Controversial Commute Tips 7 – Stand Firm

[If you haven’t already, and are wondering why my cycle commuting tips might be controversial, please read the introduction!]

This is a tip about cycling character. And while I would never advocate any form of road-rage, any inciting of road-rage or anything along those lines, I think it’s important to be confident on the road as a cyclist and to stand your ground a bit.

Confidence is not something that I can give you tips about. It’s something that you’ll grow into as you do more cycling on the roads. As you grow in confidence perhaps you can start to try some of what I suggest below.

I should probably point out that the things I mention here are my own style of cycling, and you adopt any of my “tips” at your own risk…very much as you adopt cycling in general at your own risk. And, of course, I defer to the Highway Code and the road laws of the UK in all matters.

My aim, in “standing firm”, is to make sure that other road users around me are aware of my presence, and my rights as a cyclist AS I’m cycling.

I mostly do this by riding the “primary position”. Not all of the time, but when it’s appropriate. This means I’m not hugging the left-hand kerb, but I’m a couple or three feet from it.

But there are other occasions too. At junctions and “pinch points” – where the road narrows or lanes merge – I do a LOT of looking over my shoulder. Establishing eye contact with the driver behind says “I’m here…I’m allowed to be here…please give me room”.

These techniques should always be combined with obeying the rules of the road and especially with clear signalling well in advance of what you intend to do.

One good example is on my way home there’s a place where there’s a nasty sunken drain cover just before a roundabout.

Location of nasty drain cover
Location of nasty drain cover
Nasty Drain Cover - worse than it looks with a nasty sharp back edge.
Nasty Drain Cover - worse than it looks with a nasty sharp back edge.

To go over it is horrid. To go left of it forces you down a narrow gap close to the kerb, to go right of it means, pretty much, cycling in the middle of the road. So I look behind, check for space, and pull into the middle really early on.  (I tend not to indicate here as I’m not turning right at the roundabout…not sure what I should actually be doing?!). Moving out gives me a pretty good line over the roundabout too!

Of course, there are two dangers with the “Stand Firm” approach:

  1. The driver ignores you and refuses to give you room. I only cycle the primary position, or move out if I know it’s safe. If something’s in my way – or if I’m in something’s way – then I keep well clear, and with experience you’ll learn to listen and hear what the vehicle behind you might be about to do. A revving engine as you approach a roundabout means “get out the way, I’m coming through!”
  2. Being annoying. This happens far less than you think. Much as a few bad cyclists get the general cycling population a bad press, so a few bad drivers give the driving population a bad press.  Most drivers seem to respond well to cues and signals that I give.

    But standing firm must also be tempered with grace. Give people room, let people through, acknowledge that cars can go faster than you and let them. A good example: Temporary traffic lights on a country road. I’ve reached them first and stopped and a few cars are behind me. Pulling away first means that they all want to overtake me on a section of road reduced to one lane. So I just stop and wave them past. No dangerous overtaking, no annoyed cyclist, no annoyed drivers. Everyone wins!

You’re allowed to be on the road! If you’re confident, and if it’s safe to do so, make sure that others are aware of that. But be aware that others are on the road too and sometimes, a little give and take works wonders.

[Update – after writing this I read an article written by a 12-year-old who, after some cycle training, “managed to make [a double decker bus] that was so much bigger than me slow down while I moved across its path”. It seems that my approach – at least the road positioning, signalling and asserting yourself parts – is advocated as a part of basic training!]