March 18th, 2008 by Tim Grahl
There is a lot of debate as to where a bicycle commuter should position themselves in relation to the road. New bike commuters, especially, are often intimidated by riding in the road and often choose something that isn’t necessarily the safest place. Here are the top two:
Sidewalk - While the odds of you getting hit from behind diminish greatly, there are other dangers that come into play.
Drivers are not looking for fast moving objects on the sidewalks so when you come to a cross street there is a good chance you’ll get hit by a turning car.
Sidewalks are available for pedestrians and, in many states, it’s illegal for bicycles to ride on them.
You are forced to (and should) go extremely slow. Besides dealing with turning cars and pedestrians, you are riding are surfaces that are not maintained for traffic and often have other obstacles to deal with.
The extreme right side of the road - In my opinion this is the most dangerous place you can ride. You are risking two dangers:
Cars will repeatedly try to squeeze by you in the same lane and will almost always come very close to you which, obviously, increases your chance of getting hit.
The Peek-a-boo bike. Picture two cars approaching. The second car is following closely to the first. As the first car moves to miss you, it is seen by the second car as merely drifting in the lane since the car isn’t moving that much out of the way. The second car doesn’t realize you are in the road until it is to late.
Because of the above dangers and contrary to many people’s “common sense”, the best thing for a bike commuter to do is claim the lane. I ride at least a third of the way into the lane and, around curves, I roll right down the middle.
Here’s the top five reasons why I started claiming the lane (and why you should to):
Drivers give you more room - The day I started claiming the lane is the day I stopped getting regularly buzzed to close by cars. As mentioned above, when you are all the way to the right then cars will almost always try to squeeze by. When you claim the lane, they are forced to slow down and wait for an opportunity to pass you which means they take plenty of room to do it.
You are more visible - Drivers are used to looking for other large, metal boxes. And they’re used to looking in the middle of the lane ahead of them. When you hug the side of the road you are often outside their field of vision. By claiming the lane you are much more likely to be seen by oncoming traffic.
You avoid dangerous debris and obstacles - the sides of roads are usually covered in debris. Stuff that can slash your tires and/or fly up and hurt you. There are also things like sewer grates and uneven shoulders to worry about. By claiming the lane you avoid all of this.
It’s an easier, more enjoyable ride - When stuck squeezing the side of the road or riding on the sidewalk, feelings of stress abound. Constantly watching the terrain ahead of you, swerving out of the way of obstacles, slowing down for pedestrians and many other things that you are forced to pay attention to are reduced when you claim the lane.
You are making a statement - While not as important as the previous safety related reasons, this has long term effect. On many roads bicycles are seen as an annoyance that shouldn’t be allowed in the road with other “real” vehicles. By claiming the lane you are making a statement that we belong on the road and have all the same rights as cars.
I came to these views after a lot of time spent bike commuting in my city of Lynchburg, VA. We don’t have bike lanes and I’ve come to believe that the people that built our roads had never heard of the bicycle. Not to mention most drivers are oblivious to the “share the road” mentality (and laws).
I firmly believe my place on a bike is in the road and claiming the lane and, in a large portion of our country, that is where you belong to. It’s safer and more convenient.