In my commutes I often see cyclists ride quite fast between car lanes (for example when stopped at traffic lights, they get to the front to the lights before it gets green so they don't have to wait till all the cars start moving).

When there is 1m-1.5m, it is quite easy, but how does one master the width of the bike? Every time, I am on the brakes feeling I am that close to the cars' mirrors but on the same time I see cyclists ride by without even slowing down, even motorbikes...

If even motorbikes get in that space, I must be doing something wrong, so how does one get conscious of the actual width of the bike?

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    A common term for this is "filtering" and proponents of vehicular cycling will tell you it's a bad idea. The cars just have to pass you again, and you are usually in their blind spot if one decides at the last minute to turn right. Also, I frequently see bikes to the right of a travel lane that are blocking a turn lane. All of these just make motorists irritated at the next cyclist they see. Better is to just wait in line behind the last car in the right-most lane traveling in the direction you want to go. – Gary.Ray Dec 4 '12 at 15:47
  • Besides I ride this way, and not entering the question if that should be made or not, I'd say it is a pretty advanced skill that has its risks, but tend to improve quickly with deliberate and cautious practice. The best oportunity to train is total gridlock, where no hurried motorcycle will come behind yelling at you. In my area, if I occupy the rightmost lane, as soon as the car in front of me goes away, I have a lot of motorists behind me eager to overtake me almost at any cost, so I prefer to keep going between cars whenever its viable. – heltonbiker Dec 4 '12 at 17:00
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    @Gary.Ray Then again, motorists tend to get just as irritated when you cyclists are sitting in the lane. If you are stopped at a traffic light for a left turn, the options are ride between lanes and to the front, which annoys drivers, or take up the entire lane, and wait with the cars which also annoys the drivers, as, if you are more than 4 or 5 cars back, you tend to slow down the people behind you from getting into and through the intersection. – Kibbee Dec 4 '12 at 19:40
  • In UK cities there are increasingly painted cycle-sized gaps at the front of the queue for the lights (samsaundersbristol.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/…). I think it's good to get into this area if possible, so that you can get across the junction and out of everyone's way asap. Then it will be easier for them to overtake you on the straight. – James Bradbury Dec 5 '12 at 9:44
  • You might want to check the legality of this before you start trying it. In many places it counts as "improper lane use" and is illegal. – jimchristie Dec 6 '12 at 2:52

One key factor is your handlebar width. This might seem obvious but I have a friend who recently bought a road bike with drop bars to replace a mountain bike as it has much narrower handler bars.

If you do have mountain bike handle bars I recommend putting your hands right at the edge, that way your brain will best gauge whether your bike will fit through, since your bikes width is also your width, and your brain knows you pretty well! This little trick is what cats use to judge spaces knowing their whiskers are the width of their body.

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    +1 Totally agree with the hand-brain connection. I ride a 50cm wide flat (mountain-type) bar and this is the best width to go between cars. Wider than this, and you have to slow down to "check" first, more because of the width itself than actually not knowing the space occupied by the bars. – heltonbiker Dec 4 '12 at 16:56
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    One advantage of hands on the end of the bars is that if you get it wrong a) it hurts - good learning opportunity, and b) they do not scratch the cars paint work and are less likely to break mirrors - much cheaper....... – mattnz Dec 4 '12 at 20:39
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    Without exception, I'd rather pay for someone's broken mirror than have a bunch of broken fingers. Hands are relatively fragile and are easily injured and health care costs more than auto body work. – WTHarper Dec 5 '12 at 16:17
  • From a human perception point of view, this seems a reasonable strategy. However, I do not like to learn from pain, if something goes wrong. – StefG Dec 6 '12 at 17:42

I think it is just experience. When I ride on a different bike, even with 1cm wider handlebars, I scratch things.

IMO if you do more biking in tight spaces, but around cheep things - like walls, street light posts, you will gain experience and feel for the size of your bike. I mean riding deliberately close to obstacles, at low enough speed to have the luxury of actually scratching/hitting them.

What's more, it is not just the handlebar - if you have a rear rack, that could scratch someone when turning, your pedals could hit the sidewalk, rear tire could touch bystanders, backpack - also.

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