Share the Road with Cyclists

This article is written by Gavin Keir an experienced cyclist who cycles over 2000 miles a year, mostly commuting but with a couple of long tours on country roads.

He writes from the perspective of somebody who meets tens of thousands of courteous and safe drivers every year to whom he acknowledges his gratitude. In common with many cyclists, he has also met drivers who have seriously threatened his life and that of his children, sometimes through carelessness, often through inconsiderate driving.

Gavin highlights the dangers faced daily by cyclists and gives drivers advice on how to safely approach cyclists on the road.

In recent months there have been many articles in the press about the need for Cycle Regulation.

The Facts


Is it silly to write that there's no such thing as cyclists?  I cycle to and from work; I also drive at work, and do my shopping on foot.  I've been cycling 50 years, but I've also had a driving licence for 40 years. Many people including drivers would rather climb on a bike some of the time for all sorts of reasons.

A good driver should make a better cyclist; a poor cyclist is likely to be a bad or inconsiderate driver.

Should cyclists pay Road Tax?

If you believe this, you've taken the first step towards being an inconsiderate driver, or possibly an aggressive or dangerous one.  This is where drivers start to squeeze cyclists off the road, or forget to allow them space, or just don't see cyclists.

Road Tax was abolished by Winston Churchill in 1937, and since then the roads network has been paid for out of the general taxation that we all pay. Vehicle Excise Duty (Car Tax) is paid by drivers of motorised vehicles that not only pollute the environment but cause wear and tear to road surfaces. 

Should cyclists pay insurance?

First, it's not compulsory, but many cyclists do indeed have insurance (and many more have it as part of their house insurance).  Third party insurance for a cyclist costs about £20.00.  Far less than motor vehicle insurance, but it's no generosity; there is a simple hard-headed business calculation by the insurance industry; they know that cyclists cause far, far less damage and injury than motor vehicles.

Do cyclists ignore the Highway Code?

Too many cyclists jump red lights, ride on pavements, or ride without lights.  But many, many more cyclists have far too much respect for their own lives, let alone anybody else's, to indulge in such stupidity.

It's a fair bet that most of those red-light-jumping cyclists are also car drivers who most likely do the same when behind the wheel; in a recent poll, 85% of car drivers “admit to gambling amber lights in an attempt to race through the traffic.”  “Four out of ten (38%) say they rarely stop if the lights are on amber.”

Do cyclists slow motorists down and cause congestion?

The average speed for motor vehicles in London is variously reported as between 8 mph to 11 mph.  A commuting cyclist can maintain an average of 15 mph, while a fit cyclist on a light road bike can probably maintain an average of 20-25 mph.

Somebody who's left their car at home and cycles instead has done something positive to relieve congestion on our roads.  Each cyclist is one less car in the queue waiting at the traffic lights in front of you.  Don't hassle the cyclist – say a little prayer of thanks instead!

Think! Vulnerability

Safety Tip 1 - Who's on the bicycle?

As well as the “hard-core” cyclists in lurid Lycra and the “boy-racers”, there's any number of other people on bicycles with widely varying experience, skill, and confidence.  Think children or young people cycling to and from school, older people out for their shopping, impoverished students, occasional users out for a leisure ride, middle-aged guys who are coming back to cycling after 30 years to find their waist line, mums and dads teaching their kids road awareness.  As a driver, you just can't tell which of these cyclists is in front of you.

Rule of thumb

  • A cyclist riding close to the kerb, virtually in the gutter, is almost by definition, lacking in confidence, experience or is dangerously unaware of safe riding and road skills.  They're not being polite or allowing the motorist to squeeze past. They’re nervous and in danger of being a hazard to themselves and other road users, for they have left no space for themselves to avoid broken glass, potholes, and debris in their path.  An alert and aware driver will give such cyclists even more space and courtesy!
  • Confident and experienced cyclists will cycle pretty much as they would drive a motor vehicle; they're looking to be predictable for other road users and safe.   You will see them using the correct lanes even at roundabouts, looking out for what is behind them, signalling their intentions, and following the Highway Code.
  • Above all, confident and experienced cyclists will follow the Department of Transport's advice and position themselves carefully on the road.  When you see a cyclist in front of you, apparently “hogging” their lane, look at the road; is there a blind bend, a pinch point such as a central island, a humpbacked bridge, a narrowing of the road installed to calm traffic, a high risk junction or traffic lights?  We don't “take the lane” (ride down the middle of it) as a vindictive measure to hinder or impede motorists; we do it to prevent ourselves (and your no-claims bonus) from accidents caused by vehicles passing too close, squeezing through.

Safety Tip 2 - Two wheels, one inch wide, desperately thin tyres.

Cyclists will always

  • Avoid anything that risks puncturing their very thin 1 inch wide tyres, for example, bits of glass, nails, wood, thorns, torn metal, and all the other debris that accumulates by the side of a road.
  • Go round anything with a slippery surface, whether it be a patch of diesel on the road or a metal drain cover.
  • Go round potholes.
  • Go round puddles and standing water – there's no telling what the road surface is like underneath the water.
  • Wobble in the wind.

We come off our bikes very easily, we know it hurts, and our wheels and tyres are fragile.  We cannot and dare not cycle in a straight line!

Highway Code Rule 213 - “Motorcyclists and cyclists may suddenly need to avoid uneven road surfaces and obstacles such as drain covers or oily, wet or icy patches on the road. Give them plenty of room and pay particular attention to any sudden change of direction they may have to make.”

That's pretty clear; the onus is on the driver of the motor vehicle to be aware of, and give safe space to, the more vulnerable road user.

Safety Tip 3 - Think! Space

If there's one single issue that scares cyclists and other vulnerable road users more than any other, it's the question of space, our “safety bubble”. Even a Nissan Micra is 1.4 tons of solid steel, which can do an immense amount of damage to a frail human body.

   Highway Code Rule 163 - “Give motorcyclists,    cyclists and horse riders at least as much          room as you would when overtaking a car.”

   Rule 212 - “When passing motorcyclists and      cyclists, give them plenty of room (see Rules      162-167). If  they look over their shoulder it      could mean that they intend to pull out, turn      right or change direction. Give them time and    space to do so.”


As the picture suggests “room” means you should only overtake if you can go over the central line, as you would pass another car.

Rule of thumb – give the cyclist at least enough room to fall off without going under your wheels.

Safety Tip 4 - SMIDSY

After space, the greatest terror for cyclists is SMIDSY which is the acronym for the phrase that most cyclists have heard – “Sorry Mate I Didn't See You.”

The combined weight for me and my bike is less than 85kg.  A tiny Nissan Micra weighs nearly ten times that without including the driver or passengers.  No contest!  At best, a crushed bicycle and a few broken bones; at worst, a fatality.

  • A cursory glance for another road vehicle that is big enough to damage your own vehicle is never a substitute for looking specifically for motor cyclists and cyclists.  Both are small and low profile. All the reflective and high visibility gear in the world will not make me look like an Eddie Stobart truck!  The onus is on the motorist to look – Sections 2 and 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1998 and subsequent amendments.
  • Be aware of your blind spots – yes, cyclists do need to take general precautions against getting caught in a vehicle's blind spots, but only you know the blind spots that you need to check for your vehicle.
  • Be aware that motorbikes and bicycles might pass you on either side, left or right, particularly in congested traffic.

Safety Tip 5 - Facilities for Cyclists

Sadly, the only SAFE assumption drivers can make is that many cycle “safety” measures actually increase the risks for cyclists.

  • Observation of driver behaviour suggests that many motorists assume cycle helmets give a much higher level of protection than is realistic.  Cycle helmets are designed to withstand head-on impacts of 13 mph – that is all.  And yet research shows that drivers come much closer to cyclists with helmets, because they assume the cyclist is “safe”.  Please don't.
  • The majority of cycle lanes are highly dangerous – for cyclists.  The Department of Transport recommend that cycle lanes should be 1.5 metres wide as a general minimum, 1.25 metres in exceptional circumstances.  Very, very few meet those standards; some cycle lanes are actually narrower than a cycle width.  Never, ever assume that the cycle lane is a “safety zone”.
  • Cyclists are not required to use cycle lanes.  The Highway Code (61, 63, and 140) advises we use them “unless at the time it is unsafe to do so,” and to “Keep within the lane when practicable.”  A responsible cyclist will not use a cycle lane which takes him or her into the door zone round parked cars, where the surface is too dangerous for their speed (15-20 mph for a commuter?), which is littered with broken glass and assorted metal debris, or which is just too narrow for safety.  Please don't expect us to risk our lives when a cycle lane is more dangerous than the main traffic lane.
  • A cyclist making a turn at a junction, traffic lights, or roundabout should choose the correct lane on the carriageway - and that's rarely the cycle lane.
  • The line markings denoting cycle lanes are NOT for cyclists to observe, but for the information of drivers – Highway Code Rule 140.

Safety Tip 6 - Show respect and courtesy

The absolute basics of safe cycling for cyclists:-

  • Position on road; the Department of Transport advises that we cycle about 1 metre from the kerb, or in the middle of the left hand lane.  NEVER in the gutter.
  • Parked cars; it is suicidal to cycle within the range of a vehicle door which can be opened in our path.  Cyclists should give parked vehicles a very wide berth – 1.5 metres if possible, 1 metre as a minimum; think how wide your own car door opens.
  • Very, very few cycle lanes are designed to Department of Transport recommendations (1.5m minimum width, or 1.25 in exceptional circumstances); we do not trust them, and do not use them when we have doubts about their safety.

When driving, the onus is on the driver to recognise these basics for vulnerable road users. Please give them plenty of space!

Share the Road safely with Cyclists written by Gavin Keir

Tips and Advice - Article No 84 RoadDriver 2011

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