There's room on the road for cars and bikes ... really?!

You’ve probably seen at least one of the viral videos captured on cyclists’ headcams that seem to occur with scary regularity – from the ugly face off between a cyclist and the now infamous coffee shop owner driving a 4x4 in Richmond to the driver who chases a cyclist on foot until he falls over. Whether you find them funny or horrifying, it’s a sad fact that motorists and cyclists make for uneasy road partners and, at best, seem to suffer little more than tolerance for each other.

It often feels like two steps forward and three steps back when it comes to sharing the road. For every campaign to improve understanding and safe cycling on the road (Chris Boardman’s video on how to overtake cyclists 'SPACE' being one of the most recent) there will be someone making vitriolic comments on social media, encouraging drivers to plough through cyclists, marveling at the ‘sport’ of driving close enough to make them wobble, or claiming to have knocked down three cyclists in one day by driving into their back wheels (all of these taken from just one thread on a Facebook community page – some posts were so extreme that the police were involved). It’s a very worrying situation.

It’s probably a fair assumption that many of us who ride bikes are also motorists, so maybe it’s down to us to try and change what is happening on our roads. You know how it feels if a car gets too close when you’re on your bike, so it stands to reason that you most likely give cyclists a wide berth when you are driving. If we adopt a ‘show don’t tell’ approach when driving – and become the examples to follow – there is every chance that we as an ever-growing body of cycling enthusiasts will start to drive change (pardon the pun!).

So what can we do to calm the road rage when we’re in the driving seat?

  • Give cyclists space. When overtaking, treat cyclists as you would a car i.e. ensure you are overtaking on a stretch of road where it is safe to do so and it is sufficiently clear ahead. Allow plenty of room, as much as you would overtaking a car – don’t try to keep within the white lines and squeeze past. Patience is also a wonderful thing and comes in useful if you can’t overtake straightaway – and don’t be bullied if drivers behind you start tooting.
  • Likewise, cyclists need to avoid drain covers, potholes and the like so may swerve. It’s another reason to give lots of space.
  • Take extra care at junctions and roundabouts and look out for cyclists
  • Don’t drive or park in cycle lanes – it’s actually illegal!

You can also do your bit when cycling

  • Never ride on pavements that do not have a designated side for cyclists. It’s not legal and it’s far more difficult for drivers exiting drives or side streets to spot you.
  • Still on the subject of pavements, don’t jump off them to join the flow of traffic – you risk an accident and, probably quite rightly, the wrath of the driver who has to brake suddenly.
  • Red lights apply to cyclists too, so don’t jump them!
  • Cycling at night and/or in poor visibility without lights and high-viz clothing puts you in a vulnerable position. Most drivers would be mortified to hit a cyclist so be sensible and be visible.
  • If you’re riding in a group, keep the formation tidy (remember, no more than two abreast) and be mindful of the traffic around you.
  • Use clear hand signals so that motorists know your intentions. Looking over your shoulder first will also indicate that you are about to make a manoeuvre.
  • Be vigilant and aware of what drivers ahead of you are indicating, particularly left turns when you could end up colliding if you haven’t been paying attention.
  • Keep calm. In the event of an incident, becoming abusive isn’t helpful, no matter how close a shave you’ve just had (if you’ve seen any of those viral videos you’ll know that legal/moral high grounds can become very shaky when arguments escalate).
  • Being polite can go a long way. If a driver has reacted to your presence in a courteous manner, a simple hand wave or nod of head in thanks will ensure that they will continue to respect cyclists.

And if anyone moans?

  • It is legal for cyclists to ride two abreast. Overtaking a long string of cyclists is more difficult than a compact group riding in pairs, but the width of the road should dictate the most sensible formation.
  • Riding in the gutters is neither safe nor sensible. You become less visible on the road and will end up swerving to avoid debris, drain covers etc, which could put you in danger. Riding up to 1m from the kerb is the advised position (known as the ‘secondary position’) and ensures you are in the stream of traffic – in theory, this should prevent motorists from squeezing past. But it’s also legal to ride in the middle of a lane. Taking the ‘primary position’ is often safer if the road is narrow or you’re riding past parked cars and need to avoid the possibility of someone opening their door onto you.
  • You aren’t obliged to use a cycle lane. Let’s face it, some cycle lanes are crazy and can make it downright dangerous for cyclists. It can also be more dangerous if you have to then weave in and out of parked cars.

Here’s to happy and safe cycling, happy driving and happier roads!

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