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

Why do cyclists 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.

Before the predictable anecdotes start flying, let's also add:No, cyclists don't pay VED on their bikes - but most pay VED on their cars. They also pay PAYE and Council Tax, which is what actually pays for our roads. The owners of 2 million vehicles in the UK don't pay VED either - any thing over 30 years or under certain CO2 limits. Or farm vehicles. Winston Churchill abolished the nascent 'Road Tax' in 1937, specifically because the government didn't want arrogant motorists to feel they owned the road and could bully others out of their way due to a false sense of entitlement. 'Road Tax' only ever applied to a few roads anyway, not the vast majority of the highway network.On average one person every two years dies as a result of a collision with a cyclist. Most often the collision is not the cyclist's fault - the person walks out into the roadway without warning. By contrast, people in cars kill thousands every year and maim tens of thousands more for life, costing the taxpayer billions in lost revenue from PAYE and ongoing NHS costs.If the government invested 1.5Bn/year on 'Dutch' grade cycling infrastructure, the Exchequer would save 5Bn/year in obesity-related NHS costs. Plus congestion on roads due to short (sub-5-mile) trips would greatly reduce, freeing up roads for commuters and long-distance drivers alike.There is basically no difference in weather or geography between the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and the UK.

Great article, explains clearly why cyclists sometimes have to be in the middle of the lane. Will help me pass any cyclist with care and attention next time, giving rem anty of room too.

Great article, explains clearly why cyclists sometimes have to be in the middle of the lane. Will help me pass any cyclist with care and attention next time, giving them plenty of room too.

Great article. As someone who recently had a near death experience with a pothole while cycling on a busy road, I can relate to the need to keep away from the gutter!

I cycle to work every day even through the winter, I also go out for long rides regularly and what I have noticed over the past few years, with an increase in cyclists comes a less tolerant motorist. I get annoyed at cycle groups who take up too much of the road they spoil it for the rest us. I think more awareness on both sides should be a must factor if we are to see less accidents, deaths and road rage that is increasing. It only takes a moment of courtesy, something that seems to be a thing of the past in this country, to give a little room for cyclists and not try and see howclose you can get to one without hitting them, as I have wwitnessed many times. It only takes a split second and a life has been taken and a family destroyed.

All makes sense to me. As a motorcyclist, we are taught to take the dominant position (same thing) when training to pass our test for similar reasons.

Who cares if it's legal for cyclists to cycle two abreast. It's down right rude when you have a queue of traffic behind

Surely both cyclists and equestrians are inappropriate to today's roads and traffic conditions? As they make no contribution to road costs and are not licensed - therefore not answerable for their misdeeds as motorists are - and cannot be banned, it is time to consider whether they should be on the road at all.In fact, they often are not, preferring to ride illegally on the pavements and/or ignoring traffic lights, etc.Those cyclists who are also drivers will try to counter the above by saying that they paid road tax as well, but they pay as MOTORISTS, not cyclists.

So let me get this right. Having placed my unprotected body on a slender frame and two slender wheels among big fast moving macjines operated by complete strangers of varying ability and mental capacity, I then use my body to dictate my speed to them by obstructing them? Would sensible people normally do that? Since on a tiny minority of sixty million do it, clearly not.But why do we discuss this on the basis that we need people to do it at all? WE dont. But we do all depend on drivers and driving at optimim and efficient speeds too.I don't agree with the motorcyclist simply because generally they are travelling at traffic speed and above.

As a cyclist and a driver I understand it from both sides. Taking the primary position effectively means you are trying to prevent overtaking to protect yourself for a variety of reasons.On the approach to a junction, especially an Island so you can get into the correct lane. On narrow roads and at pinch points to prevent overtaking, but should presume a normal position once past. I never ride in the gutter as they are dangerous places to be, also if another vehicle gets too close you have nowhere to go, about a metre from the edge is about right for me.However, taking the primary position has no bearing on other inconsiderate drivers. Too many times I have been on the right hand side of the carriageway turning right and drivers have then overtaken me on the outside as there was not enough room to overtake on the left.Sometimes I ride 2 abreast down country roads but move over when traffic wants to pass.

Wrong Harry Castle! Unfortunately what you are thinking of as Road tax is actually Vehicle Excise Duty and like all taxes just goes into a big pot it does nothing specifically for roads. I think this changed sometime in the 1960s. Also you cannot tar all cyclists with the same brush, I don't cycle on pavements or run red lights. However I see many cars running red lights, speeding making illegal turns etc... I fail to see why roads should be for the exclusive use of car users, we all have the right to use the carriageways, as long as we do so safely what's the problem?

Most motorists and cyclists get along fine. A lot of cyclists also drive. All cyclists pay tax, some of them pay a lot of tax. People on bikes are not harming the roads or the environment. They might cause someone in a car to have to slow a little or pay attention but that's to be expected with any vehicle. Cycling is far better for your health than driving. It's braver than driving too. Things get out of hand when the occasional motorist becomes psychopathic. Unfortunately this does happen from time to time and when it does it's scary. Cars are very dangerous in the wrong hands!!!

I am a motorist and cyclist. One thing that nearly all motorists fail to understand is that they do not have a right to be on the road (unlike cyclists), rather they have permission. This permission is granted by way of passing the driving test, paying VED, having insurance & MOT. That permission can be withdrawn if any of these are not satisfied.

Well said. I hope some folk actually take notice and now have more understanding.I bet the moderators are having a busing time removing the posts ranting about "lycra louts"

It's ridiculous that some motorists complain about cyclists not allowing them to pass. Even if they're riding a centimetre from the kerb, cars have to move into the next lane, so surely riding towards the right hand side of their lane is fine if the car has to move anyway. Unless of course, the road is very narrow, in which case they shouldn't pass.Also, honking horns at cyclists is very unnerving. They're designed so you can hear them inside another vehicle, and cyclists don't have that ear protection. Even if you're irritated, a short beep is much more considerate, though flashing your lights would be preferred.We do need to raise awareness among cyclists about riding on pavements. As vehicles, it's illegal, though I have to say I can't blame them when our cycle safety is such that even Bradley Wiggins can get hit by a van.By the way, does anyone else notice that it's usually the plainclothes, unhelmeted cyclists who tend to ride on pavements, run red lights etc.?

@Steve GriffithsHow can you compare the driving habits if cyclists to cars, it's like comparing LGVs to mopeds!The problem we have nowadays, is merely impatience, hence, cyclists skip lights, or rather, sneak through and most car/van/truck etc disregard braking distances!As for taxing cyclists etc, I do believe that every vehicle, regardless of what it is, should be roadworthy, so to that end, ALL cycles should have a road worthiness test in order that the cycle is worthy of being and using the road, ie brakes are in good order, tyres are in good order as there are times when a bike will have to do an emergency stop ie car pulling out, pedestrian walking into the road etc!!!If we are ALL going to share the road together, we have one common factor we ALL share and MUST abide to....THE HIGHWAY CODE!!!

I've been riding London streets for 20yrs, and the reality is - use primary positioning heftily or prepare to have a near death experience. I drive also and know how drivers think and also where they look... So the most visible and safest place on the road (counter-intuitively) is either right in front of a moving vehicle or behind it in shot of their rearview mirror.

This is a great article and is good to see cycling logic on paper. The other time I will take prime position is if I'm going down hill fast and don't want a car trying to get past, either because they might not realise that you are doing 40+mph or that they could pass to close and the change in air pressure which could make you unstable.The getting in to prime for car doors is a very good point but not limited to doors, people crossing the street or a car in the side road about to pull out. Logic is get to the middle and make yourself more visible. Being in the middle might show the person on the side road you are on the road and not that you could be on the path.Good read, I will pass it on.

Thanks for publishing this thoughtful piece. Hopefully it will alert at least some motorists to how they may have allowed their impatience to endanger the lives of others on the road.

Excellent article

As both a cyclist and a motorist this is a very rare article, it lets driver's know what competent cyclists are likely to do and why, it is informative, unbiased and therefore a very rare and excellent piece of journalism.

Excellent Artical, must be made into a TV advert to let motorists know why we do things

Great article and I heard a choir singing when I read the comment from the driver who said it would help them pass cyclists safely in future. One thing I would point out though is that club cyclists generally don't ride two abreast just to 'chat'! It's called a chain gang or pace line where there are two rows of riders - one moving up the line and the other moving back so everyone takes a turn doing the hard work on the front.

My main reason for staying out of the gutter is that as councils now just cap the existing surface of the road for cost reasons, the drains are becoming increasingly deep, in effect, man made pot holes.

Great article - thanks for sharing!But too bad that the 'Think' campaign posters are not better thought out. The picture does not make it immediately obvious what scenario it is referring to. For example, the direction of the bike could be made clearer with arrows.

After recently being hit by a car travelling to work and suffering neck injuries this is exactly the type of article that should be made into a public awareness campaign. Lately, motorists have become lazy with their indicators, cyclists too in fairness but also cyclists who believe it's ok to mount pavements or jump lights and puts the rest of us in bad light. I don't think motorists who don't cycle truly know the dangers a cyclist face and likewise I don't believe cyclists who don't drive truly understand the frustration and dangers they could also be putting their fellow motorists in because of the liberties they take as I mentioned above to name but a few. Great article. Thank you. I will be sharing this.

Great article ! Not all cyclists are ignorant , in fact most aren't ! The same can be said for motorists too :) clarity is the way ahead , and this is clear enough !!

That's very sensible, but if cyclists "operate vehicles" then they should be overtaking as the law suggests... If you disagree, then you are likely to have double standards, which is a common cyclist's condition! Stay in the middle of the lane like all 'vehicles'.

Most cyclists or motoryclists have been chopped up by cars/vans already. That's why we have to protect ourselves and our space. There are obviously some exceptions.

Thank you for this sensible article. We're all in this together. Cars stand still in traffic for minutes (hours, depending on traffic) ave delay by a cyclist is 4 seconds.

I must confess when I saw the "headline" I was ready to go off on one, but having read the article first I calmed down. I'm a motorist, a cyclist and occasionally a pedestrian. I am dumb founded every day by the actions of other road users. People so engossed in their music that they just walk out into the road, cyclists on pavements without good reasonand motorists who indicate badly on roundabouts (if I took the indication of most cars on the roundabout nearest where I live as gospel, I would probably be involved in a crash most days!). It doesn't take much to show a bit of coutesey to other road users and using a bit of common sense couldjust make your journey a lot less stressful. Most cyclist know that the are vunerable and would not put themselves in unnessecary danger intentionally.

Unfortunately very few road users will see/read this article. Could the relevant bodies get together and produce a series of television/cinema and newspaper ads , which would spread the word and I am certain help ease the tension and ignorance of our roads.

I can understand that cyclists do this to protect themselves, but quite often they do not obey the law of the road. They wan't double standards. The amount of times I have seen cyclists go through red lights and nearly cause accidents, block pedestrians. I saw a cyclist the other day who could see the car up front turning left and still carried on, just being hit by the car (no injuries though). If a car saw another car turning left, the car would of let the car turn left - common bloody sense and it is illegal to undertake! And then that same bike went on to run a red light and nearly hit a pedestrian!!!!

'James Todd' As you say that cyclists jump red lights and cause accidents.. These people aren't cyclists there're just people on bikes.. There is a difference!

@James Todd - those cyclists aren't the ones that do these sensible things, and should be off the road. Good cyclists want a good standard, and bad, dangerous cyclists (as well as drivers) can do one and get off the road...

Great article - nice to see sensible reporting sidestepping the ridiculous 'road wars' nonsense. And those people who jump lights and ride on the pavement? They're not cyclists, they idiots on bikes.

James Todd there is a name for what you have done in your comment and it is called "whataboutery". Two wrongs do not make a right.

A point very well made Carlton, thanks!

Thanks for this, balanced and full of common sense. Cyclists often drive cars as well and we want to get on with other road users. You are very exposed on a bike and sometimes our actions are there (Such as taking the lane) to protect us...

Excellent article - should be compulsory reading for all motorists and cyclists

@James ToddYou're right, some cyclists do cycle dangerously, run reds etc. But the important part of that is the word *some*. *Some* drivers also run reds, tailgate, overtake dangerously. In both cases, it's *some*, not all. There will always be a minority on both sides who want to take the risks for an extra 2 seconds saved, without thinking about those around them, but I think the majority of both drivers and cyclists would rather everyone stayed safe, happy and alive.

Everyone who uses the road, pays for the privilege and is made, by law,to ensure their transport vehicle is road worth. Cyclists do not pay road tax, mot,vehicle insurance, take a hazard test, etc. Cyclists are a danger to everyone on the road. They do not follow the rules of the road but have to be treated as an equal? That is illogical and dangerous. A slow moving car, in a national speed limit zone, can be just as deadly as a speeding car as it forces average drivers to unsafely change course or dramatically reduce/increase speed. Cyclists are a natural hazard on the road as they have a overwhelming chance of being unpredictable, i.e if they spot a pot hole on the road and have to quickly bolt into the centre of the road. The national driver hazards test officially sees cyclists as a danger and therefore should be seen as not road worth. Small country lanes, parks, and bike tracks are the only place for them. Its idiotic to think otherwise.

Now get this article published in every newspaper, magazine etc. Put on billboards, TV online. Make motorists aware of the rights of cyclists. I am fed up being cut up, overtaken on bends (with my 12 year old stuck between two cars), verbally abused (yesterday cut up and then told 'to shut up fatty' when I tried to make him aware of what he had just done. I try to cycle respectfully - I do not jump red lights, I do not cut in front of cars - I ring my bell or shout loudly so pedestrians know I am coming, I slow down so motorists can over take. All I want to do is cycle safely and especially when I am with my family.

I am both a motorist and cyclist and both parties need to understand the other. A motorist must ensure it is safe to pass without squeezing the cyclist off the road. This does happen more frequently than most would imagine when the motorist judges it badly. It is because of these near misses that cyclists have learnt that to protect themselves they must ensure they do not make it possible to overtake when such situations are likely to arise ie around corners or when cars are coming the other way etc. Often a row of cars will overtake and the last one finds he is running out of road and thats when the poor cyclist is squeezed into the hedge or under the car. If there is a gap that a driver thinks he can get through- many will take it so its in a cyclists interest to ensure the gap is not big enough so the driver won't even try. If drivers thought of passing a cyclist like passing a tractor - all would be a lot a driver would not try to take a tractor when the opposite side of the road is full of traffic or whilst going around bends. By riding two abreast they are making themselves into the same obstacle as a tractor for that very reason. The more submissive a cyclist is ie riding along the curb the more danger they put themselves in as motorists try to squeeze past where they really shouldn't. Its purely self survival.

@dean smith. I'm a cyclist. I pay my tax on my van My van causes damage to the environment and to the road. My bike however causes no damage to the road or environment so why should I pay tax to ride on the road. Vehicle tax is based on emissions and you pay for the emissions you emit. My bike does not emit. Emissions so your tax argument is invalid. It's people like you who think car drivers are the kings of the road. Yes there are some bad cyclists on the road. But there are way more arrogant car drivers who don't know the laws/reccomendations that make driving around cyclists safe. This should be made law for drivers to know before they pass there test and yes I agree a cyclist should take an awareness course if they intend on riding in the road all the time. But let's face it how do you enforce it. You can't.

i suggest car drivers hop on a bike and try it themselves once in a while

@dean smith, your incredibly wrong. Learn the facts before you comment. There is no such thing as road tax, it was abolished years ago in exchange for vehicle excuse duty, this charges cars as they produce gases that damage the environment, cars that don't, don't get charged. Same with cars... Secondly, the majority of cyclists own cars, whilst bikes were on the road first so how you can say they aren't road worthy confuses me. You've clearly not read the article at all, and just put up a stupid comment. Hopefully I never see you on the road

I am all for cycleist using the road too, I like to think im not a dangerous driver towards cycleist. However, @deansmith has a fair point, slightly bias, but most of what he says is true.Im copy and pasteing as i agree.Everyone who uses the road, pays for the privilege and is made, by law,to ensure their transport vehicle is road worth. Cyclists do not pay road tax, mot,vehicle insurance, take a hazard test, etc. Cyclists are a danger to everyone on the road. They do not follow the rules of the road but have to be treated as an equal? That is illogical and dangerous. A slow moving car, in a national speed limit zone, can be just as deadly as a speeding car as it forces average drivers to unsafely change course or dramatically reduce/increase speed. Cyclists are a natural hazard on the road as they have a overwhelming chance of being unpredictable, i.e if they spot a pot hole on the road and have to quickly bolt into the centre of the road. The national driver hazards test officially sees cyclists as a danger and therefore should be seen as not road worth. Small country lanes, parks, and bike tracks are the only place for them. Its idiotic to think otherwise.

dean smith, did you get your license out of a cereal packet? Nothing on the roads is predictable. Drive to the conditions. Overtake safely. And maybe start realising that you are not the centre of the universe?

@Dean Smith1. There's not such thing as 'road tax' there is vehicle tax which is based on emissions meaning a lot of cars don't pay it either. cyclists do have insurance (everyone I know certainly does).3.Most cyclists do follow the rules of the road but you do get a few idiots just like drivers.4.You should cross to the other side of the road to overtake giving plenty of room therefore giving the cyclist enough space to move out if needed.The problem is the attitude that drivers have the divine right to overtake and drive at speed.