In the first installment of our 101 series, we're going to talk about one of the primary ways to remain safe as you ride the road, called "taking the lane." I've talked about it before but this is going to go into some depth as to why you should be taking the lane and what exactly it means.
The idea behind taking the line is simple. You, as a cyclist, decide upon your position in the lane - in other words, where in the lane you will ride. Thus, you will control how traffic behaves around you.
"Well, that's simple," you cry! "We're supposed to ride all the way to the right!" And it's that very type of thinking that might get you hit. See this article from Cycle Smart Dallas for evidence.
Here's the nitty-gritty: based on the width of the lane and even its condition, you judge whether a car can safely pass you without crossing over the lane lines. If you judge that you can safely share a lane with a car, then taking the lane is not necessary. Ride three to four feet from the curb (or, if the lane is extra wide - 14' or more - ride three to four feet from the right side of motorized traffic).
Leaving three to four feet between you and the curb will allow you room to move in case you need to go around an obstacle suddenly, or need some room to hop the curb in an emergency, or what have you. Getting too close to the curb is not particularly safe as you could need extra room, not have time to react, and throw yourself head over heels.
And if the lane is NOT wide enough that you feel comfortable allowing a car to ride next to you as it passes you (at least three feet of clearance is the most conservative recommendation by many, I prefer four)? Then ride right out in the middle of the lane. Seriously.
You're accomplishing two important things here:
- You're making yourself more visible to traffic and reducing the chance that your presence will be missed.
- You're removing what I like to call the "force field" of the lane line. Cell-phone babbling drivers notwithstanding, most traffic tries very hard to stay in one lane of traffic, between the two lane lines it's given. If a car thinks it can pass you without crossing over the lane line, it will - hugging that left lane line as closely as it can without going over it. If it doesn't think it can, it'll move into the next lane, and usually far enough that you're going to avoid being sideswiped.
So it's really as simple as that. You have the right to do this. It's in the law (at least in Ohio). The Ohio Department of Public Safety Digest of Ohio Motor Vehicle Laws (PDF) clearly states:
Bicyclists must keep to the right edge of the roadway, allowing faster traffic to safely pass. Cyclists can travel in the middle of the lane if they are proceeding at the same speed as the rest of the traffic or the lane is too narrow to share safely with a motor vehicle.
Also, don't be concerned that you're holding up traffic for any legal reason. The Ohio Bicycle Federation has helped to ensure that cyclists can't be prosecuted for impeding traffic as long as they're traveling at a proper speed for a bike. The case of Trotwood vs. Selz ensured that.
A point of courtesy: If you're on a two lane road (one lane of traffic in each direction), and you notice traffic backing up behind you, it's considerate to move over on occasion and let faster traffic pass you, especially if the road is busy. A little courtesy goes a long way sometimes.
There are a couple of other times that I like to take the lane even when the lane seems wide enough to be passed, and that has to do with the condition of the road. If the side of the road is in poor repair, has lots of parallel cracks that might grab your tire (particularly if you have narrow road bike tires), too much gravel, a preponderance of poorly smoothed pavement, or is too close to the "door zone," then I also take the lane. Your safety is number one here.
So be safe. Take the lane.
People, not speed.