Why cyclists often ride in the middle of the lane


The debate with regards to the rights of cyclists is never ending and there is often a general  ‘outcry’ from drivers with regards to cyclists who ride in the middle of the road, which can make it difficult for vehicles to pass them. “Cyclists are exposed to many dangers and elements on the roads,” says CEO of the Pedal Power Association, Robert Vogel. “If they ride in from the edge of the road, it is simply done for safety reasons.”

In 2013, the Western Cape Government passed a ‘one metre law’, which makes it compulsory for vehicles to pass cyclists with a minimum distance of one metre. The law also states that the driver of a motor vehicle on a public road may, where the roadway is not wide enough to comply with sub regulation (1) (b) or (c) when passing a cyclist, encroach on that part of the road to his or her right. This should be done only if: it can be done without obstructing or endangering other persons or vehicles; it is safe to do so; and it can be done and is done for a period and distance not longer than is necessary to pass the cyclist. Many drivers are, however, not aware of the fact that the law allows them to cross a solid white line under these circumstances, in order to safely pass a cyclist.

There are many reasons why cyclists ride in the middle of the left-hand lane. One of the most common reasons is that the usable road width does not begin at the edge of the road, but only where the debris ends, which is a good 50cm plus in from the edge of the road. The road debris, gutter and usable road surface is something that drivers do not always realise because it does not affect the wider/thicker car tyres as much as it does a bicycle tyre. Bicycle tyres are narrow, thin, and sand, thorns, oil, glass (cuts) are hazardous to them.

“Cycling in a section of the road that has been cleared of debris, makes sense from a cyclist’s perspective. There is often also a camber on the edge of the road surface to aid water flow away from the road surface. It is difficult to ride a bicycle on a camber, so cyclists try to ride on the road area which is flat.”

Cyclists swerve in order to avoid debris on the road, or potholes, sand, oil and the like. “Cyclists often sees such problems only at the last moment, causing them to swerve unexpectedly,” Vogel explains. “Motorists often do not anticipate such sudden movements from cyclists, which is even more reason why they need to give all cyclists a wide berth.”

Most vehicles are in excess of 2 metres wide, including the side mirrors. A bicycle, on the other hand, is only around 80-90 cm wide and often motorists try to ‘squeeze past’ a cyclist within the lane. When cyclists however, move a little further into a lane, motorists seem to notice cyclists better, but have to cross the median line in order to overtake the cyclists.

“On my road bike I measure close to 65 cm, elbow to elbow and I’ll be riding about 30 cm from the edge of the road.

The average road lane is 300-320 cm wide. If a sedan wants to pass me safely, the driver has to allow 100 cm from my elbow when passing as I am taking up 195 cm of roadway, at the point of passing which means that there is 125 cm left in the lane in which a 200 cm wide vehicle must move into the oncoming lane to pass me safely,” explains Vogel.

“We know that the majority of drivers don’t want to move into the oncoming lane and will therefore ‘take’ the 100 cm passing distance for themselves and deliberately endanger the cyclist,” says Vogel.

Cyclists often ride in the middle of the lane to be more visible to drivers, appearing in the rear-view mirror as opposed to a side mirror and staying out of blind spots. Motorists have the responsibility to scan the roadway ahead for cyclists.  Motorists need to acknowledge that cyclists take up more road space than their own body width and that  motorists have their vehicles to protect them whilst the cyclist is totally exposed. “When a motorist takes away the one metre space which a cyclist is entitled to by law, a life is in danger,” explains Vogel. “Most cyclists will move over to the left-hand side of the road when it is safe to do so.

We should all acknowledge other road users and this is not just a wave or a nod of thanks.

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