Partners on the Road

Partners on the Road

I am always surprised how many cyclists are afraid of cars and their drivers, or have downright animosity to them. I prefer to see drivers as partners in a big game called Traffic.
It starts with the wording: “Share the Road” implies sacrifice. I prefer to think of other road users as “partners” on a team, not competitors fighting for our “share” of a finite amount of road space. After all, we all have a common goal: Keeping traffic flowing smoothly and safely.
Partnership means being aware of each other and communicating clearly. Turn signals indicate our intentions to other traffic. When we approach a “four-way” stop, we can wave a waiting car to proceed before we come to a complete stop. Not only do they get to go earlier, but our wait will be shorter, too.
When a car approaches from behind on a winding country road, we can wave them past when we see that the road around the next bend is clear. This allows them to move more efficiently, and it creates a bond between driver and cyclist that can only be beneficial. (Be sure that the road really is clear before you do this!)
Partnership means obeying the spirit of the rules more than the letter, and not cutting in front of traffic because we can. It means stopping for pedestrians at crosswalks, because we know what it is like to be at the bottom of the “traffic food chain.” (Most pedestrians are drivers, too, so use any opportunity to impress them with your consideration.) It means moving to the right when it’s safe for traffic to pass, but “taking the lane” when it is not.
Partnership also means looking out for one another. If an oncoming car needs a little room to pass, we can move over to help them out. The next time we make a mistake, we’ll be glad if others take up the slack. If a car wants to merge, we can let them in.
When we approach a red traffic light, do we really need to pass the waiting cars on the right and move to the front? If we stay behind, fewer cars pass us when the light turns green, and everybody can proceed with a minimum of stress. If we think of each other as partners instead of competitors, traffic will flow more smoothly and safely for all involved.
If we act with consideration and respect, then drivers soon will see us as partners, too, rather than nuisances delaying their progress. I see this happen more and more in Seattle, where drivers wave “thanks” when I move over to let them through on a narrow street, or smile when I thank them for waiting until I clear a narrow section. These little exchanges greatly contribute to my happiness during my urban rides.
Enjoy the ride, partner!
Click here to read more posts about cycling safety, cyclepaths and bike lanes.

Photo credit: Andrea Schick-Zech

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Comments (58)

  • manu

    It’s give and take. When you’re respect the drivers you’ll get respect too.

    July 4, 2013 at 1:27 am
  • Gert

    In my newspapers I often see letters to the editor, About how cyclist are doing this and that.Not following the rules etc. I hate the generalisation. Bad behaviour in traffic is not based on which vehicle you are driving.
    So I do also try to not only follow the law by giving hand signals for turning and stopping etc. But primarily for the consideration it shows to others. I am no saint. I can also wave a closed hand, at people who are dangerous in traffic
    I do not know if it has any effect on others, being considerate, But it makes me feel better about myself.

    July 4, 2013 at 3:05 am
    • Cathy

      Totally agree about the generalization problem. Too many conversations like this deteriorate into generalization and recrimination. And communication of our intentions on the road is so important – a cyclist is in such a good position to communicate.

      July 8, 2013 at 11:16 am
  • Leo

    well written, and well worth considering.
    I’m one of those horrible bikers that’s chasing personal bests on routs A-B in city-traffic. I also often complain about drivers misbehaving, because they are cut of from the world and people in there closed can-like cars. But it do work in both directions, I don’t really se them as persons, or even human beings, because of the very same reason. I find it much easier to concern about pederestians, even though I also drive at times..
    So, thank you for the pacifistic words in the seemingly ever worsening conflict (war?) between drivers and bicyclists.
    Leo, Stockholm, Sweden

    July 4, 2013 at 4:27 am
  • robertkerner

    Nicely stated. All too often, there is a “them against us” attitude on both sides. I always get surprised looks from motorists when I stop at signs and lights and wave them through when they’ve been waiting. Sadly, the motorists seem to expect me to blow through the traffic control.
    I try to ride (both my bike and motorcycle) with two “rules” in mind. First, any mishap mustn’t be my fault. I’m responsible for my own safety. Second, extend the same level of courtesy to other riders and cars as I would want from them. So far so good.

    July 4, 2013 at 4:46 am
  • Robert Cooper

    This is excellent. I would only suggest replacing “car” with “driver” or “motorist,” since it’s the driver we are interacting with rather than the car. A subtle conceptual shift. Also, see the video at “You Lead the Dance.”

    July 4, 2013 at 4:52 am
  • Robert Cooper July 4, 2013 at 5:00 am
  • archergal

    I ride mostly on suburban roads where there are relatively few transportation cyclists. I’m also a slow rider, so it just makes sense to me to move over when it’s safe and wave people past. I rarely filter up to the front of a traffic line, because I just don’t see the point of having to deal AGAIN with all the cars that have already passed me. There are places where I DO take the lane, because doing so is MUCH safer than not taking it. I occasionally wonder if I’m hurting the cycling cause by being so accommodating to folks in cars. I hope not. It’s easier for me, and it’s easier for cars when I ride like I do, I think.
    One other thing I do is to turn and smile & wave at the car behind me when I’m stopped at a red light. I’ve got a good, contagious smile, and I often get smiles and waves back. I enjoy it, and it doesn’t hurt anything. Maybe it helps a little.

    July 4, 2013 at 6:36 am
  • Jay Guerin

    Most of what you suggest is good advice….except the point about waving a following vehicle to pass you when you see the path is clear. What if you are wrong about the path being clear?

    July 4, 2013 at 6:42 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Then I would have made a huge mistake! Kidding aside, I understand that risk and am very careful, but in the end, it is up to the driver to make the decision.

      July 5, 2013 at 7:42 am
    • Ralph Sturgen

      When I wave them by, I’m only saying “It looks clear to me”. I have no idea of the motorist’s comfort level, acceleration, or anything else. I sure hope they look first.

      July 8, 2013 at 6:20 am
  • James Jacobs

    Very nicely done. I like the idea of partnership, and the attitude you promote is right on.

    July 4, 2013 at 6:48 am
  • David Pearce

    Off the Beaten Path has become my favorite website, due in most part to your thoughtful and informed postings.
    I think your point about following the spirit of the law is good. I have decided to modify my rigid idea of my urban cycling: I used to say, “I am a vehicle. I must follow all the rules exactly, to impress car drivers that bicyclists can be trusted.”
    Now I’ve modified that a little, with respect to red lights. If it’s just me and a crossing motorist waiting for the lights to change, I will stop, wait, look around, and then proceed through the red light “if conditions allow”, especially if it is raining or late at night when we two are the only vehicles in sight.
    I hope this helps avoid confusion in the mind of the other driver, who may be wondering “why is that bicyclist just stopped there waiting in the rain?”, and also allows me to get safely ahead and out of the way of that motorist when he turns to follow me.
    Divining what another driver is thinking is always the hard part, but staying alert with full situational awareness around me is key, and I try to be a good player in the game of Traffic.
    Happy Fourth of July and let’s stay safe out there!

    July 4, 2013 at 6:52 am
  • David Pearce

    In the example above, I didn’t mean a crossing driver at a red light, I meant a car driver beside me, traveling in the same direction, both of us stopping at the red light. I will proceed through the red light if condtions allow, especially if traffic is nil or it is raining. This allows me to get ahead of and out of the way of the same direction motorist, rather than waiting and starting out at the same time.

    July 4, 2013 at 7:03 am
  • Joe Ramey

    Anger breeds anger, and courtesy breeds courtesy. As the great philosophers Jagger/Richards once said, ” [Road] love children, is just a wave away” perhaps I paraphrase. Thanks Jan for sharing the writing road with us. Happy Independence Day!

    July 4, 2013 at 7:32 am
  • msrw

    Jan, this is absolutely superb advice. Thank you for a thoughtful, gracious and extremely wise post.

    July 4, 2013 at 8:12 am
  • Bruce (@Sacchoromyces)

    Your views on Critical Mass then?

    July 4, 2013 at 8:40 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I have participated in only one Critical Mass, so I cannot comment specifically. In general, demonstrations and marches serve the purpose to show the population at large that there is a constituency out there – whether it’s racial minorities, citizens opposed to a war that is being launched, or people who like to ride bikes. Being visible is the first step to obtaining respect, and events like that make you and your cause more visible.
      In Seattle where I live, cyclists are beyond that stage. Critical Mass could serve as a celebration, like the marches on Martin Luther King Day, but I am glad that cyclists just are part of the community, and no longer a group apart.

      July 6, 2013 at 2:21 am
  • Bill Watts

    This sentiment is very much in line with what Eben Weiss (the Bike Snob) has to say in his recent book, The Enlightened Cyclist. It is an admirable notion, and, in general, I think it worth remembering that we get out of exchanges what we put into them. If we enter into a transaction with anger, we will only get more anger in return, but if we enter with generosity, we are likely to find generosity in the other party. This sentiment is, however, more difficult to sustain in parts of the country where cyclists are routinely honked at by motorist and told to get off the road. But this may be changing too.
    Billl Watts

    July 4, 2013 at 8:45 am
  • Frédéric

    Hello Jan,
    I agree.
    To be respected we must be respectable and respectful.

    July 4, 2013 at 9:53 am
  • Ross

    The fear and animosity frequently comes from our lives literally being put at risk, whether “intentionally” or not. Certainly, many cyclists have scary experiences due to their own unsafe riding techniques (besides deficient infrastructure and enforcement allowing more opportunities for “mistakes” by all road users). However, there are times when drivers intentionally scare or attack cyclists. I ride safely and predictably, without aggression, in one of the notably “bike friendly” places in the US. While it has been relatively rare, I still have been attacked and harassed. (It bears mentioning that I’m not the easiest target, either.)
    I agree with your point that we must act with consideration and respect if we are to expect it of other road users. There is no better alternative. This doesn’t mean you’ll never be targeted, but it certainly can generally reduce the danger for all cyclists.
    I’d like to encourage everybody to look at “Bicycling Street Smarts,” by John S. Allen. It is the best work I’ve found describing safe, effective, and legal techniques for riding on public roadways. It’s available online for free:
    It’s likely that many readers of this blog don’t feel the need to read it, and for them I’d like to ask that they give a copy to somebody who does need to!
    Thanks, everybody.

    July 4, 2013 at 12:28 pm
  • Paul Glassen

    Over many decades of riding I have marvelled that it is not more common for cyclists to wave past an overtaking car. Drivers usually give you more room and frequently a wave of thanks in reply. I remember reading a safety study that said body language communication on the road is far more important than generally realized. A simple partial turn of the head, a shoulder check, let’s the overtaking driver know the cyclist knows they are there. Along with riding a steady straight line this communicates, “I’m will be here, and I know you’re there, so go ahead and make a safe pass.” Of course, it is also important to remember that only 1 in 10 car/bike collisions are from an overtaking car. 8 of 10 are from the oncoming car turning left, or a car pulling out of a side street or drive. So we must keep our eyes on the road ahead first and foremost.

    July 4, 2013 at 12:55 pm
    • archergal

      “A simple partial turn of the head, a shoulder check, lets the overtaking driver know the cyclist knows they are there.”
      This makes a BIG difference where I ride. I ride with a mirror and see folks coming a good ways back. But doing a quick shoulder check (i.e., turning my head just enough to indicate to the folks behind me that I know they’re there) really seems to help the drivers behind me.

      July 5, 2013 at 3:01 pm
  • TimJ

    Thank you, a terrific post. We are all indeed traffic and the sooner we respect one another, the better. Just today I was riding on single lane polder roads. At times I went faster to veer into a widening to allow a car past, signaled a car behind abut a clear road ahead, and even unclipped and stopped to make way for a tractor. At the same time I had cars wait patiently behind me for situations where overtaking was unsafe and other cars that pulled into widenings to allow my passage. It can be done, it just takes good will and understanding.

    July 4, 2013 at 12:57 pm
  • Nick Skaggs

    Agreed. Here in Portland, many major intersections have had green “bike boxes” installed. These boxes are painted in such a way as to encourage cyclists to pass stopped cars on the right and cut in front of them at an intersection. The box I encounter the most is on SE Powell Blvd and 26th.
    I frequently see people using these bike boxes to pass cars on the right while traffic is stopped, only to have the light turn green while riders are passing cars. Many right hook collisions have nearly occured in front of my eyes because of this.
    To me, the bike boxes seem more dangerous than they are benificial, and I’ve just begin queuing up with the stopped cars and behaving like an automobile until I cross the boxed intersections.

    July 4, 2013 at 1:59 pm
  • Restituto Refuerzo

    When I cycle, I try to ‘feel’ the motorists around me and when I drive, I try to ‘feel’ the cyclist/s on the road.

    July 4, 2013 at 4:17 pm
  • doug peterson

    Thoughtful and thought provoking. Going with the flow rather than trying to force one’s way along seems more civilized. I see some of my fellow cyclists taking the aggressive attitude that they are somehow entitled to special treatment. Thanks for the thoughts.

    July 4, 2013 at 9:10 pm
  • Zbyszek Kolendo

    How right on the mark is your observation about obeying the spirit of the rules more than the letter. When I read your articles Jan, probably like most of your readers , I get this feeling that you speak for me. By virtue of their vehicle type drivers and cyclists are definitely two different categories of traffic, but never on opposing sides, like some dialectically-minded little marxits like to think. We should think of each other as partners instead of competitors, as you say, simply because we are such and we are in trouble if our thinking gets us away from our reality. And sadly, it does happen ever so often.
    Oh yes, we do enjoy your sorties against commonplace cycling preaching, and here we go again. It is quite refreshing for me to read that there is no need for us to advance to the front on the right side of the cars waiting at red. Most ‘cycling authorities’ maintain that it is safer to do this manoeuvre in order to make yourself more prominent in the traffic, therefore safer. In Poland they are even considering (if it’s not done yet) passing a necessary legislation.
    Personally, I’m somewhere in the middle ground. I pass the cars on the right to get to the front just to get out of the mixture because I am not an ingredient of the same type, like oil, I must be on top. But I only do it when the lane is wide enough for the cars to pass me freely with no need to slow down or swerve for me. If it’s narrow, I just let the faster go fast first.
    Zbyszek Kolendo

    July 5, 2013 at 2:43 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      You do not want to be next to cars in the blind spot when you are stopped at a light. Whether you move to the front or stay behind, take the lane to be safe against the dreaded “left hook.”

      July 6, 2013 at 2:10 am
  • Rolly

    Simple action-reaction dynamics. A lot of drivers and cyclists forget common courtesy when on the road. But mostly those same people, when pedestrians in a crowded place like a busy bar or market, wouldnt dream of forgetting that cooperative dynamic because they know their discourteous actions would get a discourteous – or maybe even hostile – reaction. I have a lot of experience in traffic and learned how to be ‘invisible’ when I ride; by that I mean I can blend in, embracing the flow, and I rarely inconvenience anybody and nobody really inconveniences me. (Admittedly though this took a while for me to learn, so I can’t be too self righteous about it). Sadly I have friends who I don’t like riding with because of their lack of courtesy and sometimes over the top militancy. It’s a jungle out there but harmony is not only possible but healthier and way less stressful

    July 5, 2013 at 4:30 am
  • Garth

    I love the pic – and in color! What a great Peugot wagon (estate car?) and I love the tattoos on the driver. It reminds me of contemporary bike culture – checking out bicycle tatoos at the monthly critical mass ride is always neat.
    I would love the picture as a poster…

    July 5, 2013 at 9:00 am
  • David Pearce

    One of the things that really infuriates me about bicyclists (and pedestrians and especially motorists) is when they clog their ears with earbuds attached to their phones/music machines. Usually I see rather uninformed commuting bicyclists pedaling by with earbuds, sometimes on those bone-shaker city rental bikes.
    Not only is it so unsafe, but also unfriendly, and keeps us from interacting with the sounds of the city or with other cyclists at a stopping point.
    Same with pedestrians: I like to say hello or good morning from time to time, and those people can’t hear you. Or you’re stuck walking behind one of them on a busy sidewalk, oblivious that they’re holding up others while they talk to someone on the phone or readjust their iPod tracks.
    Once, I bought a bicycle clock-radio for my BikeE, which played music or talk radio out loud, which I thought I could share with people out in the streets. It was Ok, but the technology was not all there, and the battery would continually rattle loose over the pot-holed streets of D.C.
    Anyway, God save me from earbuds. They may have saved Apple in time of need, but I find them infuriating when one is bicycling or motoring.

    July 5, 2013 at 9:03 am
  • Heather

    I have always taken this spirit and tried to be helpful, waving cars along when appropriate as it is about moving traffic along, but from experience I also cannot assume that drivers are going to do their part and often have fear, which can turn into anger. It does not help if drivers do not know the rules and that bicycles are considered vehicles under the law and require the same respect. It’s hard to be helpful when vehicles are downright aggressive, speeding, not following the rules and making it unsafe for cyclists.
    It depends where you are as well. I live in an area that is considered unsafe for cycling, but it should be ideal. Rural/suburban, relatively short distances between town/villages for easy biking, beautiful scenery etc, but it is not to be. I often find cycling in big cities to be easier, cyclists have a big presence, drivers know the cyclists are there, good infrastructure helps too.

    July 5, 2013 at 10:36 am
  • Philip

    I absolutely agree, especially about not filtering up to the front of a line of cars. I queue up in line with them, and it makes everything easier, both for them and for me. I pull to the side as we progress, so that the cars can pass easily. I stopped sliding up to the front when I noticed oncoming traffic hesitating to make their protected left when our lights changed, because they couldn’t tell I wasn’t proceeding straight through.
    I am going to try your “wave cars across before you stop” tip. There’s a four-way stop on my lunch circuit that it could help with.

    July 5, 2013 at 2:23 pm
  • Sam

    Great post, nice and to the point, but like so many important things in life that should be evident, they bear repeating. Let’s all try and generate good “carma” for us and the next cyclist who gets passed. And how about being nice to each other – unless we’re in a race (and even then) are we not brothers and sisters of the same club, out to have fun and put a smile on our face?

    July 5, 2013 at 2:27 pm
  • David Feldman

    Jan, a bike store in your city used to sell shirts that said it better. R&E Cycles sold T-shirts printed with the slogan “One More Parking Space.” Even 20 years ago, that was a powerful message in Seattle!

    July 5, 2013 at 3:58 pm
  • Scott

    Your partnering concept strikes me as naive. I agree that the the vast majority of drivers will respond with courtesy, if treated courteously by cyclists. However, these drivers are a non-issue.
    The trouble is with the bad-actors, the drivers with a pathological hatred towards cyclists and a willingness to use their vehicle like a weapon to threaten, attempt to intimidate, and attempt to run cyclist off the road if it has the potential to get the driver to the next red-light 1 second sooner. No amount of “partnering” or polite behavior by cyclists is going to improve the behavior of these bad-actor drivers. Granted, this sort of intentionally aggressive driving behavior is certainly more prevalent in NYC than Seattle.
    What is needed is tough laws and a willingness to throw drivers in prison and take away their drivers license if they run down cyclists or pedestrians.

    July 6, 2013 at 3:53 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I agree that enforcement is important. I have reported several bus drivers in Seattle who drove with disregard to my safety…
      That said, it must be our goal to change the culture, so that aggressive and discourteous behavior becomes socially unacceptable. The “bad actors” feel like they can act aggressively toward those they perceive as inferior (whether it’s people of color, cyclists or other minorities). Thus, the way to change this is through the “vast majority”. If a guy shows up somewhere and relates how he ran a cyclist off the road “to show him who is boss,” it makes a difference whether his friends say “Yes, those cyclists are a nuisance” or “Man, I don’t think that is right.”
      In any case, as cyclists, we aren’t exactly in a position of strength if it comes to “might makes right.”

      July 6, 2013 at 9:21 am
      • Zbyszek Kolendo

        If I can join in. Today while riding I was replaying in the head your article and all the comments the readers made and a reflection came – not too helpful, really – but again, so akin to your observation of aggression towards ‘ people of color, cyclists or other minorities’ ; drivers aggressive towards cyclists, or cyclists swearing and waving fists at drivers – these people do not actually have issues with the the other party, but with t h e m v e r y s e l v e s. Not too helpful an observation, I know. The silver lining is they at least don’t resort to any IEDs …
        As for the comment you made to my post a bit above: I’ll work harder to learn to take the lane.

        July 6, 2013 at 12:12 pm
      • Scott

        Jan, We agree on much. But, let’s face it. You and I, and the readers of this blog, are bike weirdos. It is fine if a few of us bike weirdos want to be extra-polite while we ride our bikes. But if we think this will accomplish “our goal to change culture”, then we are being naive.
        Bike share programs and bike lanes hold the promise of encouraging large numbers of non-bike-weirdos (you know, the type of people who don’t read bike blogs for fun) to use bikes for transportation. This phenomenon has a much greater potential to “change the culture.”

        July 7, 2013 at 3:39 am
  • marmotte27

    I have a bit of a problem with pulling over to let cars pass, as some people seem to advocate: When there’s enough room for a car to pass (that is, because the opposite lane is free), they don’t need me to pull over, and if there isn’t room, the last thing I want is to encourage them to push through a gap that’s far to narrow (even if I ride at the outside of the road), putting me and others at (great) risk in the process.
    So I tend to choose a line that will make sure cars only pass when it’s safe to do so, for everybody. This may be perceived as ‘hostile’ by some drivers, when it’s actually best for everyone.

    July 6, 2013 at 1:50 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      It all depends. When I am on a narrow, winding road, I often can see the next (short) straight before the driver patiently following gets a clear view. Then I can wave them past, which shortens their reaction time and allows them to get past in the safest manner. Or, if there isn’t enough room, but they’ve followed for a while, I can move into a little pull-out and let them pass.
      I do not advocate clearing the road immediately when a car appears from behind. Fortunately, the drivers who expect this are becoming few and far between. The only places I have encountered them recently were European cities with bike lanes, where drivers seemed to assume that cyclists were not allowed on the road (even on streets without bike lanes).

      July 7, 2013 at 12:18 am
  • Doug

    I often wave cars past, frequently pulling into a driveway or pullout to do so. My motivations are purely selfish: I get nervous with cars driving slowly behind me. I’d rather “give in” and let them pass.
    Re: filtering to the front. Generally, I agree, but just recently realized a common situation where it is more helpful for cyclists to ride right to the front of the line: controlled left turns. I was turning left yesterday (at the intersection of SR106 & SR3, outside Belfair for Seattle riders) with about six cars in front of me. Three or four filed in behind me while I waited. I realized it would take me a while to get through the large intersection, so I pulled abreast of the first car. This allowed the cars and me to make the left turns simultaneously with no delay.

    July 7, 2013 at 6:56 pm
  • Gary

    Great article, Jan. And lots of thoughtful comments.
    Here’s a traffic cycling educational video I made showing what we call “Control & Release” in CyclingSavvy.
    Another situation to let motorists by occurs in city traffic when a cyclist is at or near the head of a queue waiting at a red light and lots of cars accumulate behind. When the light turns green we proceed through the intersection and then move off the roadway at the next safe opportunity, such as a driveway or empty parking spot. In about 10 to 15 seconds all the cars have passed and we have the road to ourselves again.

    July 8, 2013 at 7:18 am
    • Robert Cooper

      Gary’s videos and those by CyclingSavvy have been important to me.

      July 12, 2013 at 7:42 pm
  • Robert Cooper

    On narrow, two-lane rural roads with no shoulders and relatively high MV speeds, it’s important to position mid-lane at least until the overtaking motorist slows.
    We get a lot of practice doing this here in the Finger Lakes Region of Western New York State.
    As the motorist slows, he is also assessing his options for overtaking. He becomes conscious of the fact that he has to do something *different* and not just barrel through without some adjustments of speed and lane position. He will likely need to yield to traffic in the opposite lane, for instance. If he cannot see around the blind turn ahead, he will need to wait until he can.
    If the cyclists are positioned near the right edge, more motorists will be lulled into not realizing this. The gap looks deceptively bigger than it is.
    Over the years, we have seen some incompetent maneuvers by impatient motorists, most or all of which could have been forestalled, if the cyclists had positioned themselves farther left in the lane.
    The thing to be avoided: Crawling along the right edge and making it appear to overtaking motorists that there is room to overtake without slowing or changing lanes. When the driver eventually gets to the gap that he assessed incorrectly, and when the driver begins his overtake realizing that he’s going too fast AND realizing that there is insufficient space available for a safe overtake, it’s too late.
    If we want to increase our chances of being rear-ended, we should ride closer to the right edge. Counterintuitive.
    John Forester has said that the lateral lane position of the cyclist is not the deciding factor in a motorist’s decision to overtake or of how and when to do it. The deciding factor is what is happening in the lane that the motorist will use to overtake. If we crawl along the right edge, we give the motorist permission to overtake within our lane; we effectively surrender the lane that we are using. Often (usually?) that’s not safe for him or us, and if he splits the lane, that puts at risk any traffic that may be using the oncoming lane, which of course could be other cyclists, not just other motorists.
    Once the cyclists can see that it’s safe for the driver to overtake, we have a number of ways of encouraging and enabling him to do so. But the important thing is to encourage the motorist not to overtake, when the maneuver will put ourselves, the motorist or others at risk. And when it is safe to overtake, cyclists have no obligation to encourage or enable the motorist. He just does it.
    The Five Values: Cyclists need to move swiftly, courteously, confidently, legally and safely. All five can be achieved without compromise.
    CyclingSavvy calls traffic “a dance you must lead.” Motorists in general do not have the training needed to assume a leadership role.

    July 8, 2013 at 9:28 am
  • Greg Collins

    Nice piece. Well put. But the argument doesn’t entirely carry the day for me. If we want to be respected we must respect others, sure. However, just because we respect others there is no guarantee the respect will be reciprocated. I choose to ride safely, assertively and within the law, and in that order, and I prioritise my safety over any other road users convenience. A minority of other road users will always object to that and may place my life and well-being at risk as a result. Their convenience trumps all. My respect, or otherwise, for them doesn’t change that.

    July 8, 2013 at 9:43 am
  • Bob Shanteau

    The problem is that highway engineers stripe lanes only wide enough for one vehicle, assuming that motorists will use the full lane. At the same time, they assume that bicyclists will comply with the law requiring them to ride “as far right as practicable”, allowing faster motorists to pass them in the same lane. But that means bicyclists are not entitled to use a full lane. This puts bicyclists in a dilemma. Do they ride at the right, inviting motorists to squeeze by in the same lane, or use the full lane and be considered uncooperative? The effect of the requirement to ride at the right edge is that bicyclists are expected to endanger and inconvenience themselves for the benefit of faster traffic, which has resulted in people being unwilling to use bicycles for everyday transportation.
    I was one of a group of bicyclists who worked for the adoption of the exceptions to the “as far right as practicable” law in California in 1975 and subsequently adopted in the Uniform Vehicle Code and in the codes of most states. One of those exceptions is for lanes that are too narrow for a vehicle and a bicycle to travel safely side by side. But most people still expect bicyclists to ride at the right edge and are not entitled to use a full lane.
    What we need is for the “as far right as practicable” to be repealed altogether, which would mean that bicyclists would have the same lane use rights as drivers of motor vehicles. Bicyclists would then be able to use the full lane by default and only pull over when they determine it is safe. This would require, however, a change in how highway engineers, law enforcement officers, judges and the public think about lanes.
    For more on this, see

    July 8, 2013 at 10:07 am
  • Giovanni Calcagno

    I’ve been reading articles about cyclists and motorists for years on American magazines and blogs.
    Do you think it’s safer to ride in Europe than in the USA?. I am living in Italy and though Italian drivers are not famous for their patience I feel safe on the road. I visited many places in the USA but always without bicycle while I rode extensively in Switzerland, France,Spain, Australia and Chile. It’s always difficult to generalize, in Chile drivers (especially bus drivers) were very aggressive in town like Santiago and Valparaiso and very respectful in the countryside .
    In Australia I found the opposite , a great bike culture in Melbourne and aggressive drivers in the countryside.
    Giovanni Calcagno

    July 8, 2013 at 3:37 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      It’s hard to say. In France, there seems to be less respect for cyclists in town, and more in the countryside. Germany generally is very good, but they aren’t used to high cyclist speeds. I found cycling in Chile great in Santiago, but horrible on the highways – the opposite of what you found. In the U.S., cities are generally better than rural areas, especially rural areas near cities, where the animosity toward urbanites is reflected in the attitudes toward cyclists. But even that is changing for the better…

      July 11, 2013 at 3:06 am
  • Greyson

    Great article and fun discussion, Jan, thank you. It’s always good to remember that we all, motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians alike, should be more courteous and considerate of one another.
    My only contention with your post was the “bottom of the traffic food chain” comment. While in practice this may be the case, I think it’s important to remind everyone that our laws are structured so that pedestrians are quite literally at the top of the traffic food chain, followed by cyclists, and then motorists.
    The point was to follow the spirit of the law, not the letter of the law and I completely agree with this sentiment. I know that I’m splitting hairs, but language like that, at least in my opinion, only perpetuates the “cyclist (or pedestrian) as hapless victim” mentality. So let’s draw on all of our unpleasant experiences in dealing with others and try to remember to just be courteous and considerate while following the spirit of the law.

    July 8, 2013 at 6:16 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The comment was in reference to pedestrians – I see too many cyclists who don’t yield to pedestrians, when that is the one opportunity we have to impress non-cyclists with our courtesy.

      July 11, 2013 at 3:01 am
  • Daniel

    I agree, we are partners. A local bike advocate recently tweeted about his blogpost (similar in intent to this one) by equating divers as trainable animals. As a driver, road rider, commuter, I’d say that drivers are partners. I communicate with drivers through hand signals and friendly words frequently, especially when commuting, if only to commiserate on waiting for a light while several cyclist blow though the red light.
    Roads are what they are and will be for some time. My town is rebuilding a good section of its central artery with one less car lane and adding bike lanes in either direction. Rebuilding for bikes is a long process.

    July 11, 2013 at 3:43 am
    • Daniel

      I should add that I disagreed with the local bike advcate’s comments about animals.

      July 11, 2013 at 9:33 am
  • Robert Cooper

    I encourage everyone to re-read Bob Shanteau’s comment, and to then go on to read his article, “The Marginalization of Bicyclists.” Subsequent comments in this thread do not indicate that the article has been read, or at least not that it has been digested. (Prepare to be astonished.) Let’s see some comments that are responses to the article.

    July 12, 2013 at 7:33 pm

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