Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Cycling Tips: Part 1 - Road Positioning

Green = Primary Position
Orange = Secondary Position
This is the first part of a series of articles that may help you to be safe on the roads
In part one, we look at Road Positioning. Primary and Secondary road positioning to be specific.

What is Primary Road Positioning?!
Sometimes known as "taking the lane", riding in the primary position is where a cyclist is riding in the centre of the left lane.

In the centre of the lane! Isn't that dangerous?
Not so, if you're in the centre of the lane, it means seeing and being seen is easier. You'll be more visible to cars turning right, approaching from behind and exiting a side road. It's more difficult for drivers to perform a "left hook", where they overtake you and attempt to turn left quickly across your path. It generally makes drivers more cautious when overtaking you as it forces them to wait for a decent sized gap rather than trying to quickly squeeze past. It gives you much more opportunity to avoid hazards such as potholes and road debris as you've got space inside to swerve into rather than having to swerve outwards potentially into the path of an overtaking car. Plus you avoid opening doors in the "door zone" when passing parked vehicles.

Shouldn't I be in the cycle lane though?
There is no legal obligation for cyclists to have to use cycle lanes. You're fully entitled to use any part of the road.

Ok, I'm more visible, but I'm still worried about the cars behind me.
You should cycle in the primary position if you are travelling at a reasonable speed as part of the traffic. Your safety is more important than a few seconds of time drivers spend waiting behind you.

There's a queue building up behind me, what do I do?
If there is enough room to allow the vehicles behind to safely overtake, and your safety is not compromised by doing so (no upcoming side roads, parked cars etc), you should move to the secondary position which is no less than half a meter from the kerb. Acknowledge any courtesy shown towards you by other vehicles. They're less likely to roar closely past you or the next cyclist if you thank them for their patience.

Secondary?! How do I decide whether to use Primary or Secondary?
Use primary if:
-You are keeping up with traffic flow
-There are parked cars
-You are passing a side road
-You are approaching a roundabout/junction/traffic light
Use secondary if:
-Your safety will not be compromised
-There is enough space ahead and to the side of you for drivers to overtake you
-There are very few parked cars

I need to move from secondary to primary, how can I do this safely?
Keep monitoring the situation ahead and if you need to move into the primary position, look over your right shoulder for passing vehicles, judge their speed and how close they are to you and if safe to do so, move to the primary position. In slower moving traffic, looking over your right shoulder and making eye contact with the driver behind will often result in them allowing you to move into the centre of the lane. Remember to acknowledge this courtesy if they do. But don't keep chopping and changing, ride confidently, consistently and predictably. For example, if you can see another parked car ahead of you, you are safer if you stay in the primary position in that gap rather than swinging left and then having to come out again just a few yards further on.

As you gain more cycling experience you learn to assess the road and other hazards and adopt the best position for the situation. Don't worry about causing a few seconds delay to other vehicles, your safety is the priority. Be assertive but not aggressive. If you're too close to the kerb and it isn't possible for you to safely move to the primary position to avoid an upcoming hazard, it's going to be safer to get off your bike and onto the pavement before re-joining the road when/where it is safe. Just remember, cycling is fun, it isn't a race, and you have as much right to the road as any other vehicle. So don't be bullied into the gutter!

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