Have you ever heard any of the below advice that is frequently thrown around:
- Wear high-vis
- Wear a helmet
- Wear appropriate clothing
Typically, this will come from a journalist writing for a car publication or someone with a deadline, and not enough time to really research what cyclists can do to stay safe.
There’s nothing technically wrong with the above advice. However, it completely ignores the important road positioning techniques, taught by cycle safety experts in one on one classes. These techniques I believe can really make a difference on your next bike ride.
If you are interested in taking one of these classes yourself, take a look at non-profit organisations such as Cycle Training UK.
If you don’t have the time to attend a course, read on.
The secrets to road positioning
Correct road positioning seems to elude most cyclists. There’s a really important psychological reason behind this. It feels safer to ride near the pavement. Let’s compare two cyclists following a different strategy:
- Joe average cyclist: Rides near the gutter. Often wonders why cars end up buzzing past dangerous close, with only inches to spare. Has to swerve to avoid drains, broken glass and ends up with more punctures. Wonders why cars don’t give him any space and feels cycling is dangerous. Struggles to cross lanes of traffic. Has had a bump in the past where a driver claimed “sorry mate, I didn’t see you”.
- Bob advanced cyclist: Rides further out of the kerb and sometimes in the middle of the traffic. Drivers some times beep their horn at him, but he doesn’t care, as he recognises that he has as much right to the road as any driver. Likes that drivers respect him on the road and give him more space when overtaking. This makes him feel safer. Drivers see him in advance and are able to plan their manoeuvre around him. Finds it easy to cross lanes of traffic. Doesn’t have to suddenly swerve, to avoid as many road debris.
Riding further from the kerb feels counter intuitive at first, but it is safer. Drivers get annoyed as they can be short sighted. They simply see a cyclist slowing them down, in their race to the next traffic light. What they don’t see, is that you are saving them the emotional pain of hitting a cyclist (not to mention the legal and insurance fees). You are doing the driver a favour, even if they don’t know it.
How far from the kerb should you be?
When riding you should be around a metre from the kerb. Often however, you’ll need to be further. In particular, when passing stationary cars to avoid the door zone. This is called the “secondary position”.
What is the primary position?
The primary position is also often referred to as “taking the lane”. In the primary position you are in the centre of the lane, preventing cars from overtaking you. Essentially this position is so that you can stop drivers from doing something stupid.
You’ll want to do this when approaching a traffic light, in queues of stationary traffic and when overtaking parked cars. You’ll also want to do it at cross roads and on the approach to roundabouts.
Essentially, anywhere that it is dangerous for a car to overtake you, you should take the lane. In particular in London, I find myself using this on narrow streets.
When not to take the lane
It’s not always necessary to take the lane. If you are happy with cars overtaking you and you feel they have enough room to safely do so, you can keep slightly closer to the kerb.
Remember that cyclists are allowed to ride two abreast, despite most drivers (in particular my grandad!) being unaware of this. However, it’s a courtesy to drivers to ride single file, to allow them to overtake on fast roads.
We’ve focused on road positioning in this article, but for more advice on cycling safely I recommend reading:
Note: This article was inspired by a great write up on the Cyclescheme website on road positioning, that was forwarded to me by a London Cyclist reader.