a rock and a speeding truck.


  1. idlecyclist says:

    One of my pet hates is people walking with their backs to traffic. That’s also incredibly dangerous and really bugs the hell out of me ๐Ÿ˜‘

  2. Patunia says:

    I’m glad you spoke up and I’m glad she was receptive. I appreciate when someone discretely tells me the appropriate things to do. Life’s hard. It takes a village doesn’t just mean for raising children. It’s surviving life in general!

  3. unironedman says:

    Good call. I read somewhere too about the differences between men and women when driving at junctions, though I can’t find the information now (so I could be wrong, and it wouldn’t be the first time…) but essentially it was that one gender is more likely to look in the direction they are travelling, and the other in the direction of oncoming hazards. In essence, one lot is more likely to run you over at a junction if you have just passed them on the main road, whilst the other is more likely to get hit by something on the main road. Perhaps someone can set me straight here. In any case, it’s not hugely relevant to your case here but possibly adds yet another dimension to the hazards we cyclists face out and about, and especially at junctions, which is one of the hotspots for trouble.

    • joliesattic says:

      Theres truth to that. The same for parking. Women want to go in from the right and men from the left or something like that. I don’t know why that is, but I’ve noticed it with myself, unfortunately I’ve been practicing to do both, so that I no longer know or remember which is which or which one I used to favor, but I’m pretty sure it’s my right.

      • unironedman says:

        I’m always careful about pulling these ‘facts’ out of my ass in case they’re bunkum. I think the explanation was along the lines of men being ancient hunters will look at where the hazard may be coming from (up the road) and are therefore more likely to not see the cyclist beside them. Women will look where they are going, and are more likely to miss the oncoming hazard. As we drive on different sides of the road, I’ll only confuse myself and everyone else if I use an example!
        And again, if someone out there has factual info to disabuse of me this notion, please let me know.

      • bgddyjim says:

        That all makes sense to me! Especially the nervousness of wondering whether or not that information we just quoted was junk… I HATE it when that happens!

  4. joliesattic says:

    Good advice. Since I do a lot of walking, when I’m at an intersection, I really have to watch for right hand turners. Men tend to just go for it and to hell with crosswalk rights, lol. Though I’ve had a few women do it too. No one is exempt. It makes me more cognizant of pedestrians and cyclists for that reason.

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