Road positioning – a quick guide for Cyclists

Where should you position yourself when cycling on the road?

There are two main positions you can adopt when cycling on a road.

Primary position is when you are cycling in the middle of the lane or flow of traffic. Think of where a car would be positioned and put yourself in the middle of where that car would be – that’s primary position.

Secondary position is to left of the traffic, and about half a metre to one metre, roughly speaking, from the kerb.

Why should I ride in the middle of the road?! Isn’t that more dangerous?

You don’t always need to ride in the middle of the road. There are, however, times when riding in ‘primary position’ is the safest thing to do. Do note though that primary position isn’t always in the middle of the road! It means riding with the flow of traffic, ‘taking the lane’ by placing yourself in the centre of where a car would be.

There are three main reasons why you might want to do this :

  1. When passing by parked cars, the Highway Code actually tells cyclists they should leave plenty of room between themselves and parked cars (rule 67). A car door can open at any time, and this is one of the most common causes of cycling related accidents, and even deaths. Leave a car door’s width to stay out of the door zone.
  2. You need to see and be seen. This means you get a good view of the road in front of you and behind you, and also other road users are more likely to be able to see you. If you are cycling right up against either parked cars (or the kerb), you are hiding yourself away and less likely to be noticed.
  3. When riding in primary position you are stopping other vehicles from overtaking you within the same lane. On a narrow road it means you are riding in the middle of the road, and other vehicles either have to wait behind you or, for oncoming traffic, you have to work out between you who will pull into a gap to allow the other to pass. On a wider road, it may mean a vehicle behind needs to cross over to the other lane to overtake. Remember, they are supposed to give you as much room as they would a car when overtaking (Highway Code Rule 163). By riding in primary position you are almost forcing other road users to do this.

It’s good to make eye contact with other drivers as well if you can- this helps them see you as human and therefore as someone they need to negotiate with as you both share the roads.

Shouldn’t I cycle on the edge of the road, to be out of the cars’ way?

Firstly, you have just as much right to be on the road as cars. In the UK the law requires you to ride on designated paths for vehicles, which includes bikes, and this is usually the road (Rules 61-65). So while on the road you have no obligation to make way for cars. Your role is simply to- like all road users should- be a considerate road user, keeping yourself and others safe.

In secondary position you should still be a distance away from the kerb. This means you can see and be seen, and also means you avoid many of the hazards that can be found on the edge of the road, namely drains, rubbish, broken glass etc.

How should you decide which position to use?

It depends on whether the road is wide enough for another vehicle to pass by. If it is wide enough, meaning that a vehicle could pass you leaving as much distance between you and them as they would a car (they should leave at least 1.5m but most drivers don’t know this…), then cycle in secondary position.

If you are on a narrow road, you are passing parked cars or if for any reason to keep yourself safe you don’t want to be overtaken, then cycle in primary position.

You can also use your position to ensure you’re visible- if you want to increase your visibility then ride in primary position.

When do you change positions?

Sometimes you need to change position because of visibility. For example turns should always be taken in primary position, so you can see and be seen. This may mean pulling out to the right to go into primary position if you’ve been cycling in secondary position, before you turn. If you’re about to turn left, it can be especially confusing for drivers. Make sure you communicate your intentions and try to make eye contact with drivers in front, and if you can with drivers behind as well.

If you are in secondary position and approaching a pinch point, ie a section of road where the road narrows (eg a crossing island in the middle of the road), you should try to move out to primary position until you have passed the pinch point. Otherwise a car behind may try to overtake you at the pinch point, as often drivers are not aware of the danger this causes.

You may need to change positions if you are approaching some parked cars where before there were none. You need to move over from the left to join the flow of traffic, taking a position that puts you out of the door zone.

In all instances, always look around before changing position, and signal clearly and in good time your intentions.

United States Federal Highway Sign for narrow roads