Tips for safe cycling #7: road position
Much of riding safely on the roads is about positioning. Taking a safe, sensible position can avoid those tricky scenarios which can quickly become dangerous interactions.
Don’t hug the kerb
Many cyclists ride close to the kerb, either to stay out of the way, or because that’s where the cycle lane is, or because we were once taught to ‘stay on the left’. But hugging the kerb is one of the worst places to ride. Not only are you at risk from riding in broken glass, over gravel or down drains, you don’t have any wobble space or room to manoeuvre if someone passes too close. Riding wide from the kerb (at least an arm’s length) makes you more visible and asserts your right to use the road – ride boldly, not apologetically.
Though it can feel daunting to hold this position, especially if there is busy traffic on the road, remember that it’s up to the driver to wait behind you until it’s safe for them to overtake, it’s not up to you to get out of the way. If it’s not safe, they will simply have to wait. It’s unlikely your giving an extra half metre or so would change this, but if it looks as though you are allowing space for overtaking, many drivers will try, even if that means passing too close for comfort.
Ride wide of the door zone
One of the highest causes of accidents for cyclists is being ‘doored’ – crashing into an opening car door. It’s painful, potentially fatal, and completely avoidable. Ride at least an arm’s length away from parked cars, giving you more reaction time and space if that door does happen to open. This might mean you are towards the centre of a narrow road, leaving little room for traffic to pass, which can be daunting if there is a car behind you. Stick to your position and make eye contact with the driver – this should encourage them to give you a bit more time and space. If you feel that the driver is being impatient, or you’d rather they overtake, by all means pull over and let them pass – but not by going into the door zone.
Positioning at junctions
Having someone squeeze around you at a junction is potentially dangerous, and keeping to the left or right of the lane gives space for someone to do just that. Be bold at junctions by ‘taking the lane’ (riding in the middle) – this central position will encourage the person behind you to wait behind until you have completed your manoeuvre. This applies whether you are turning left or right or going straight on, and applies to all junctions including T junctions, cross-roads, traffic lights and roundabouts. Keep the central position until you have cleared the junction, then return to your normal riding position.
If you are passing a side road, keep a straight line and make eye contact with any drivers wishing to turn into or out of the side road. Dipping into the mouth of the junction will create confusion about which direction you are going, and might mean you disappear from view, especially if there are parked cars lining the main road. Keeping the pedals moving gives no doubt to other drivers that you intend to exercise your right of way and keep going.
At pinch points or on narrow roads, there is often not room for another vehicle to pass you safely, but if you stay to the left, drivers might try to squeeze past. Each time you approach a pinch point (e.g. traffic island or similar), check behind and, if it’s safe to do so, move into a central position to discourage dangerous overtaking (if there’s someone directly behind, wait for them to pass before moving into the central position).
Be visible and predictable
A common phrase in cycling accidents is the SMIDSY (sorry mate, I didn’t see you). It’s very unlikely that a driver will hit you if they can see you. Positioning is more important than clothing in terms of visibility – even wearing full hi-viz, if I’m in the wrong position I can’t be seen. Be predictable with your riding: don’t disappear behind parked vehicles or dip into gaps. Accidents happen when people aren’t sure of what another road user is doing.
The full series of tips for safe cycling can be found here.