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.

cyclists ride centrally TfL

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.





11 thoughts on “Why I’m riding in the middle of the bloody road

  1. “Public ignorance of this simple fact causes untold amounts of strife on our roads every day”

    I agree, it should be on TV, we desperately need a national campaign to explain this to drivers.

    I admire your patience and good manners. My such encounters usually end in a shouting match, or more likely me just ignoring them because I know it would otherwise end in a shouting match.

    But one stands out in particular. We were on the school run. My daughter was seven at the time, both of us on our own bikes, we were together with another dad and his seven-year-old riding pillion on the back of his bike. It was a typical London terraced Victorian housing street; a street which is perfectly wide but the two lanes of parked cars meaning only a narrow strip in the middle is available. No room to overtake. No room to pull in.

    Up behind us comes a mum with her kids in a Volvo and blares the horn at us. I stop. She winds down her window, leans out, and shouts at us for “being in the middle of the road”. We exchanged a few shouts, I can’t remember what I said (no cursing in front of the kids).

    A few metres on there was space for us to pull to the left and let her past; we did so promptly to avoid any further altercation. Fifty metres later she is caught in the queue of cars waiting to get out of the road. We pass her as she wound down her passenger window to have a few more shouts at us.

    As we join the main road my seven-year-old asks “what’s she on about the middle of the road for, everyone is in the middle of the road?”

  2. “most cyclists just swear at me”
    Surely it isn’t a stretch to far to realise that if it is happening so frequently that you (the driver) have had SEVERAL cyclists express their indignation in strong language then maybe YOU are the problem?

    • No. Because so many drivers, and a great deal of the Daily Fail readership in general, are convinced that all cyclists are gobby misfits.

  3. I usually take the approach of explaining that their close pass was quite scary for me and could they please give cyclists more space when passing so it isn’t so scary. Basically I make it about me and not their (terrible) driving.

  4. Good on you for dealing with it so well!

    I had a similar incident on Friday night travelling home.

    There’s a road I had to travel on, which is (left to right) bus lane – lane for going straight on – lane for joining a roundabout (which was about 200 metres ahead).

    I know how difficult it is to get all the way across from the bus lane to the roundabout lane in evening rush hour, although the road was actually pretty quiet as I was travelling later than usual. So I went straight over to the right hand lane as I usually do. You have to understand too that there is an island type barrier between the lanes going in my direction and the lanes going the opposite direction, so there was no way at all that any motor vehicle behind me in ‘my’ lane was going to be able to overtake me, so I didn’t worry too much about keeping left or anything. I had two bright rear lights, so anyone could see me for some distance.

    Seconds later, I hear a car come up behind me: the driver hits the wrong gear, and then starts hooting the horn. I ignore them and carry on (remember, there’s no room for them to get past). Horn keeps blaring: I lose my patience and wave them past on my left (which was at that time a completely empty lane). Two cars roar past, then have to stop at traffic lights literally in a few seconds. I ask the driver of one of them why he was hooting at me, and he says it wasn’t him, so I turn to the other. He starts screaming at me that I was in his way, in the wrong lane, etc, etc, so I just shake my head, move into the ASL and wait for the lights to change.

    Out onto the roundabout, to go to the second exit (its an odd layout), and a few seconds later hit another set of lights. Angry Man pulls up alongside, shouts at me about being in an “overtaking lane” and how I should have been over on the left so he could pass. I wait for him to take breath, explain I needed to be in that lane because – like him – I was going right and onto the roundabout, to turn right. No: he meant I should have been right over left in that lane. I wait, then point out that he couldn’t have overtaken me anyway, to which his reply was that I waved him past on my left!!! I pointed out that he must have seen me, surely he could have passed me in the other lane before moving over into the lane I was in? (technically undertaking, I know, but it would have avoided any conflict?). More screaming, and some fun obscenities, in reply.

    I shake my head, suggest that he reads the Highway Code, and carry on with my journey as the lights change.

    (Sorry, just needed to get that out in the public domain: my legs were absolutely shaking at the time…)

    • Oh horrible! I know that leg-shaking feeling. You weren’t doing anything to deserve any verbal abuse. I think some people get so wound up at the sight of a bike in their road when they’re driving that a red mist descends and the slightest thing will start them mouthing off. Seems to be a combination of fear (if I hit the bike it will be my fault) and frustration (get out of my bloody way). Because chances are that person has never experienced cycling on a road themselves.

  5. Excellent story. Drivers race each other from one red light to the next; few things give me more satisfaction than passing them. The biggest threat to a motorist’s safety and convenience is another motorist, not a cyclist, but their behavior is quite the opposite.

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