Subversive Suburbanite

Why I’m riding in the middle of the bloody road


THAT FEELING when you get to have the conversation you’ve rehearsed in your head a dozen times 🙂

I was cycling on a narrow residential road and the usual thing happened. When I say usual, this takes place roughly every second or third time I cycle on this particular street, a rat run that’s part of my route home from school. A driver (in a white van, on this occasion) accelerated up behind me, and when I kept my course bang in the middle of the road, began honking his horn and shouting.

The Department for Transport’s advice

I’ve had a variety of reactions to this behaviour, but this time I did what I’d been mentally rehearsing for weeks. I stopped, got off the tandem, parked it up on its stand right there in the middle of the road (widthways, obviously), and went to talk to the driver.

“Come on, be fair!” he was saying. “I’ve got to get to where I’m going and you’re in the middle of the road!”

“Have you ever had cycle training?” I asked.

“Yes! I’m PROFICIENT!” he said. Bless!

“Ah, so your instructor will have told you that on a narrow road you have to cycle right in the middle, so that drivers can’t overtake?”

“Does my journey not matter?” said the driver.

“As you can see, there’s not enough space to overtake me safely.”

“So you’re saying I have to drive behind you along the whole road?” Poor man!

“Yes exactly. I’m a vulnerable road user. You have to be patient. Or you shouldn’t have a driving license.”

Oh, how I have longed to say those words.

I then walked back to my bike, got on it and continued my journey, at my own sweet pace. In the middle of the road.

The best part was that this residential rat run happens to be my own street, and I was only a few doors away from home. So within a few seconds I was signalling left and pulling over, leaving him to travel at whatever speed he liked. (Until he reached the back of the queue of cars waiting to turn off our road, that is.)

I will enjoy the memory of this encounter until the day I die – which admittedly might be sooner than I’d like, if I try it again on the wrong kind of driver.

My third best conversation-with-a-driver memory (the second best being this one) took place a few weeks ago. I was on another narrow residential street, parallel to mine, also riding home from the school run. I wasn’t really paying attention so was not slap bang in the middle of the road (though not far off) and a driver in a distinctive estate agent’s car saw an opportunity to get past and did – at speed, and far too close. When I reached the end of the street and turned left, there was the same car parked outside the estate agent’s. And there was the driver getting out.

These conversations are best done when you’re not angry, I find, and I wasn’t – I adjusted my manner to ‘Charm Offensive’ and said to him as politely as I could, “Excuse me, could I just ask you to drive a bit more respectfully? That was quite close back there.”

Even before I’d finished speaking he said, “But you were in the middle of the road!”

“Okay, you’re probably not aware of this, but that’s exactly where I’m supposed to cycle,” I said, and gave him the two reasons: 1) avoiding the ‘door zone’  near parked cars so that you don’t get hit by a door opening unexpectedly, and 2) preventing drivers from overtaking when there isn’t room for the minimum 1.5 metres a driver needs to pass a cyclist. I managed to not make the obvious point that because you consider a vulnerable road user to be in your way, doesn’t mean you can bully your way past them at close quarters in your car.

Which is probably why we had a very civilised conversation.

“Most cyclists just swear at me,” he told me, with wounded bafflement.

We parted on very good terms, both shaking our heads at the government’s inadequacy at telling the public that cyclists are supposed to ride in the middle of narrow roads.

“It should be on TV,” he said.

Do you know what? It really should. Public ignorance of this simple fact causes untold amounts of strife on our roads every day (although in my experience, considerate drivers seem to know and respect it instinctively.) In the meantime I am seriously thinking of printing off the Department for Transport’s poster in A2, laminating it and wearing it on my back every time I ride a bike.