Here in Richmond, it’s not hard to find cyclists doing all sorts of things – whether they be smart and safe, or dangerous and dumb. Rarely a week goes by that we don’t drive our bicycles around someone riding the wrong way on a one-way street (salmoning), riding on the sidewalk, or being a gutter-hugger and riding too far to the right.
One of the simplest and easiest ways to correctly drive your bicycle is to be aware of your lane positioning and adjust it as necessary. Don’t play Russian roulette by riding in the door zone. Running into an open door is bad enough, but even if you avoid the door, you could still swerve into the path of a moving car (or worse a bus, truck, or semi as has happened in various cities throughout the US, at times resulting in a fatality).
Positioning problems exist across all ages and levels of riders. Even professional cyclists often ride in the wrong portion of the lane. It’s like a lot of other bad habits: if it hasn’t caused you harm yet, what are the odds it will? If it’s not broken, why fix it? There are many reasons to change lane positioning habits, keep reading to learn more.
Sometimes this is a psychological and cultural issue. Sometimes people ride too close to parked cars because they feel the need to stay out of the way of moving cars. This is a psychological or cultural issue because it has to do with the persisting (and false) idea that bicycles are not real vehicles. The fact is, bicycles do have all the same rights (and responsibilities) on the road as any other motor vehicle in Virginia.
Sure, we as cyclists want to share the road. But let’s not forget no good deed goes unpunished. Though we want to ride as far to the right as possible, Virginia law is to ride as far to the right as safely practicable. This means ride far enough LEFT to avoid the door zone, road debris, and in a position where you are visible to drivers and pedestrians both in front of and behind you.
Riding too far to the right, even when there are no parked cars, actually puts the cyclist in more danger as it makes them distinctively less visible. This is especially true at intersections, where most accidents occur — such as the “right hook,” where another vehicle turning right attempts to pass a cyclist, but ends up turning right into the cyclist before they have completed their overtaking maneuver.
Believe it or not, drivers show more courtesy and caution when you ride in a manner that demonstrates you belong on the road. When you ride out of the door zone and take more of the lane, the amount of drivers honking and squeezing past you actually goes down. They pass you when it is safe. They respect you and treat you like you belong on the road, how you should be treated under Virginia law.
Although it may seem counter-intuitive, the cyclist’s job is not to get out of the way. The cyclist’s job is to be predictable, visible, and execute the same rights and responsibilities as the driver of a motor vehicle. This does not mean “take the lane” when you don’t need to, just to tick off drivers of other vehicles. A cyclist should take the lane when it is too narrow to safely share. For instance, if the lane is wide enough so that the cyclist may ride as far to the right as practicable, while also allowing a vehicle to pass the cyclist with at least three feet of space (as required by Virginia law) without forcing the vehicle to change lanes, then sharing the lane is often fine. Proper lane positioning is proper cycling, and proper cycling is safer cycling.
A very basic rule of thumb is to ride so that 2/3 of the lane is on your left, and 1/3 on your right. But this is a basic rule of thumb. In some situations, the lane is narrow enough that you should take it. In others, the lane is wide enough that you can safely share it (and should). You also want to ride in a predictible manner. That means maintain your position rather than riding in and out of unoccupied parking lanes.
Below are some common examples of lanes in Richmond with cyclists positioned where you might want to ride, and in some cases where you shouldn’t ride.
Remember: cyclists fare best when they act as, and are treated as, drivers of vehicles.
About the authors: Jason James is a passionate cyclist and advocate who runs the blog bikeablerichmond.com. Michael Gilbert is the co-founder and executive director of RideRichmond, a 501(c)3 organization. He is also a League Certified Instructor (LCI).