Give and Take; Control and Release

I’m not quite sure where people get those all-or-nothing attitudes when it comes to cycling.  I’m continually amazed at how many people immediately start up with “Americans aren’t going to give up their cars” when bicycle transportation is brought up.

Similarly, many cyclists (and motorists who seem to revel in hanging out in cycling-related comment boards) seem to think lane control (aka “Taking the Lane,” aka “Commanding the Lane,” aka “Riding in the Middle of the Road,” aka “Impeding Traffic,” aka “Getting in the Way of the Important People in Cars”) is an all-or-nothing proposition.  As though lane control proponents do nothing but ride in the middle of every lane.

Of course that’s not the case.  We control the lane when it’s prudent; when keeping right will invite motorists to squeeze by dangerously close, when intersection conflicts are an issue, when pavement is bad, when we’re going as fast as other traffic, and in a variety of other situations.

I and others describe a lane that is too narrow to share as less than 14 feet wide.  (By the way, it’s not just us arrogant lane control advocates who say this; FDOT does, too.  See Florida Green Book, page 211.)  But there are situations in which a narrower lane might be shareable; particularly when motorist speeds are low.  One of the many benefits of lane control is that it slows motorists down so that they can pass safely.  While many cyclists like to tout Florida’s 3-foot law (motorists are required to give at least three feet of space when passing a bicyclist), many of us are comfortable with closer passes when motorists are going only a few miles per hour faster than we are (but want more than 3 feet when speeds are high!).  I’m happy with 2 feet when cars are doing 20 mph and the pavement is good.

Here are the factors I take into consideration:

Two-lane road

Lane not less than 12 feet

I’m not turning

On-coming traffic makes it difficult and dangerous to move into the on-coming lane to pass

Just one or two cars behind me

No debris or bad pavement ahead of me

The vehicles trying to pass are not very wide (no trailers, large trucks)

No intersection conflict issues

With those conditions I will move over towards the curb, but only after the following vehicle has slowed to my speed.  Then when it passes it will only be going a few miles per hour faster than I am.  If you have too many cars backed up behind you the later ones will get up a good head of steam by the time they pass you and will be more aggressive.  In such a case it’s better to just pull over into a driveway and let them all by.



9 thoughts on “Give and Take; Control and Release

  1. Thanks Mighk. That was as close a description of how I ride as I’ve ever seen. I get out to get (or keep) control, but when it’s not too fast or close, I get over to the right and let ’em go. The more I practice taking the lane for good reason, thanks to encouragement from this site and others, the better I become as discerning when it is safe to be to the right.

  2. If you’d like to see how lane control looks in practice, from the cyclist’s perspective, here’s an on-bike video showing both lane control and some lane sharing when the lanes are wide enough:

    In addition, we have a series of videos showing lane control in different areas:

    Lane control at freeway ramps:

    Lane control at circles/roundabouts:

    And finally a video showing lane control on major Southern California arterials:

  3. “If you have too many cars backed up behind you the later ones will get up a good head of steam by the time they pass you and will be more aggressive.”

    Yup. I learnt this the hard way 🙂

    Doing this accommodating maneuver when appropriate actually helps keep too many cars from piling up back there. As Rantwick said, it takes a little experience to discern which situations are appropriate.

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  5. I find that when I am controlling the lane motorists will pass me anyway. They will pass me pulling into the oncoming lane when approaching a blind curve, the crest of a hill or even on a strait a way with on coming traffic. I’ve seen cars run other cars off the road when passing me when I am doing the speed limit. I ride in a human powered vehicle call a velomobile that is quite capable of traveling at a much higher speed than a conventional bicycle. To be passed by motor vehicles when I am doing the speed limit is a daily occurrence. I’ve been passed by motor vehicles when I’m doing 42 in a 40 mph zone. I’ve had a half dozen cars and a transit authority bus pass me when I was doing 25 in a 25 mph zone. Controlling the lane does ensure a cyclists safety but it also shows me that there are way to many people behind the wheel of a car that shouldn’t be.

  6. David, I no longer think that this sort of practice by motorists should be considered as being specific to bicyclists’ actions. On a 70 mile round trip in our automobile (a Rav4EV) yesterday, we were on a two-lane road, traveling slightly under the speed limit in order to conserve our range. Traffic was able to pass during the many straight stretches of roadway marked for passing.

    During one such passing stretch, four cars changed into the oncoming lane, even though only three of them could safely pass. The fourth car caused both the oncoming driver and me to brake in order to avoid a collision.

    While operating my velomobile, on downhills/bridges, I can and often do reach the speed limit, yet other road users will speed up to overtake me and pull into my lane, only to slow at the next intersection or clot of vehicles.

    There’s a serious failure in the road user education programs in our country, just as you noted in your last sentence.

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