Having returned to cycling only a couple of months ago after a break of more than 30 years, I wanted to find out what I could about cycling on the public highway in modern conditions. For more than half a century a book called Roadcraft has been the motorist’s bible, even though relatively few motorists have bothered to read it. I discovered recently that cyclists have had their equivalent for several years and, logically enough, it is called Cyclecraft (by John Franklin). For the past ten years it has been published by The Stationery Office (the UK government’s official bookshop) and it is recommended reading for the National Cycle Training Standard, known as Bikeability.
I do not propose to offer a detailed review of Cyclecraft here. Suffice it to say that it is a substantial book in more ways than one. After several short reading sessions I am only halfway through it. It requires and deserves to be read slowly and thoughtfully. In my opinion, any cyclist who deprives himself or herself of the knowledge contained within its 240 pages is already suffering a serious disadvantage in today’s road and traffic conditions. End of sermon!
Among the particularly interesting topics that I have come across in Cyclecraft so far is a description of the powers of observation of typical drivers. This led on to the importance of positioning on the road for cyclists. Here I was introduced to a concept that differed very sharply from my understanding of correct cyclists’ behaviour – namely the uses of primary and secondary riding positions. Here the secondary riding position was what we would have considered the norm 50 years ago, that is, 2-3 feet from the kerb except when overtaking obstacles or preparing to turn right. The primary riding position is new to me. It is in the middle of the lane of moving traffic that you, as a cyclist, are sharing with motor vehicles. It aims to put you where following drivers cannot fail to see you and where they cannot overtake you within the same lane. In a nutshell, it is the safest position for the cyclists in several situations which are clearly described and illustrated in Cyclecraft.
Cyclecraft is, in effect, the nearest thing we have in the UK to an official government manual on cycling and what it is saying is that in various situations on the road we cyclists should adopt the primary riding position, thus deliberately obstructing the progress of other traffic, when necessary in order to give priority to our own safety. To put it in the vernacular “I don’t have a problem with that”…
…except that there is no mention of primary and secondary riding positions in The Highway Code. This small book, which is the minimum required reading for anyone wishing to pass the UK driving test, indicates that the old golden rule still applies, that is (Rule 160) “Once moving you should keep to the left…” and also that everyone is expected to drive (or, presumably, cycle) with reasonable consideration for other road users. Very many drivers of motor vehicles, and especially those who already mistakenly believe that they are entitled to priority over cyclists, will regard it as anything but “reasonable consideration” when a cyclist judges it necessary to adopt the primary riding position – even when the manoeuvre is carried out with due attention to prior observation, signalling etc. Furthermore, although Roadcraft is recommended to “Any driver wishing to develop their skills and safety to a more advanced level”, the only reference to cyclists that I have found is where we are listed among roadside hazards – which hardly amounts to an advanced level of information about how cyclists can be expected to behave.
Cyclecraft, Roadcraft, and The Highway Code are all published by The Stationery Office and all three were revised in 2007. It seems to me that those responsible for The Highway Code and for Roadcraft are lagging behind in their understanding of best practice in cycling. Either that or Cyclecraft, despite being the recommended Bikeability handbook, has got it wrong.
If there have been changes in the behaviour which cyclists are entitled, and officially encouraged, to adopt for their own safety, surely it is high time that drivers were made aware of these changes. Given the current increasing popularity of cycling, and its further enhanced profile thanks to our brilliant Olympians, this seems to me to be an excellent time to launch a more thorough revision of The Highway Code (and of Roadcraft) in conjunction with a high profile publicity campaign.