Why I cycle in the middle of the road and I hate it

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: I cycle in the middle of the road and I hate it. It’s typically because there’s no provision for cycling or what’s there is of poor quality, so it’s safer to cycle in a commanding position of the cycle lane.

It’s about weighing up the choices ahead while cycling on a stretch and taking into account typical problems faced. It can mean that the best thing to do is take the centre of the traffic lane. There is nothing illegal about it, and I do apologise to anyone that feels this is done to purposefully slow you down or get in your way, but you’ll just have bear with, you will have a safe easy opportunity to move past very soon.

Cycling in the centre of a traffic lane is a defensive cycling skill which forms part of vehicular cycling skills that are taught in courses such as Cycle Right in Ireland and Bikeability in the UK. It’s technical name is the ‘primary position’, which can also be referred to as taking the lane. It’s main use is to reduce the chances of someone overtaking too close and too fast or squeeze past on a narrow section of road.

Shows the cycle lane running along side the parked cars. The primary position would be to the right of this dashed cycle lane, or the middle point between the edge of the car and the edge of the bus lane

There is a secondary position which is also referred to as the default position, which is on the left side of the traffic lane. This is not the edge, line or curb of the lane, but halfway between the edge and the centre of the traffic lane.

This is avoids weaving around drains, car doors and cars pulling out of junctions. Cycling close to the curb is also know as gutter cycling. The gutter being where all the drains and road git gather up makes it more likely to pick up a puncture cycling, but also increases the chances of someone pushing past in car too close and turning left in front of you.

One of the more common reasons to use the primary position, is to stay out of the door zone where the chances of the drivers door of a parked car could open suddenly into your path while cycling past. A good example of this, is the errarntly painted cycle lane beside the line of parked cars in Donnybrook Village while heading into the city. Using this cycle lane puts you directly into the the spaces that a car door opens out into, the door zone. Given that this is a village with shops where people drop in and out, the chances of this happening are quite high.

So, cycling in the centre of the bus lane is a better choice as this means you are no longer vulnerable to being struck by a sudden door being opened. It also transpires in this case, that the cycle lane in Donnybrook Village is painted inside the width of the bus lane. This cycle lane should never have been painted here in the first place. 

The bridge of the River Tolka on Drumcondra Road Lower at Botanic Avenue heading towards Whitehall

The same tactic can help with sections of road that has the chance of being overtaken quickly to then have someone make a left turn in front of you. This may happen to you from time to time, so getting into the centre of the lane on the approach to the junction will make it easier for the driver behind you to fall in behind you on your bicycle and turn left when you have moved through the junction.

Finally, the example that we all experience on an all too regular basis, the close fast pass that is frightening as well as dangerous. This is the sort of stuff when experienced regularly will invoke your fight or flight response and likely to make you consider ditching your bicycle altogether, or arm yourself with as many flashing bright lights as possible and even mount a camera to capture this.

For me the Merrion Road and Rock Road is exactly the place where there’s no cycling provision but just a bus lane to cycle in. On busy mornings, it’s likely that someone driving a taxi, coach or double decker bus will be try to force past in this narrow space. The worst thing about this space is the length of it. It’s not a mere 50m to 100m stretch. It’s 1km to 2km in total with small respite in places.

Bus Lane width along Merrion Road with no cycling provision

The chances of this problem were so frequent for me that I gave up on this route to the city and now choose the Sandymount Ringsend route to the city, via Merrion Gates and Beach Road.

I still have to make a journey out Drumcondra Road where there’s more examples where taking the lane saves from unwanted problems, eg going over the bridge over the Tolka river when heading out of the city at Botanic Ave to the start of the hill running past DCU.

I use this defensive cycling skill at various points each day along sections of my cycling route to/from work. It’s very annoying. Sometimes when I just cycle in the secondary position in some of these places, I find one of the scenarios outlined above arise very quickly and unexpectedly. However, it’s not unexpectedly, it’s predictable as per the lack of safe cycling Infrastructure. So I then quickly adjust my cycling position into primary, reluctantly.

There are very few times that I encounter someone beeping and being aggressive towards me due to their perception that I am in the way. When it happens, I have tried many ways to tackle this. The most successful I have found is to ignore the persons first beep / aggressive tailgate for a few seconds. Don’t worry, I know how this behaviour makes you feel. It’s horrible. An opportunity to overtake usually arises soon after.

If the person hasn’t given up, then simply turn around and smile and give a slight wave to acknowledge them, but keep taking the lane. It’s worth noting that this person is highly likely to be the same person that would skim past you super close and fast, if you were cycling closer to the curb.

If they persist, pull over and stop, take their details and report it to the Gardai. Although, I must add, going to your local/nearby Gardai doesn’t offer much help. You might find it better to call their Traffic Watch number 1890 20 58 05 and you will speak to a more sympathetic ear who will pass it on to the local Garda station for assignment for follow up. But in my experience, don’t expect much help.

Ultimately, we need safe segregated cycling which can only be built with political will and sufficient funding. We are seriously underfunding cycling in Ireland and the understanding to correctly separate cycling is low amongst decision makers.

Supporting #cycling4all and perhaps contributing to the Dublin Cycling Campaign and getting behind the #allocate4cycling campaign and adding your voice to ask your local and national politicians to understand cycling needs and provide for it. We need to change our urban environment and it needs to happen much sooner than later to reduce our impact on climate change, air quality and poor access to good lifestyle choices.

I advocate for cycling and currently heading up the DLR Cycling Advocacy Group. Former chair of the Dublin Cycling Campaign and part of Cyclist.ie. I typically use Dutch Bikes, Electric Bikes and occasionally cargo bikes.

9 Comments

  1. Employers can also do their bit in calling for safer commuting conditions for people who cycle by signing up to CyclingWorks (https://dublin.cyclingworks.org/)

  2. Sound Advice! Command the Lane where its necessary! Stay Safe and recognise your rights as an on-street vehicle…..and ideally support Campaigners in trying to make conditions better!

  3. Great advice – part of the issue is that the key decision makers in Dublin City Council don’t cycle on the roads themselves.
    So they have no idea of the feeling of being passed by a truck at speed that is only an inch away from your shoulder

  4. Well said. I find removing the temptation to dangerously overtake a cyclist by taking the primary position makes perfect sense. I hope that some day soon cyclists will have there own infrastructure so that all can cycle without the anxiety caused by sharing the road with motorists vechicles.

  5. Fantastic piece, totally agree with your observations. Nice work.

  6. Taking the primary riding position (aka controlling the vehicle lane) when necessary is not for the faint-hearted in traffic in cities in Ireland. The Road Safety Authority and the Garda Roads Policing Unit have done no education of drivers for this life-preserving manoeuvre. It’s not in the Rules of the Road in any explicit way with illustrations, etc.
    One big issue with road safety implementation in Ireland is the unacceptable fact that so few senior police officers, politicians, driving instructors and road safety personnel are actually out and about on bikes. There is scant experiential understanding of what it’s like cycling in congested traffic.
    The NCPF (2009) called for many more Garda members to be sent out on bikes on patrol duties. Something that Judge Charleton made reference to in an aside in his report last week.

  7. There are many times on both urban and rural roads when taking the lane is much the safer option, but as Mike says it not for the faint hearted, and I would add not for the inexperienced. Another major advantage is that it makes you much more visible to motorists, when many motorists look up a road, they are looking in the middle of the lane where they expect cars to be. Being where they expect traffic to be makes it more likely they will see you.

    I am also fond of the ostentatious wobble, swinging wildly and erratically across the lane when the motorist is still some seconds behind and see how they react to that. If they slow down and move right, I’ll keep into the left, if not I’ll hold the lane. This style of cycling requires a lot of looking back as the motorist makes their final approach, particularly on rural roads where the closing speeds are much quicker and reaction times are much shorter. The key skill is being able to look behind and still hold your line perfectly. But it is not for the faint hearted either.

    In my experience staying in the secondary position on rural roads will result in about one seriously close overtake per hour cycled. This of course is not for the faint hearted either.

  8. Kevin Sweeney’s ‘wobble’ advice is one I deploy too when I feel threatened by a close/fast approach.
    I deflect the bike by a side-to-side yaw, but keeping my forward track constant.
    I am teaching this to the grandchildren at present.

  9. Having mirrors is great when employing the wobble as u can see their reaction real-time.

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