Want to cycle safely? Stop focusing on high vis!

Boris bike accident

You want to wear high visibility clothing? That’s fine, by all means, it’s a good idea and I hope you continue doing so. My argument here isn’t against high vis clothing. My argument is: Don’t just rely on high vis clothing.

There is something that far surpasses the power of high vis. Road positioning.

At around 8.40am, a lady in her 30’s was on a cycle hire bike cycling near a lorry. Suddenly, according an eyewitness report, she found herself sandwiched between two wheels as high as her head. Fortunately she managed to make a break for it by jumping over the handlebars.

The incident occurred during daylight hours when the rider should have been visible. However, as the below TfL video demonstrates, there is an enormous area where bikes are completely invisible to lorry drivers.

No manner of high visibility clothing makes a difference in the above scenario. However, taking your time and positioning yourself behind the Heavy Goods Vehicle would be a much safer place to be avoiding all sorts of nasty head injuries and even worse.

Sending out the right message

It’s not just around Heavy Goods Vehicles where road position can have a far bigger impact on safety than high visibility clothing. Take for example a ride I took a couple of days ago to Camden on a Cycle Hire bike.

Along the route I maintained a position away from the kerb. This signalled a number of crucial things to drivers.

The first is the distance that I feel comfortable with someone overtaking me. By giving myself extra space on the left I indicate that they should give me a similar amount of space on the right.

The second is that they shouldn’t overtake me when there isn’t enough room to do so. Along the route there are a number of pedestrian crossings with a small section of pavement in the middle of the road. If a car overtakes me here then they’ll have to sandwich me on the left or worse. However, by maintaining a good road position I indicate that it isn’t safe to overtake me.

The third is that a driver is naturally acquainted with spotting large vehicles in front of them. If I cycle too far to the left I am in the corner of their field of vision rather than closer to the centre.

When I came to a halt at the traffic lights I took a position in the middle of the lane to indicate that a driver will have to wait for me to move, before they can continue forward.

I strongly believe these actions contribute far more to my safety than wearing high visibility clothing.

It is a little too easy as a cyclist to get a false sense of safety by riding next to the kerb. I often find myself doing it but try to remember that this isn’t what cycle safety trainers recommend.

Image of Boris Bike via @biggsy321

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134 Responses to Want to cycle safely? Stop focusing on high vis!

  1. kingofthemountains 16/02/2012 at 9:43 am #

    great post. there is no safety advantage from insipidly riding with the pot holes

  2. Dave 16/02/2012 at 9:58 am #

    I recently watched a lady absentmindedly cycle up the inside of a lorry as it was about to turn left. I shouted and screamed to no avail, and ended up dropping my bike (in the road!) and sprinting up the inside of the lorry and dragging her and bike onto the pavement *just* as the turning lorry was about to connect with her.

    We ended up on the pavement, the lorry turned, drove off, and the woman turned and PUNCHED me full in the face, screaming blue murder/assault and all sorts of hysterical madness. Passers by thought I was a nutter, one man even came over to protect HER from ME, and she had no idea how close she had come to death/being maimed, no matter how much I tried to explain, even pointing to my bike blocking traffic in the road.

    As someone who has ridden motorbikes and cycles in London for a very long time, it is a sight I see all too often, and I have a lot of sympathy for those driving these behemoth vehicles because SO many cyclists are just complete and utter idiots.

    • Andreas 16/02/2012 at 11:06 am #

      Oh dear – that’s depressing! You went out of your way to help someone only to be attacked. Good on you for helping!

    • Big Softy 17/02/2012 at 10:07 am #

      I have to agree with Dave. So many cyclists just don’t have a clue when it comes to taking personal responsibility for their own safety.
      Some riders out there are positively suicidal
      .
      I ride like I’m invisible, because to most drivers, I am, no matter how much hi-vis, reflectives, and lights I have.
      I never assume that drivers have seen me, because usually they haven’t.
      The onus is on me to to ensure I stay safe.

      Most people wouldn’t trust a total stranger with the loan of a tenner, so why trust that same stranger with your life?

      • Dansk 17/02/2012 at 10:19 am #

        +1

        Top advice. Never assume drivers/pedestrians have seen you and ride accordingly.

    • KathyD 17/02/2012 at 10:14 am #

      Dave you’re amazing!! Thanks for doing that.

  3. James Rock 16/02/2012 at 10:23 am #

    @Dave something very similar happened to me when I tried to block someone from going alongside a lorry I had stopped behind. When I tried to explain she shouted at me that I was intimidating her!

    People ask me if I cycle to work so early to avoid traffic and I always so, no, I don’t mind traffic I do it because there are less cyclists on the road.

    I never understand the attraction of getting to the front of traffic at junctions. I prefer to sit behind the first or second car, directly behind taking up a car space so it can see me and then waiting while the wobbling bikers almost get themselves killed by cars pulling away fast, red light jumpers crossing their paths and then pulling away with the cars (one in front and behind) as my safety buffer until it is safe for me to pull across and let the car behind pass me.

    And when you do this car and van drivers appreciate it.

    I try not to be too judgemental as I have the experience of many years car driving but I do wonder if people who have never driven or been trained to ride should be allowed on the streets of London.

  4. Dave Sewell 16/02/2012 at 10:33 am #

    I agree 100% with this post. Road positioning and an understanding of blind spots will save your life in ways hi-viz never will. Riding on teh inside of any vehicle is rather silly but to do so to a HGV is insane.

  5. Kim 16/02/2012 at 10:39 am #

    When are we going to learn the lessons of continued failure of the cycling safety campaigns of the last 30+ years? If we want the roads to be safe, we have to re-think the whole way we do things and learn the lessons from place where cycling is common.

    • Dave Sewell 16/02/2012 at 10:44 am #

      I think the problem stems from the belief that a cycle is above and beyond all road laws. A belief many cyclists seem to hold. We are the first to condemn bad driving and yet we SHOULD be the first to condemn bad cycling!

  6. Dave 16/02/2012 at 10:43 am #

    Hey James

    You’ve pretty much described me at traffic lights, as well as the fact I’ve also had accusations of intimidation when I’ve suggested cyclists don’t travel up the inside at stationary junctions. The interesting thing about being sensible at traffic lights, is you normally end up keeping company with the idiots along the length of the roads, anyway, no matter how much sneaking forward they do at the lights. It’s all the obsessive rushing for the sake of a few extra minutes.

    I think one of big issues/problems with traffic lights is the markings on the roads, with the cycle box positioned at the front of all traffic at lights. They shouldn’t exist. If I was an inexperienced cyclist (plus obviously a physics dummy) why WOULDN’T I feel perfectly allowed to wobble to the front and sit in a box that is clearly marked up and inviting me to do so? Remove the boxes, or even better (and cheaper) change the markings to a red “X no cycles” warning.

    One of my pet hates, as a motorcyclist, is the cretins who wobble their way to the front and position themselves a yard or so in front of me. “Way to go, Muppet! I’m sitting astride a 1 litre sports bike and you’re relying on two thighs. Who do you *really* think is gonna pull away from these lights faster?”

    • James Rock 16/02/2012 at 11:33 am #

      I am bemused by this when I sit in the middle of the box with traffic behind me and then cyclists ride around me and position themselves in the middle of the road junction making it hard for cars turning right to avoid them and then, when the lights go green they totter off and pull across me which can lead to me having to veer into the path of traffic to avoid them.

      If you are so slow on your bike, why not hang back?! Argh.

    • Will 17/02/2012 at 10:14 am #

      Would you be on a litre sports bike in the box clearly marked with a picture of a bicycle? If so, and there is no room a safe distance beside you, then yes I will sit in front of you.

      I will not complain about your disregard for the law, I will set of promptly and I will move out of your way as soon as it is safe to do so. With the epic acceleration of your litre sports bike you should only be held up for a fraction of a second at most – is it really worth getting so het up about?

    • TrekTrev 17/02/2012 at 11:38 am #

      Dave,

      why do you sit in the box that is for bicycles?

      You’re right, you have a 1 litre sports bike between your legs so why do you need the headstart? You realise you’re actually breaking the law sitting in the box that is there specifically to allow cyclists to get a safe headstart from all the revving engines behind them? The reason that cyclists sit in front of you is because they are politely making the point that you shouldn’t be there in the first place.

      I’m bemused that you’re on a cycling post commenting on how you have disregard for cyclists whilst riding your motorbike!

    • VC 17/02/2012 at 2:32 pm #

      Dave, Of course to you the important thing on the road is speed. Speed Speed speed. That rules your world doesn’t it. Have you ever considered that the reason those boxes with a BICYCLE drawn on them are for the SAFETY of cyclists.

      It allows cyclists to get in front of vehicles and pull away from the junction SAFELY. Avoiding being crushed by others.

      As a motor-cyclists you are NOT allowed in those boxes.

      The danger comes for cyclists when entering the box due to large lorries that haven’t seen them and the lights being about to change. Cyclists must take care when entering the boxes. But, you should NOT be entering them.

  7. John Rawlins 16/02/2012 at 10:49 am #

    Bang on. If you ride by the curb you are inviting every car and lorry to intimately share the lane with you. If you ride on the left side of a bus or HGV then you are just tired of life.

    BTW – those of you who stopped others from killing themselves are heroes and deserve respect from everyone.

    • Dave Sewell 16/02/2012 at 10:52 am #

      Amen to that!

  8. Dave Sewell 16/02/2012 at 10:51 am #

    What is also very interesting is reading the eye witness report everyone seems by default, to blame the HGV driver.

    • Andreas 16/02/2012 at 11:14 am #

      I believe this stems from a don’t blame the victim approach. Both driver and cyclist have a role to play in staying safe – unfortunately, articles such as this one will only reach those cyclists that are likely highly aware of the dangers (As evidenced by the comments) and not those who will continue to take risks. As such we should be looking to put safety features in place to protect those that are unaware of the importance of things such as road position.

      • Dave Sewell 16/02/2012 at 11:16 am #

        Well cycle training is offered in many schools and I would like to see it made compulsory. That is not because I am an instructor but because it is easier to mould the mind of a child than it is an Adult.

      • Kathryn 17/02/2012 at 10:20 am #

        People DO still blame the victim though! You only have to look at the conviction of Gavin Hill, the bus driver who deliberately drove into a cyclist after some altercation. Commentators across the net are blaming the cyclist for ‘winding up’ the driver by positioning himself centrally in the traffic lane. Despite the fact that the bus driver could have easily killed him.

        • Dave Sewell 17/02/2012 at 10:30 am #

          The motoring community will take a default position that the cyclist is to blame in the same way the cycling community will, by default blame the driver. Evidence of this can be seen in the eye witness acount referenced above. No one commented on the foolish actions of the cyclist.

        • Mark S 17/02/2012 at 10:39 am #

          @Dave – Well no one seems to have commented on the actions of the bus driver that caused the cyclist to complain. The story states that the cyclist was complaining about the driver coming too close to him on a roundabout, it’s not like the cyclists *just* decided to have a pop at the driver for no reason. As I said a little respect from all parties wouldn’t go a miss and those in cars need to understand they have an increased responsibility with the potential damage they can cause.

  9. Anna 16/02/2012 at 11:01 am #

    Firstly, thanks Andreas for this article! It really is one of the best and most common sense advice in these times of cycle-change! I’ve always felt that us cyclists are too easy in blaming the motorists for 100% of accidents. I have cycled my whole life, growing up in Berlin and never having done my drivers licence, I have been completely unaware of lorry blindspots for example, until moving to the UK 10 years ago.
    Ever since commuting to work by bike became a daily activity (4 yrs now) I have learnt so so much about road safety, but reading this article I find myself surprised that there’s still so much more that I need to be made aware of!
    I always make sure to cycle as close to the curb as possible because for some reason I thought that would be safest for me. It now makes complete sense to me why cars squeeze past me in tight spaces … I give them the wrong idea about me being inferior to them.
    So thanks Andreas!

    Secondly @Dave and James – having said all this, I know that I am a really good cyclist, because when I look at some of the girls on the road (i’m sorry to generalise, but it’s mostly very stylish ladies on dutch-style bikes!) I fear for their lives and “pray” for them to be safe.
    On their behalf – THANKS FOR SAVING THEIR OBLIVIOUS LIVES! Please don’t stop trying!!

    • Andreas 16/02/2012 at 11:24 am #

      Hi Anna – I was exactly the same and as I mentioned in the article I still catch myself hugging the kerb expecting I’m safer there – it feels counter intuitive to move outwards but it definitely make you safer and you’ll immediately notice the change in the way drivers will treat you. Some will inevitably be annoyed and beep you to move to the left but you have to stick to your path to make things safer for you and the driver.

      • PeterK 17/02/2012 at 9:42 pm #

        just remember when they beep they are just telling you they are there. I turn around and smile at them “sorry I don’t think I know you…?” and maintain my position

    • James Rock 16/02/2012 at 11:36 am #

      @Anna

      “when I look at some of the girls on the road (i’m sorry to generalise, but it’s mostly very stylish ladies on dutch-style bikes!) I fear for their lives and “pray” for them to be safe.”

      I am glad to hear a girl say that, I always getting accused stereotyping for saying that! If however I remonstrate with them or as politely as possible point out they are breaking the law or risking their life I get accused of harassment!

      People at work are always amused by me turning up every morning in my cycling gear muttering “I really REALLY hate cyclists!”

      :D

      • Kathryn 17/02/2012 at 10:32 am #

        What REALLY annoys me is the SHOES some people think it’s ok to cycle in. Teeny weeny slip-on pumps. Always the girls again. So dangerous.

        • Anna 17/02/2012 at 10:40 am #

          Errr, I don’t agree! In summer all I cycle in are “Teeny weeny slip-on pumps” and from long-term experience I can say they are NOT dangerous (to me). So please explain why it REALLY annoys YOU!

    • Big Softy 17/02/2012 at 11:57 pm #

      Anna, I’m sure I’ve seen you pootling around SE1 in your teeny slip on pumps. Very chic.

  10. Dave 16/02/2012 at 11:33 am #

    Hey Anna – as much as I’ve had women accuse me of being intimidating, I’ve also had men cyclists actually BE intimidating when I’ve said something to them, or – a common one – not moved over to allow them to squeeze down the side of a bus/lorry at the lights.

    Also, the worst accidents I’ve seen involving cyclists were all men proudly blasting through red lights and being taken out by cross traffic, and in one case a poor motorcyclist in cross traffic on a green light, who ended up wrapped around railings trying to avoid a male cyclist running the red light. The cyclist very quickly sped away unharmed.

    To generalise: bad men cyclists seem to want to show the world they own the road; bad women cyclists seem oblivious there’s even anyone else on the road! :)

    • James Rock 16/02/2012 at 11:37 am #

      “To generalise: bad men cyclists seem to want to show the world they own the road; bad women cyclists seem oblivious there’s even anyone else on the road!”

      A sweeping statement that is 99.9% accurate!

  11. Anna 16/02/2012 at 11:43 am #

    All true all true! If only THEY knew ;-)

    I find it a bit sad that it’s often so never-wrecking to cycle in London! I have been reduced to tears where a lorry and convertible tried to squeeze past me on one way roads on two separate occasions; and after I let them pass by waiting on the side, they shouted “b*tch” and “f*cking stupid cow” at me, for no apparent reason other than them being ginourmous arseholes with peas as brains!
    But that’s a whole different subject…

    Re high viz I just wanted to add, I find the only spot to have a reflective area should be the gloves or arm cuffs for indicating…

  12. John Rawlins 16/02/2012 at 11:53 am #

    There are several counter intuitive aspects to safely cycling on urban roads.

    It may feel safe to hug the curb – but it’s actually dangerous.

    You may feel threatened because a driver is beeping or verbally abusing you because you are in his way – but you are actually safe because he has obviously seen you and will not therefore accidentally collide with you.

    You may feel that drivers who overtake you and then accelerate noisily away are expressing anger when they are just accelerating in their normal way.

    Psychologically, it may help to remember that roads are common land – and that you have the same rights as everybody else (except on motorways).

  13. Neil Illing 16/02/2012 at 11:59 am #

    Spot on! Road positioning is so much more important than looking like a hi-viz banana!

    • James Rock 16/02/2012 at 12:17 pm #

      I’m afraid I take both approaches but then I cycle to and from work in the dark and I know that as a motorist I notice cyclists much sooner if they are in high viz which allows me to moderate my speed in a timely manner. Cyclists in high vis on country lanes have a much higher chance of being seen.

      I shall continue to cycle dressed as a banana or, on occasion, an orange.

  14. Neil Illing 16/02/2012 at 1:45 pm #

    Some good advice on British Cycling’s Effective Traffic Riding articles…

    http://www.britishcycling.org.uk/cycletraining/article/trav20111121-Effective-Traffic-Riding-pt-1-0

  15. John Somers 16/02/2012 at 2:25 pm #

    Mmmm….while I do agree that road positioning is one of the keys to survival when cycling on the UK’s roads but this will do little to keep you alive if you either blend in to the background due to the urban camouflage you are wearing or that the motorist hurtling up behind you cannot see you!

    Sorry to be so blunt but the amount of times I have seen a cyclist come in to view and disappear again moments later (regardless of position) due to the lack of either contrasting or hi-viz clothing is quite astonishing – especially at dawn and dusk when the change in the light levels can be quite subtle yet quite dramatic!!

    This is from a cyclist that last year alone cycled just shy of 14,000 miles commuting to and from work etc and as a motorist – remember what I said at first, “road positioning is one of the keys to survival ” there are several more that are required!

  16. Martin 16/02/2012 at 3:09 pm #

    I have just today finished a cycle training course that teaches exactly the principals that Andreas mentions in this article. No matter how good a cyclist you think you are I bet you will learn a ton of stuff from doing one of these courses.
    It only cost me £8 for four hours of one to one training plus you also get to go on a day long cycle maintenance course as part of the deal.
    Andreas have you ever done one of these courses? Do you think it would be a good idea to do a feature about them on your blog? Here is the link for the one I did:- http://www.cycletraining.co.uk/

  17. Mixk40 16/02/2012 at 4:31 pm #

    OK my view ? High Viz is all about proability ie if they can see me then they (other road users) are less likely to knock me off ? If they can not see me then they will knock me off !

    Saying that both of my accidents were while I was wearing high Viz (one saw me and one did not !) Totaly agree that road position (how ever hard it is to maintain / keep) is “better ” but both have a role to play in keeping me safe on those mean streets.

    Why do so many cyclist insisit on wearing dark clothes ? (I do 3 or 4 Wiggle sportives a year and at least 50% are wearing black ) and YES I do wear Black when I go MTB !

    and if you are going to say it is to do with getting dirty then fit mudguards !

    • Mark S 16/02/2012 at 5:02 pm #

      Ah but on a sportive it’s different to riding on a busy city commute. They are generally on country roads, held during the day and (at least with the longer distances) completed by more experienced riders. Also you’ll normally rind riders in groups which make them more visible to drivers.

      FWIW when I did the Magnificat 2 yrs ago the lovely official jersey was a lovely black/white number.

  18. Mark S 16/02/2012 at 4:59 pm #

    Couldn’t agree more with the sentiment. I do wear a high-vis jacket (then cover my back with a rucksack….) and only really wear it on the off chance that it *may* help a driver spot me but I’m under no illusion that wearing it will make me visibie to ALL road users. Ultimately that’s down to me riding sensibly/defensively and assuming no one has seen me!

    However some riders do ride around in a world of their own, this guy http://youtu.be/9g29obmUp_o being a prime example and I saw an even worse one this morning IMHO (video will be up later, definitely one for Silly (possibily suicidal) Cyclists!!) of a rider coming off Southwark Bridge who decided to overtake a HGV that was clearly signalling to turn right from the left lane. I’d waited behind and watched as the lemming just went flying up the side and the lights went amber then green….he thankfully made it out the other side and carried on up Queen Street, shortly followed by me AFTER the HGV completed it’s turn. I’m not sure if me yelling “Are you trying to get yourself killed!” as I rode past made him think about what he’d just done.

  19. Tom 16/02/2012 at 9:29 pm #

    Excellent article, couldn’t agree more. The next most important thing has to be paying attention whilst cycling. Just this evening I cycled past a guy (fixie, moustache, etc) on Hackney Road who was twittering one handed whilst cycling. He then passed me at the Cambridge Heath Road traffic lights when he past me still fiddling with his phone whilst I waited at he reds..

    • Dave Sewell 16/02/2012 at 9:33 pm #

      Compare and contrast the comments made here about poor cycling with those on the “Should cyclists be able to run red lights” post. The majority of people posting there seem to think that cyclists are the best of all road users!!

      • Anna 16/02/2012 at 9:36 pm #

        @Dave S.
        we definitely do not think that! There’s a lot of arsehole cyclists out there, but it’s the minority. That’s not to say that they don’t make me f*ckin angry!!

        • Dave Sewell 16/02/2012 at 9:40 pm #

          What makes me angry is the fact that although cyclists have more rights than any other road user some still want more. I ride 100/200 miles a week and find no need to ever want additional rights.

  20. paul 16/02/2012 at 9:53 pm #

    This is a poor example of road safety. In the mirror, 90% of the view is taken up by the lorry itself. He wouldn’t be able to see another lorry next to him, let alone a bicycle.

  21. Mark S 16/02/2012 at 9:55 pm #

    @Dave S – WTF? At what point has anyone suggested or where the hell are you getting the idea about cyclists having more rights then other road users? The fact that a small minority of car drivers seem to think it’s OK to treat me like something they’ve just scrapped off their shoe is OK is it? I don’t think it’s about cyclists wanting more rights it about us wanting just a basic level of respect.

    The fact of the matter is that the entire road network in this country is designed to expedite the travel of those with combustion engines and a big metal cage around them. Cycle provisions are few and far between and usually of substandard quality, often installed as an afterthought to the planner can put a tick in that “cycle friendly” box on the design specs.

    Combine this with a legal system that treats those who maim and kill in their cars as if they’ve stolen something from the local sweet shop and it’s understandable why some people are demanding a bit more respect.

    So what’s our great governments answer to this? Training and a few recommendations on what to wear to ensure you can be seen and minimize the damage if and when you do get hit. Don’t worry about trying to treat the poor standards of driving that cause the accidents, no that would be political suicide I mean what’s a few dead people when your trying to win votes?

    • Dave Sewell 17/02/2012 at 1:14 pm #

      Cyclists do have more rights than all other road users already. They have freedom of the highway – so they need no license, no MOT, no insurance and no VED. That is a pretty good list of rights to be on the road already.

  22. Marcus 17/02/2012 at 12:37 am #

    Another thing your lane position can help with is early warning for drivers. If you position yourself far out in the lane, drivers can see from very far back that they will have to change lanes to pass you and plan accordingly. If you position yourself close to the edge, from far back, they may think they have enough room to pass but then find out they don’t as they get closer. This gives them less time to switch lanes and traffic may have built up next to them.

    Here’s a pretty neat animation of lane control (hold upside down and into a mirror to translate from American to English driving :)

    http://commuteorlando.com/wordpress/animations/lane-control/

    Excellent post and very enlightening video!

  23. Hari 17/02/2012 at 1:44 am #

    good advice – seasoned commuters out there have come to learn most of this, either through perceptive observation or the hard way

    some more pointers to add:

    -The faster you go, the more you should move into the center of the lane, the opposite is also true:
    If you are going 20-25+ mph, get in the center of the lane, you are not slowing down traffic significantly, and at these speeds, if someone passes too closely and pushes you onto the curb it could be fatal, best prevent that risk by asserting your presence.
    If you are going 5-10mph, as a courtesy don’t block the whole lane, you will aggravate drivers and risk getting yelled at or even assaulted (cagers have their fair share of deficiencies)

    -In potholed, icy, or otherwaise hazardous pavements, get in the center of the lane so you have enough maneuvering space on both sides

    -When approaching an intersection, if a car looks like it’s going to cut you off/turn into your path of travel, NEVER assume they will yield, in these situations, best to slow down and stop, 9 times out of 10 they don’t see you.

    -Invest in mirrors, use your peripherals, and always signal

  24. Adam 17/02/2012 at 10:29 am #

    I have found that deliberately appearing a little wobbly on the bike makes drivers give me the most room ;-)

    • John Rawlins 17/02/2012 at 10:38 am #

      Excellent advice!

  25. Ray Whitehouse 17/02/2012 at 10:37 am #

    Also remember drivers of extra large lorries with high up cabs cannot necessarily see you if you are just in front of them. If in front of a large HGV make sure there is space between your back wheel and them.

    Its also not just lorries. Cars are just as bad though not quite so dangerous. I pulled up alongside a car with no indicators at a zebra crossing on a left turn junction. We both moved off, he went left and I had to go left with him.

    Either be in front or just behind the first car in a queue.

  26. Claire 17/02/2012 at 10:45 am #

    Completely agree with these posts – as a cyclist you are a tiny speck on the retina of a lorry or car – if it’s a skip-lorry you’re an itchy speck and he will try and rub you out of the way, but that’s another post..

    High viz, lights, defensive positioning are all essential to be safe, and so is signaling your intentions.

    When I did my motorcycle triaining 4 years ago, we were taught to anticipate – look well ahead and compute what might be happening – pedestrians, traffic, animals, road surface, everything is an influence on your safety and you have to be able to be take evasive action if required.

    It was the best advice I’ve ever been given and I apply it whether I’m on foot, on a bike or in my car.

    As a woman cyclist, I’m embarrassed by the number of female cyclists who are utterly oblivious to anything on the road – it is so, so dangerous.

  27. london2wheeler 17/02/2012 at 10:51 am #

    I can understand your concern and I applause you for that but I can also understand why the lady punched you. but if it was me I will just shout as loud as I can but i will not run up to her and pull her. its just too dangerous for both of you, it could have gone totaly wrong and you could have pulled her the other way and ahe ends up under the lorry. that was brave of you but i suggest you not to do it again or you might end up being the cause of accident.

    safe cycling!!

  28. Dave Sewell 17/02/2012 at 10:51 am #

    @Mark S. I am not disputing that, simply pointing out that based on available evidence the two camps will always side with themselves by default.

  29. Martin T 17/02/2012 at 11:24 am #

    Great article.
    Hi-vis is for bollards. If you want to be treated like an obstacle to be steered around, then dress like road furniture. Car advocates like to emphasise that cyclists should ‘be visible’ because it takes away from the proper message of ‘All road users should pay enough attention to see all other road users’. When did you hear a campaign that said ‘paint your car bright colours so that other drivers don’t hit you’?

    Of course there’s something to be said for brighter clothing but cyclists who focus on effective road use – lane position, maintaining total awareness, and readiness for the worst-case scenario – will fare much better than those who fall for the motorists’ line that it is OUR responsibility to stop THEM from hitting us.

  30. Nicolas Fanget (@nfanget) 17/02/2012 at 11:46 am #

    Clearly taking the lane is essential practice to survive in London, however we can’t expect slow or not confident riders to do so (say the young and elderly, disabled…), so some degree of separation will still be essential if we want cycling to progress beyond the current hard core.

    And even taking the lane doesn’t always work, I have had lorries and buses sitting on my rear mud guard, with no space for me should I have to brake or should I fall. Any error, mistake or mishap in these conditions would have resulted in instant death or severe disability for me.

    In on the most egregious examples I’ve had a van swerve AT me, I had taken the lane because of roadworks and debris in the bus lane, and I saw there was a red light and pedestrian island just 100 yards ahead. Once I cleared the obstruction the driver behind me swerved at me, missing me by inches and roaring his engine. He then had to stand on the brakes to avoid crashing into the cars stopped at the light. I stopped and confronted him, and I’m afraid that between his road rage and my rush of adrenaline few kind words were said. This is exactly the kind of incidents that stop my wife from cycling, let alone my kid. It needs to happen only once for something terrible to occur, and unfortunately they are frighteningly frequent on my commute.

    • Dave Sewell 17/02/2012 at 1:17 pm #

      Yes they have the right to be there but they also have the responsibility to ensure their safety to the bet of their ability. This may mean not riding on those roads. I would go so far as to say that if a cyclist is not comfortable riding on a busy road they should not be on it.

      • Nicolas Fanget (@nfanget) 17/02/2012 at 1:48 pm #

        I have no choice but ride on that road to get to/from work, or make huge detours, or not cycle at all. Note that there was heavy traffic, I was not holding up anyone, yet the idiot still thought it worth to swerve at me with all the consequences it could have had. In fact in London 90% of the time during rush hour I can keep up with or go faster than motor traffic, yet they sill swerve at me, cut me off, ride on my mud guard or squeeze me out of ASLs while I’m already in it (black cabs seems to love that). There is no excuse whatsoever for drivers to behave that way.

  31. David Cohen 17/02/2012 at 12:39 pm #

    Fantastic post (one of the best) with some very interesting and worthwhile comments.

    My 2p worth:

    Somehow, we do seem to have arrived, for want of a better description, in this “safe cycling” world where every other reference to cyling seems to use the word “safe”. The impact of all of this looks like it’s certainly making many people take the default view that cycling in UK towns and cities is actually inherently unsafe. I run a bicycle users group blog at work, and in a recent survey, one of our readers even commented that this is too much coverage of the safety and related negative aspects of cycling. My response to this is that I’m reflecting what’s out there.

    Although there are many aspects of “looking after yourself” on a bike, I feel that there is too much over statement of hi-viz, helemets etc. being the things that keep you safe.

    What I’m about to say is in no way excusing behaviour, but the mind is trained to look for paterns. The (car) motorist is looking for something that’s wide and horizontal, not something that’s vertical and thin. So the points raised in comments about visual communication with vehicular trafiic is a major part of riding on the road.

    • Adam 17/02/2012 at 12:45 pm #

      Given that motorists see what they are accustomed to see, why does no-one make a hi-vis top with a great big warning triangle printed on the back?

      I wonder if motorists would be more likely to see that. :-)

      • Big Softy 17/02/2012 at 11:08 pm #

        I always wondered why nobody makes a jacket made completely from of hi-vis,

  32. Phil 17/02/2012 at 1:38 pm #

    Another good reason to stay out of the gutter- it’s full of debris and broken junk which has come off other vehicles, making punctures much more likely. Take a decent visible position in the lane and maintain it; if drivers want to pass, they must indicate and overtake safely as they should for any road user. As for the short-tempered morons, ignore the revving and shouting, it’s their lives they are shortening with self-induced stress and hypertension. I will continue to wear high-vis, because going without on my work commute I would be nearly invisible to sleepy-eyed drivers whose only concern is getting that metal box to and from work as quickly as possible. In fact, over the winter I added a Buff with a vertical Scotchlite stripe as a balaclava and face mask, which seems to grab motorists’ attention a few seconds earlier- well, headlights dip from full beam earlier at least.

  33. Adam 17/02/2012 at 1:52 pm #

    Or….

    Affixing a mirror to your back. They’ll stop REALLY quickly if they think they are going to crash into themselves ;-)

  34. Maria Grist 17/02/2012 at 6:26 pm #

    It’s a shame car drivers do not realise why you have to take the middle position of the road, or the car door width rule, in fact I’ve had some cyclists shout at me to get in because I’m cycling a car door width away from parked cars. I find cars will often try and squeeze unsafely into any space you allow them. I’ve even been over taken whilst over taking a bus myself and then the car driver had the cheek to beep me! Also had a few near misses by cyclist undertaking me at junctions, which is equally dangerous. You won’t be popular by holding the road and cycling defensively, but you may just stay alive.

  35. David 17/02/2012 at 6:45 pm #

    RE: @Maria

    Maria… This is related to the aspect of road positioning that pretty much originally stems from (although there may be earlier instances) John Franklin’s “Cyclecraft”, that of ‘taking the lane’, which you quite rightly point out is what keeps you safe in certain circumstances. But, how many other people know about this type of vehicular cycling … other cyclists, motorcyclists, drivers of motorised vehicles, police, judges… the answer is pretty well none of them or very few. This is one of the reasons for ‘squeezing past’ – they just don’t know why you are positioning yourself in the way you do. Which leads onto, what I have termed, the unwritten rules of drivers and cyclists:

    - rule #1 “I must always overtake a cyclist as soon as I can”, the corollary being;
    - rule #2, “I must never be held up by a cyclist”

    David

    • John Rawlins 17/02/2012 at 6:59 pm #

      I agree entirely. This is why a simple change to the Highway Code would make life much easier for cyclists. The code should be amended to read that: on urban roads or roads with lanes less four metres wide, the cyclist may choose to cycle in the middle of the lane.

      Although we currently enjoy this right it needs to be explicitly added to the code. Drivers, policemen, cyclists, and magistrates will then quickly learn.

  36. Andrew Thrift 17/02/2012 at 7:03 pm #

    Being a cyclist old enough to remember lorries that didn’t even have the advantages of the modern wing mirrors I would never go up the nearside of one. However a part of me wonders if this is not another example (like riding in black/without lights etc) of natural selection?

    I feel sorry for the lorry drivers, the vast majority of whom are just trying to do a job and get home safely. Maybe some sort of radar on their nearside to warn them that there are idiots about??

    • Phil Russell 21/02/2012 at 1:35 pm #

      Radar my eye, Andrew…..bus-drivers use a big mirror to clearly see passengers getting on and off at the kerb-side, and we don’t hear of any buses trashing cyclists by turning left across them. I don’t drive lorries, but I have driven fairly large vans (like Renault Traffcs) safely, by USING THE BIG WING-MIRROR before turning left. This constant excuse of lorry-drivers’”blind-spots” is a load of twaddle, isn’t it?
      P.R.

      • dave 23/02/2012 at 8:41 am #

        if you really believe this !! you should not be allowed out of sight of your nanny, you will certainly not live long. get real & take heed of all the advice out there, your attitude is not helping cyclists who do have a brain.

  37. Daveoo 17/02/2012 at 7:09 pm #

    I’ve lost count of the number of times ive stopped someone overtaking by just looking over my shoulder. Most of the time I don’t even have to see the car; just a quick flick and they back off. My most extreme case was holding off an articulated John Lewis lorry who approached and was about to pass as we reached a junction where I would have been forced onto the pavement. That required a single stern finger held up as well, at which point he backed off and I moved fully into the primary position up. A truly lovely feeling.

    • David 17/02/2012 at 7:24 pm #

      Great point. It’s all about communication. It’s a habit, like anything else, you just get use to doing – frequently looking over your shoulder, just like a driver looking in their mirrors. However, next time you are out on the bike, just take a look at other cyclists and see how many are practising this manoeuvre… my guess would be far fewer than is good for them and other road users.

      • London2wheeler 17/02/2012 at 8:51 pm #

        I might be a prejudice here but from what i have notice. those who are wearing proper cycling clothes and cycling gears are the ones who are more sensible riding bikes and being a safer cyclist. what i mean by this is that they are aware of their surroundings and they tend to look on their shoulders as often as they can just to make sure that they are safe. they also know when another cyclist is behind them. they do hand signals and making sure other road users know what they want to do.

        but for those who are not wearing proper cycling clothes for example a cyclist wearing his or her casual clothes and not wearing helmet. a school kid on his uniform riding a BMX or just any random cyclist on their casual clothing. they dont behave like a proper cyclist. they dont do hand signals, they swerve with out care whos behind them. most if not all go through red lights, jumping in and out the road and pavement.

        I am sure this is not the case and its not always like that but this is just my observation.

        • PeterK 17/02/2012 at 9:34 pm #

          There’s a lot of Plonkers out there with “all the gear on” cycling in the gutter and not looking behind them when they pull out.
          They seem to think that spending the money on gear is what’s required rather than sense on the road.
          Wearing a magic hat might give marginal protection to your head, but looking behind and being in a sensible position in the first place will keep you safe. Casual clothing is fine for cycling in.

        • Noel 20/02/2012 at 1:37 pm #

          Sorry have to disagree, well in my area at least of NW London going down into Hyde park/Victoria, I see plenty of people in high viz, helmets, dim non existent lights, shoot past me as I wait my turn at the lights, or ride in the gutters, no signalling, especially as they just edge in front of you at the lights though you’ve been there for an age already.

          Nothing against High viz as such but I have yet to see a use for in London (apart from maybe the wrists? for indicating) if you have strong road positioning and Good lights, Not UFO lights or I needed to change my battery 2 years ago lights.

  38. philcycle 17/02/2012 at 8:52 pm #

    Safe Cycling/Bikeability (or what ever you care to call the modern cycle training) has you riding exactly as the article describes. See and be seen is not all about hi-vis, but relies primarily on road position and communication. That said, riding in black at night is really not sensible!!

  39. Patrick 17/02/2012 at 9:44 pm #

    Did anyone else spot the elephant in the room? why are such large vehicles (lorries) with such large blind spots allowed on the roads in the first place?

    • GL 20/02/2012 at 11:51 am #

      Before I get accused of being a ‘driver’ or a troll for my next comment I would like to clarify that I cycle commute 9 mies each way every day and drive perhaps once a fortnight.

      That sorted, I couldn’t disagree with Patrick’s comment more. The elephant in the room is cyclists’ hypocracy. Why should all LGVs be fitted with more mirrors than the Palace of Versailles just to prevent idiot (I repeat IDIOT) cyclists from sitting on the inside of them and thereby choosing (I repeat CHOOSING) to put their life in danger. Why can’t cyclists just WAIT THEIR TURN in the safest position going, behind. We expect vehicles to be patient and wait behind us until it is safe to overtake. So why shouldn’t we practice what we preach and wait behind them, until it is safe. The most dangerous overtaking i have seen on the roads (in central london) is by cyclists, not vehicles (except buses who seem to get points for each cyclist they ‘squash against the kerb!).

      What is missing form the roads is not mirrors and segregated cycle lanes it is mutual respect.

      Andrew Thrift hits the nail squarely on the head with his comment.

      • zwirbeltier 23/02/2012 at 7:06 am #

        I couldn’t disagree more. The thing that’s dangerous is not the cyclist beside the lorry but the lorry running over him/her. Sure, cyclists know that lorries are build in such a way so they should care for their lifes. It’s still very valid to point out that it’s not a good idea to allow vehicles on the road that are several tons heavy and built in a way that the driver is unable to see where he/she’s driving.

        Let’s start adapting traffic to the people instead of adapting people to the traffic.

        • GL 23/02/2012 at 9:56 am #

          Zwirbeltier, you are wrong. The lorry is perfectly safe unitl the cyclist chooses to sit alongside it.

          Why should businesses (in already hard times) be forced to spend a fortune adapting lorries when cyclist could remove the whole problem by altering their dangerous cyclng (for free).

          Please remember business is like a food chain. We may all works in offices but I guarantee that we start squeezing haulage firms to the point where the business in unviable,the whole economy will suffer and therefore we will all suffer.

        • Dave Sewell 23/02/2012 at 11:24 am #

          zwirbeltier – If you truly believe what you have written in the first sentence then I feel sorry for you.

          Lets look at this in terms of natural selection for a moment. The assertive cyclist who holds the land and positions himself correctly is like a caveman who hunts in groups and with spears. The cyclist who rides up the inside of a HGV is the caveman who ties to pat a sabre-tooth tiger!!!

    • Nick 02/03/2012 at 3:38 am #

      I guess it’s down to pure economics, Patrick. Articulation means big blind spots as soon as the front part isn’t in line with the back part, but the cost of substituting one artic for two or more rigid lorries would be prohibitive to consumers reluctant to embrace the reality of even small increases in retail prices as a result of increased transport costs.

  40. Magnatom 19/02/2012 at 9:51 pm #

    Very true. Mind you, you also can’t depend on road position. In my HGV incident (http://youtu.be/0fqACT1jNV0) I had Hi vis on, two bright lights up front, a clear view between myself and the HGV driver, and a good strong road position.

    He still didn’t see me.

    However, road position certainly is the greatest contributor to cyclist safety, so long as you don’t ignore your Spidey senses….

  41. Kittygirl 20/02/2012 at 12:55 am #

    I totally disagree with the recommendation of placing yourself as a cyclist smack bang in the middle of the lane, rather than to the left.
    This is guaranteed to “p#ss off other motorists more than just about any other type of cyclist behaviour (and I regularly cycle to work as well as drive).
    Driver frustration then turns into road rage and greater likliehood of them them taking risky and or retaliatory action, as well as building a grudge towards ALL cyclists.
    Yes I will move towards the lane centre when approaching an intersection or narrowing of the road, but I feel much safer letting all the faster and heavier traffic move past me, as I know just how frustrating it is as a driver to be constantly held up by inconsiderate cyclists.
    As a motorcycle rider as well, I always take my rider training with me – defensive riding and heightened awareness of surroundings will get you there in one piece much more than stubbonly insisting on your right of way if you’re slower or can’t be seen. A bit of courtesy and sensible behaviour goes a long way folks!

    • Dave Sewell 20/02/2012 at 9:58 am #

      As an instructor I teach riding a meter from the curb or white line as the default position. I will only teach taking primary when a vehicle could endanger you through overtaking – the brow of a hill, a blind bend, a pinch point and most importantly at traffic lights. Once out of the potential danger zone cyclists should move back to secondary position. If a driver cannot stand to be slowed down for the few seconds these actions usually take I would question his/her allowance to be on the road. That said I would fell the same way about a cyclist who holds primary at all times.

      • John Rawlins 20/02/2012 at 10:12 am #

        Your advice seems utterly reasonable. But I wonder what distance do you recommend that cyclists maintain from cars parked on the roadside?

        • Dave Sewell 20/02/2012 at 10:16 am #

          A minimum of a meter. This may well entail taking primary.

        • John Rawlins 22/02/2012 at 8:01 am #

          This interesting video suggests that the minimum distance from a parked car should be rather more than a metre:

          http://youtu.be/1TQ7aID1jHs

        • Dave Sewell 22/02/2012 at 9:06 am #

          John – I did say a minimum of a meter. Unfortunately on many roads it is not possible to ride at an optimal distance from a parked car.

        • John Rawlins 22/02/2012 at 9:19 am #

          Yes, I agree it’s not always possible to adopt an optimal position. I find that many motorists fail to understand why cyclists aren’t riding a few inches away from the wing mirrors – and even more worrying is the fact that many cyclists do feel pressured into riding too close to parked cars.

        • Dave Sewell 22/02/2012 at 9:26 am #

          Pressured – That is the key word. Riding safely on busy roads takes as much confidence as it does correct technique. Some cyclists will mutate confidence into arrogance and some drivers will see it is aggression. The only way I can see this ever beginning to change is through public awareness campaigns and tougher penalties for both parties.

        • John Rawlins 22/02/2012 at 10:57 am #

          Amen to that Dave!

    • Anna 23/02/2012 at 11:34 am #

      I think you have a great point there, especially as you ride AND drive! I don’t think that Andreas suggested cycling “smack bang in the middle” though. More to encourage people like me, for example, who would always ride in the curb and make themselves more vulnerable to speedy overtaking cars.

  42. John Pitts 20/02/2012 at 5:18 am #

    I agree 100% with the advice given in the article. I commute by bike every day, and I find that the best way to prevent close passes and SMIDSYs is to ride out from the edge of the road (not the middle of the lane Kittygirl), and claim the lane at choke points.

    I do wear a hi-viz vest at night and in poor light, but no way is it a substitute for good “vehicular cycling” practice.

  43. Andrew 20/02/2012 at 9:33 am #

    Agree with you about road position some times you have to just be confident and just take up the correct road position its safer for everybody. Good rule of thumb is just stay away from trucks they cant see you half the time. Eye contact and good clear signals make a big difference too. Plus the safest bike to cycle is the Dutch style because of the riding position you are heads up eyes up you see more and see it earlier. Sitting in balance makes taking your hands off the bars to make signals easier.but also more visible to drivers. Plus it is so enjoyable to tootle around

  44. Martin T 20/02/2012 at 10:14 am #

    Dave Sewell, I don’t think anyone is advocating holding the primary position at all times. Only that, since lanes are designed as one-dimensional flows of vehicles, it is up to the road user in front to decide when they may safely and courteously facilitate vehicles behind them, such as by moving further to the nearside.

    This may, in effect, be what you are saying (“only ..when a vehicle could endanger you through overtaking”) but we should recognise that the need to hold the primary position may apply over significant distances on roads in which the lane itself cannot safely accommodate a cyclist and a wider vehicle side by side.

    It’s the cyclist’s call. That’s why it’s called the *primary* position.

    • Dave Sewell 21/02/2012 at 1:12 pm #

      Martin, we are in agreement. “Only …when a vehicle could endanger you through overtaking” implies no distance or time period. I do however see many cyclists (especially road cyclists) holding primary for no reason whatsoever :(

  45. Anna 20/02/2012 at 11:57 am #

    Co-existing with cyclists – 10 rules for drivers. Great article from the US: http://www.edmunds.com/car-safety/coexisting-with-bicyclists-10-rules-for-drivers.html

  46. James Rock 21/02/2012 at 9:25 am #

    I have found the comments on here heartening and useful but I just wish they were representative of cyclists in London. As I crossed into Fleet St today I held the middle of the lane behind a bus with a bus behind me. This protects me, keeps me visible and then when the first bus pulls in to the bus stop I am in a perfect position to overtake.

    What actually happens every morning is bikes fly past on my left, totally fail to register the bus is about to pull into the bus stop forcing the bus driver to stop in the middle of the road (making it harder for traffic including me to overtake) and then they cycle through the people getting off the bus!

    I don’t want a bell on my bike I want a tazer and I don’t think it’s a cycling proficiency test that’s required, a simple IQ test would keep these idiots off the road! :)

    • GL 21/02/2012 at 12:39 pm #

      James, I couldnt agree more. The stupidity of some cyclists amazes me. Do they have a deathwish? Why would anyone go up the inside of a large vehicle, stopped or not?!!

  47. James Rock 21/02/2012 at 1:55 pm #

    OT – I pulled up in a lane next to an HGV today and made eye contact ahead of working out how I would pull off. He nodded and then leaned out of the window and asked why I wasn’t using the segregated cycle path. I said “too many cyclists” at which point he almost fell out of his cab laughing.

  48. Phil Russell 21/02/2012 at 3:30 pm #

    [[[[[[[[[[ Well, we can't do much about the "blind-spots" of A FEW lorry-drivers (namely the missing bit of brain), and the failure of MANY truck-designers to attach one good mirror showing what's down the left side of the lorry (no, not the "multiple mirrors of the Palace of Versailles", G.L.....), and I rarely don the hi-vis screaming yellow Altura jacket. But when I do, (like in the rain) there's one citizen who does tend to spot me jacket, and that's the walker about to step into the measly little bit of road left for cyclists-----i.e. the gutter.
    Of course, there ain't much we bikers can do (hi-viz or not) about suicidal pedestrians on their bleedin' walkie-talkies....
    P.R.

  49. London2wheeler 21/02/2012 at 7:13 pm #

    HAS ANYONE IN THIS LONG THREAD EVER DRIVEN A LORRY BEFORE?????

    why dont we look at the other side of the equation? some cyclist dont realized how hard it is to drive a lorry or any long vehicle. they think its just a big car. a lorry driver has to consider for so many things in order for them to drive safely I.E. the length, width and height of their vehicle in relevance to the road and other vehicles, their blind spots, their load, pedestrians and cyclist etc etc

    I have driven a lorry before so i can tell how hard it is. no matter how big the side mirrors are, cyclist will always be a small spec on the side mirror. I agree with some of the comments here that cyclist should avoid passing lorries on tight spaces specially near the curve or pavement. its just down right suicidal and stupid.

    I am fortunate to have the advantage of being an experience motorist and a cyclist so i know how to “CO EXIST” with either motorist and cyclist.

  50. Martin T 21/02/2012 at 7:45 pm #

    I often ride up the left of stationary long-wheelbase vehicles, but keep very aware of what is going on around me. The key issue is to know how the other vehicle may move – especially how it may move sideways to crush you against the kerb.

    So rolling up to parallel with the rear wheels is generally safe (assuming he can’t make a sudden right turn to catch you with his tail end). To move forward of that you need to be looking at the lights, and it helps if you know the sequence. (Commuting a regular route is SO much safer than being somewhere new.) It also gives you more time if there is another stationary vehicle or two in front. Judge whether you can safely make it past before he can move.

    If not, hang back.

    It is possible to stay next to the rear wheels when he starts moving, as that point of the vehicle can’t move sideways (if you know what you’re going to do next). But it’s unfair to hover alongside the vehicle, distracting the driver, so I aim to either get by in one go, or wait behind.

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