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Cyclists! Why do they ride in the middle of the road?

Cyclists! Why do they ride in the middle of the road?

Why do cyclists ride in the middle of the road?
Cyclists! Why do they ride in the middle of the road?

Why do cyclists ride in the middle of the road? Because they're allowed to: a poster from the Department for Transport advises "Cyclists. Ride central on narrow roads."

See those potholes? Not good for your suspension, are they? To cyclists, they're not just inconvenient they're lethal. The cyclist up ahead might be in the middle of the road for a few seconds in order to avoid a big gash in the ground. Cyclists are expert pothole - spotters. Use this inside knowledge to prevent costly damage to your car's suspension.

But, I hear you cry, cyclists block me even when the tarmac is butter-smooth. Take a look ahead. See any "islands", those refuges placed smack bang in the middle of the road, and placed there to protect pedestrians? Every keen cyclist knows that these islands can be death traps. Some motorists get a spurt on to overtake cyclists before these refuges, cutting in at the last second. Some cyclists, therefore, take what's called the "primary position". (Yes, there's an official Stationery Office name for the middle of-the-road manoeuvre This is cyclists' semaphore for "don't pass me just yet there's an obstacle ahead." Watch what cyclists do when they've passed the island: ninety-nine times out of a hundred they tuck back into the side of the road, and the motorist can then safely overtake. When a cyclist takes the "primary position" before such an upcoming obstacle it's not a mark of arrogance, it's a (risky) tactic to keep everyone safe.

Cyclists will also assume the primary position to avoid "dooring" by motorists opening their car doors without looking, or when about to turn right. Again, once safe to do so, cyclists return to the side of the road.

Not that a cyclist has to be a "gutter bunny," hugging the kerb. Cyclists, in law, operate "carriages", and have done since a court case in 1879. And, as operators of vehicles they have as much right to the whole lane as a motorist. Most of the time cyclists, quite sensibly, allow motorists to pass because that's the safest and nicest thing to do. But it's not a legal requirement. There's no such thing on the road as a "car lane." The only roads that motorists can call their own are motorways - the clue is in the name.

OK, so how about those cyclists who block the road by "riding two abreast". That's also perfectly legal. It's in the Highway Code. Remember, motorists - unless their cars concertina like Autobots from the Transformers movie - ride two abreast all the time, even when driving solo.

The Highway Code states that cyclists should not ride more than two abreast and should ride in single file on "narrow or busy roads and riding round bends." However, the Highway Code doesn't define what it means by "narrow" or "busy" or quite how rounded the curve has to be before it's considered a "bend." Club cyclists, who often ride in packs, will ride two abreast to chat, and will thin out when necessary, but two riders will often "take primary position" before bends. It should be reasonably obvious why. Far too many motorists take bends, even blind ones, fast, and cyclists do not want to be squished when an overtaking driver realises they've overcooked the corner and has to dive back in to avoid a head-on smash.

Cyclists often "block the road" in order to save their lives, and possibly yours, too.

Carlton Reid is the executive editor of He drives a Nissan Note "but not very often." He's writing a history book on motoring's cycling beginnings, Roads Were Not Built For Cars.

By Carlton Reid
Tue, 15 Apr 2014
Your CommentsBubble
Avatar 16/07/2014 13:35:09
Dominic Kearney Commented:
Bill Bailey "Maybe the author should spend more time driving" What makes you think he doesn't? 80% of cyclist are also motorists. When I drive and see a cyclist ahead (whether taking the lane or not) I slow down, wait behind them until it's safe to overtake, and then overtake in the NEXT lane. That's basic driving. If you can't do that, then you can't drive very well.
Avatar 04/07/2014 20:32:35
Bill Bailey Commented:
Quality article but totally biased. Maybe the author should spend more time driving and seeing things from a drivers perspective. Whilst it's important to respect cyclist on the road, maybe they should reciprocate. I have seen far too many cyclist put themselves in rediculously dangerous positions then blame the motorist for them getting hurt. If i wanted to sit behind you travelling at 20mph in a 50 zone i would have bought a bike!
Avatar 27/05/2014 08:49:51
Happy Expat Commented:
I no longer drive on UK roads but still have great empathy for cyclists everywhere. I have a friend who unwittingly killed a bad cyclist but even though the Met Police declared him totally faultless - that doesn't make him feel any better about it. I also had a cyclist friend who was knocked under the wheels of a truck by a careless commuter running straight from the tube station into the side of his bicycle. I think we give more consideration to cyclists in our smaller communities. We actually organise international cycle rallies here and close roads - just like in the London Marathon so I do have half an idea what I'm talking about. Why are we so considerate towards cyclists? Because there's a great chance that the unlucky victim is our own friend, relative or neighbour. Perhaps if all motorists simply imagined the cyclist ahead was a friend, neighbour or family member then they would go out of their way to preserve that life.
Avatar 25/05/2014 15:24:30
Steve Backshall Commented:
A terrific piece, and I'm so heartened to read it on a motoring website. Your description of the traffic island and an impatient overtaken happened to me today. He got away with a smashed up bumper and suspension, but a fatality was millimetres from happening. Thankyou. Sb
Avatar 20/05/2014 21:09:08
Vincenzo Iannidinardi Commented:
Excellent piece . Lets face it most people undergo a transformation when they get into their cars. Add to poor skill, bad training and irellevant observaion this transformed attitude of arrogance and detachment from the road and you get a recipe for disaster. Then a general level of ignorance of the rules of the road .. I had an irate van driver shout at me that I wasn't allowed to overtake him because I was riding a bike. You can bet your bottom dollar that he doesn't know that the law compells him to treat me like a small car when approaching me on the road. Simple answer put everyone on two wheels on the road for a full day before giving them a driving licence
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