In response to my post entitled “The Sunday Outing”, I received some interesting comments including the following remark from “Disgruntled”:
“There’s some research that says motorists on average will leave as much space between them and the bike, as the bike has left between itself and the kerb. So the further out you are, the more room you will have …”
Actually there is a sort of logic behind this. The motorist is (presumably) thinking that if you are happy with half a metre between you and the kerb on your left (and this distance is your decision), then you will be happy with half a metre between you and his vehicle on your right. It ain’t necessarily so.
Rule 163 of The Highway Code (don’t yawn!) says to drivers of motor vehicles “Give cyclists at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car.” The actual amount of room is not specified but it will also depend on the speed of the motor vehicle at the time. When passing parked cars a clearance of (say) at least a metre should be given to allow for the risk of a door being opened or a pedestrian stepping out between cars. If the overtaking vehicle has to get closer then the driver is supposed to reduce speed. It follows then that if a driver cannot give a cyclist at least a metre then he must pass at a correspondingly slower speed. (the measurements that I have quoted here are only examples and not to be taken literally). All of this is fine in theory.
Disgruntled goes on to say in the next paragraph, “…but you could try a strategic wobble or two?”
Well, I must admit that a few weeks ago, when I returned to cycling after many years, my wobbles were entirely involuntary. The funny thing is that they worked, in this context at least. I noticed that drivers kept well clear when overtaking me and I remarked about it in a post at the time. Now, I am pleased to report, I can ride very steadily if need be – and I can also throw a very convincing wobble!
But throwing convincing wobbles is not the answer. I know it takes a bit of nerve at times to assert yourself in traffic but the first thing to remember is that cyclists’ rights to their share of the road is equal to that of any other road user. Some motorists seem to think that they have, or should have, more rights because they pay what is commonly known as “road tax”. They are wrong. “Road tax” has never been a way of buying rights to the road. Come to that, it has not even been ring-fenced for use on roads for decades, if ever in fact.
Cyclists need to assert themselves confidently but, above all, competently, avoiding hesitation, indecision and sloppy or late signalling. Like all road users we cyclists need to apply two basic principles: First, know the rules, thoroughly, and know how to apply them, ie. exactly the correct procedure for tackling right turns, roundabouts, overtaking parked cars etc. Yes, you do need to learn the current edition of the Highway Code because it was revised last year and contains many revisions relevant to cyclists.
Secondly, you need to be concentrating on your cycling to a sufficient extent to know what it going on all around you all the time and to anticipate what is going to happen next, and as far in advance as possible. In my opinion this calls for a good mirror, used frequently and supplemented by glancing over your shoulder when necessary as a final check. It also rules out the use of any sort of portable music player or similar – you need your ears as much as your eyes to keep you informed.
Driving a bicycle is, in fact, much the same as driving a car inasmuch as it is an ongoing sequence of procedures. Concentrate, observe, anticipate, know where you want to go, signal clearly in good time and take the relevant action when safe to do so. With a bit of practice this gets easier and does wonders for the confidence.