It can feel safer to ride in the gutter. It isn’t. It increases the chances of drivers not seeing you and passing too close. You’ll have to contend with drains, cambered surfaces, debris and potholes too.
The most common car-cyclist collision is the ‘Sorry mate, I didn’t see you’. Drivers pay attention to where their vehicle will be in the next few seconds. They pay much less attention to what’s in their peripheral vision. That’s why a cyclist should never cycle in the gutter. You should be at least 50cm and often 1metre or more from the kerb. This is what’s recommended in the Government’s ‘Bikeability’ training programmes www.bikeability.org.uk and called ‘the secondary position’.
Rule 139 of the Highway Code obliges drivers to give cyclists ‘at least as much room as a car’ when overtaking. – typically considered to be 1.5m. If you’re already 1m from the kerb this usually means drivers should pull out, cross the central, dashed white line, and pull in again. If a vehicle is coming the other way, they’ll have to wait until it is safe to pass. If you hug the kerb drivers will be tempted to squeeze past dangerously close.
There are also lots of occasions where you need to ‘take the lane’ or what is often called ‘the primary position’. This is the centre of the lane you are in. It’s recommended to ‘take the lane’ when:
· approaching a pinch point such as a pedestrian island
· negotiating junctions or a roundabout
· at ‘Give Way’ markings or traffic lights
· passing a side road or parked cars
· in queues of stationary or slow moving traffic
What’s equally important for your own safety is communicating your intentions to other road users. Check back before gradually moving into any new position and signal clearly if there are vehicles close behind you.