The first thing you learn as a road cyclist is to keep your eyes open for potholes, drains, crumbling shoulders, cracks, or anything that could spell trouble for someone riding on tires less than an inch wide.
Usually, these obstacles and road damage are located close to the gutter, where you also get the greatest build-up of glass and metal debris. Regular road cyclists get very good at spotting the dangers and have learnt to ride out from the shoulder to avoid these common hazards.
It is difficult to see many of these obstacles at driving speeds, but for a cyclist they are all too real.
There are also the deliberate obstacles. These are those pedestrian refuges, traffic islands and all manner of concrete highway furniture that councils fill up the road with. They are all potentially lethal hazards for a cyclist. If a cyclist swerves into the lane suddenly it may just be that they are attempting to avoid running into half a foot of immoveable concrete!
Avoiding obvious road debris, potholes, and man-made obstacles is reason enough, but there is also the general visibility factor.
It is foolish to weave around road obstacles in and out of the flow of traffic – it is far safer to hold a consistent line within the flow and become predictable and visible, not being hidden behind cars. If the cyclists gets dark looks, abuse, or a honk from an impatient driver, it is better than getting an “Oh I didn’t see you there” while they scrape you up of the bitumen.
This behaviour is noticeable when a cyclist is negotiating a roundabout. Timidity here can result in being run off the road on the exit of the turn. A confident cyclist will move out into the lane to prevent being overtaken while completing the maneuver or corner. This is called assertive positioning and is a crucial skill to master on the road.
Cyclists will also assume the primary position to avoid “dooring” by motorists opening their car doors without looking, or when about to turn right.
Cyclists, in law, operate “carriages”, and have done since a court case in 1879. And, as operators of vehicles they have as much right to the whole lane as a motorist. Most of the time cyclists, quite sensibly, allow motorists to pass because that’s the safest and nicest thing to do. But it’s not a legal requirement. There’s no such thing on the road as a “car lane.” The only roads that motorists can call their own are motorways – the clue is in the name.
Riding a bike on city streets can be hazardous and dangerous; there would be few regular cyclists who haven’t had a near miss or know someone who has been hit by a vehicle. Cyclists are terribly vulnerable when put beside a ton of metal travelling at 50kph, and the truth is that no driver was injured when colliding with a person riding a bike.
New laws are appearing which mandate a minimum distance for cars passing cyclists to prevent any further injury and death. Cyclists assert their position on the road not to annoy or for the sake of righteousness, but to simply stay alive.