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
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.