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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 14/04/2015 15:26:01
Marc D Commented:
Just using Julie Livingstone comment for this; Passing cyclists not wearing helmets - I pass many drivers not wearing seatbelts. Not wearing reflective clothing - I have seen many cars drive around with broken lights or simply no lights. Car users break the law in so many dangerous ways - Speeding and using phones to name a few. To honestly think that cyclists are the worse offenders or that they are anymore likely to be at fault in an accident is ignorance. As a road user, both cycling and driving I'm more worried riding my bike than my car, car users have the ability to get complacent due to the metal structure around them.
Avatar 12/04/2015 19:41:50
Scared Amorba Commented:
Dan Lord Commented: "if your going to give cyclists road rights like this, then they should be taxed like car drivers are, to help look after the roads." First of all: These rights already exist. Second: Road-Tax doesn't exist and has not done so since 1937 (that's before WW2, if you don't know what WW2 was, try a history lesson). Nobody pays road-tax! Google 'I pay road tax'. Third: Motor-vehicle taxes do not apply to Band-A vehicles - low-emission vehicles, electric cars etc. Yet you are proposing that cyclists pay a tax that is voluntary for motorists. Since road-surface damage is proportional to the fourth power of the axle load, bicycles cause a trifling amount of road damage relative to any motor-vehicle. Fourth: 80% of cyclists also drive. (DfT) Fifth: The space consumption of a cyclist was calculated to be only 8% of the space consumption of a car UPI report Heidelberg 1989. The average vehicle occupancy of cars and vans is 1.2 ppmv (commuting & business). Based upon the 8% figure, one car occupies the same space as 12.5 cyclists, therefore five cars (that carry on average a total of six people), but occupy the same space as 62.5 cyclists. It's perfectly obvious that private cars are the primary cause of congestion, and that cyclists are the solution. One has to wonder what your problem is with cyclists? Sixth: Drivers are not subsidising everyone else, it is drivers who themselves who are subsidised. Motoring taxes do not cover the full costs of motoring imposed upon society. Every car in the UK is subsidised by on average just over 2,000 Euros per vehicle per year.. Source: The True Costs of Automobility: External Costs of Cars Overview on existing estimates in EU-27 Final Report TU Dresden Chair of Transport Ecology Prof. Dr. Ing. Udo J. Becker Thilo Becker Julia Gerlach Dresden, October 12th, 2012 Note: does not include congestion costs. So, every part of your short comment was false, untrue or just plain wrong. You appear to have views about cycling that are based entirely upon The Daily Rant's Book of myths and falsehoods about cycling. May I suggest that you educate yourself and perhaps try cycling?
Avatar 09/04/2015 17:36:30
Tender Walnut Commented:
I am all for cyclist and motorists being respectful of them, but unfortunately many cyclist are not adhering to the law. Example 1: A crosswalk is a crosswalk for pedestrians and is not an extension of a bike lane or a make shift lane of traffic for cyclists when they want to use them. Example 2: Stop signs are made for stopping at whether there is multiple vehicles or not. If you want to have the respect of motorists then please abide by all laws not just when they are convenient or necessary to avoid injury.
Avatar 09/04/2015 16:27:00
Jon Ryder Commented:
cyclists are taxed the same as motorists. Most $ for roadway projects come from General state or federal budgets (I'm from the U.S.). This idea that cars pay some special road tax is false.
Avatar 09/04/2015 03:02:15
Los stealth Commented:
Motorists are the superior beings. They are the only people who have spouses and family. They are the only ones allowed to enjoy the open road. They are better than those who power their vehicles with their own legs
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