In the city I live in, there's a lot of two lane roads.

I feel much more comfortable taking the lane, as to not have a car come up from behind and clip me while overtaking.

However, when I encounter congestion ahead, I can safely ride between cars, (because I'm the one judging the spacing).

This seems rude to be riding in a way that I'm not allowing people to overtake me (unless using a different lane to), but then allowing myself to overtake others. Are there any etiquette guidelines concerning this technique?

  • 4
    I'm used to that being described as "taking the lane" rather than "riding primary" (which I don't recall ever seeing before). It might be worth switching the term to the one more common in this site.
    – Móż
    May 5, 2014 at 0:25
  • 3
    @Mσᶎ "Primary" and "Secondary" are terms of art from recent British cycling manuals and state sanctioned training. britishcycling.org.uk/cycletraining/article/… May 5, 2014 at 5:34
  • 4
    @SamuelRussell I can only guess that some bureaucrat felt that making up new terms would justify a hefty fee?
    – Móż
    May 5, 2014 at 6:25
  • 1
    When passing traffic islands round here, taking the lane appears to be the only way to stop the cars squeezing through a gap that isn't wide enough to be safe, and sometimes is physically narrower than their car. I've had many near misses and been hit once (when I was tucked in to the side of the road from making it easy to be passed on the preceding uphill and couldn't move out again before the island).
    – Chris H
    May 7, 2014 at 9:52
  • 10
    Keep in mind that it is not rude to inconvenience others for your safety, but it is rude to inconvenience others for your convenience. May 7, 2014 at 16:05

6 Answers 6


In general, yes it is rude. But there can be times when it's acceptable.

I'm sure we all understand that you are trying to maximize your own safety. It is a tricky balance to achieve. Especially since how you ride depends on the local driver and cyclist cultures, and local laws.

In many places we cyclists struggle for respect and acceptance by the motoring majority. There are multiple overlapping factors / factions involved:

  • The might is right faction. For whatever reason: permanent inferiority complex, transient anger, whatever. Logic will never prevail here, but don't give them a reason to target you.

  • The cyclists don't obey the rules faction. Reinforced every time a driver sees a cyclist run a red light, ride on the footpath, or in many cases / places - split lanes, take up a whole lane, ride without a helmet, ride with no hands (on the handlebars), pop a mono, have fun, you name it. To them, if a cyclist does anything they as a driver can't do then it should be banned: the rules are written and unwritten.

  • The cyclists are unpredictable faction. These people may appreciate that every cyclist is freeing up road space, but cyclists vary in experience and predictability. And in peak inner-city traffic it can be hard to know where we are: "Did I pass him yet? I can't see him; did he turn off? I don't want to hit him ...".

In summary: obey the local rules.

For example, I ride in 4 different conditions, when I'm not in a bike lane or on a bike path:

  • Inner city, generally with heavy and congested (0-40kph) traffic. The drivers generally see lots of bikes, and have learned to accommodate. Because their max speed and mine match, I take a full lane when it's available. At lights, there are "bike boxes" painted on the road in front of the stopped traffic. Bikes are expected to start from there, so that they are visible to the traffic behind. So bikes often filter through the lanes when the traffic is stopped. This example supports taking a lane, but it is a limited case.

  • Inner city, traffic dominated by recreational and fitness cyclists (Kew Boulevard, for those who know it). The speed limit is 50kph, so on the downhills we usually take the whole lane. Elsewhere, we mostly use the bike lane, unless there is too much bike traffic to fit.

  • Outer city (the 'burbs). While the traffic here has greatly improved in the last decade, taking a lane is putting your life in their hands. Some drivers are very bike aware, completely changing lanes to overtake. When other drivers see that behavior, they often copy it. But some drivers can look you in the eye and just not see you. Taking a lane is dangerous because to these drivers you simply don't exist. It only takes one to take you out.

  • Outer city on regular cycling routes, with no bike lanes. If alone, I ride about a meter out from the curb, to avoid all the broken pavement and any rubbish. The local law says vehicles must drive "as near as practicable" to the side of the road. I only take a lane when it would only be for a short distance, and the motorists are aware of me, and safety depends on it. If in a bunch, we would take a whole lane unless it was unsafe.

The third example sounds more like your case. The other examples show how the local conditions and expectations can change things.

  • 1
    Some good stuff here andy - but I'm not sure about your third point 'the burbs' - I'd argue that it's always safer to take the lane, to stop opportunistic overtakes where there's not enough room, and because they're more likely to see you if you're in the middle of their sight, than if you're pushed up against the kerb. You're also less likely to be seen by cars pulling out, more likely to hit a drain, and often have to bob in and out of parked cars. All in all, better to take the lane.
    – 7thGalaxy
    May 7, 2014 at 10:41
  • @7thGalaxy yes, everyone has to make their own judgement using what they know of local conditions / laws / behavior. My opinion is formed from my experience where I ride. But when you say "more likely to see you", I worry about the time they don't. It only takes once. Your point about drains and parked cars is strong; that's what I mean by "local conditions".
    – andy256
    May 7, 2014 at 11:20
  • taking the line it is literally enforced in every bike circulation normative I read.
    – kifli
    Oct 27, 2017 at 10:37

As @mattnz mentions, it is most likely illegal to split the lane in the manner you describe. While traffic laws differ from place to place, almost any locale with defined lanes will have a law saying that riding/driving between lanes (for longer than it takes to change lanes) is illegal. I strongly advise you to check and follow your local laws. Almost any violation of traffic laws is going to be considered rude.

That said, it often is legal to pass on the non-traffic side of the road. That is, pass on the right where people drive on the right and pass on the left where people drive on the left.

When legal, whether or not it is rude depends largely on what happens after you have passed all of these cars. If you're only passing all of this congestion to turn onto a side road and get out of their way, it's probably not a big deal.

If you pass all the congestion and take the lane again (such as you might be able to do at a traffic light or stop sign), then you just passed all of these cars only to slow their progress and force them to pass you again (which creates more congestion) and is certainly rude.

  • 3
    Actually, some localities apparently allow motorcycles to pass between cars. It's highly dependent on the rules in your area. May 7, 2014 at 0:58
  • If you pass all the congestion and take the lane again ... then you just passed all of these cars only to slow their progress and force them to pass you again ... and is certainly rude. You've just described a decent proportion of the bike lanes in the UK (where technically you can only enter a bike box on a red light if you do so from the bike lane, which is one reason why it's common to see short stretches leading up to traffic lights. Also there's a good chance several of those cars were already braking for the lights when they passed you - now whose overtaking is poor?
    – Chris H
    May 7, 2014 at 9:48
  • If you don't take the lane, and get passed by cars only to be held up by them when it gets congested a few hundred yards further, then the car drivers have gained absolutely nothing, have possibly endangered you by passing too close, and are now holding you up unnecessarily. Avoiding that situation certainly isn't rude, and it is certainly rude of drivers to insist that you put up with that situation.
    – armb
    May 7, 2014 at 15:39
  • 1
    @ChrisH I think I see where we're bumping heads. The problem is that the OP hasn't given us enough information. I read the question as asking about short-term, temporary congestion, such as you encounter at major intersections on the edge of the metro area of a major city at rush hour. You seem to have read it as talking about the general congestion in a dense urban area. The OP hasn't actually indicated which type of congestion they're talking about.
    – jimchristie
    May 7, 2014 at 16:50
  • 2
    Yes. "It depends on local conditions" is the right answer. "It is certainly rude" is, in some conditions, just wrong.
    – armb
    May 7, 2014 at 16:57

"I can safely ride between cars....", You an judge spacing

"a car come up from behind and clip me while overtaking." Car drivers cannot judge spacing.

Is this dichotomy the root of the issue? Your (mine as well) perception is that because you are in control, you are safer than when not in control. Turn this around, and the car driver feels lane splitting is less safe than him passing you. Hence apparent rudeness on your part.

I invite you to explore this as it is the most likley reason you feel its rude.

And to answer the question, it is rude to purposely slow someones progress then pass them, especially if you pass them illegally (Which lane splitting is in many duristrictions), regardless of if its a car, another bike or a runner.

  • Yes, I feel that my judgement of spacing is inherently better than a motorists. "Turn this around, and the car driver feels lane splitting is less safe than him passing you. Hence apparent rudeness on your part. " - The rudeness is more that I'm holding traffic up by riding slowly, but not being held up myself.
    – dwjohnston
    May 5, 2014 at 1:20
  • 2
    To be fair - surely cyclists genuinely are more aware of their space, how much they're moving about, etc.
    – dwjohnston
    May 5, 2014 at 2:57
  • 2
    I think that the biggest thing to take into the consideration of what happens when the passing party makes a mistake. If a car clips a cyclist travelling 30 km/h faster than the cyclist, the cyclist could end up dead. If a cyclist passes a car, and hits the car, you might scratch the paint, or at worse, break off the mirror. The cyclist or his bike would probably be hurt more than the car. The non-offending party (in the car), will have no physical damage.
    – Kibbee
    May 5, 2014 at 14:34
  • 6
    Cars are wider and the driver is on the other side of the car relative to the cyclists ... so it's safe to assume that the cyclists is a better judge of spacing the the car driver.
    – mmtauqir
    May 5, 2014 at 17:27
  • 2
    Yes. A cyclist can see exactly how close his hands are to the side of a car, and can be sure a stationary car won't wobble, and that the breeze of their passing won't disturb the car. A driver passing a cyclist at a higher speed, with much less awareness of how close the outside of their vehicle is to the cyclist, and generally without realizing how a two-wheel vehicle behaves, is much less safe.
    – armb
    May 7, 2014 at 15:44

It depends on local circumstances. Often, it's the only sane rational way for cyclists to behave. In other places, it's rude because you didn't really need to take the lane for safety. In still other places, it's the rational safe way for a cyclist to behave but will be seen as rude anyway because it violates local expectations.

And some drivers will see it as rude anyway everywhere, because some drivers see the very existence of cyclists on the road as offensive.


I'd say: Stick to it. You take a lane when cars need to wait for you, you take the same lane when you need to wait for cars. Get the message across that yes, you are a vehicle. Yes, you have rights. And yes, you stick to the rules.

Personally, I hate the fact that everytime that I talk to a car driver, the very first reaction is: "You guys don't stick to the rules, and you have the cheek to claim rights?!?" Would you want to start a discussion about when it is legal to overtake a bike and when not after such an introduction? We are hurting our cause with our own behavior.

You see, the problem with bikes in traffic is the way we are seen. Car drivers don't see vehicles, they see people who give a **** for the rules, who don't seem to need safety distances as they pass through the safety distances between real vehicles, etc. If we don't stick to the rules when they are inconvenient to us, we cannot demand that the car drivers stick to the rules when they are inconvenient to them. Safety distances work both ways, we need to respect them as well. Teach your local car drivers that you stick to the rules, and that you demand that they stick to the rules as well. Respect all red lights. Take your lane when appropriate, not when convenient. Yield to cars when they have the right of way. Don't ride on sidewalks unless prescribed by law. Keep your safety distances to all other vehicles at all times. If all bikers would do that, roads would be a much safer place for us very quickly.


I fully support the notion for cyclist to take a lane when no shoulder or bike path is available and there are studies that support it is safer for cyclists and better for the flow of traffic in doing that - https://cyclingsavvy.org/road-cycling/

As for splitting lanes, it boils down to is it legal for bikes/motos to split lanes in your location or not as that is what you are doing. If so, then etiquette does not play into it all that much. The next question then is how safe is splitting lanes? As a motorcycle rider and bicyclist, I think splitting lanes with traffic moving around you is too risky, but when traffic is totally stopped it is less risky. However, the one caveat as a bicyclist is that you have to be careful when splitting lanes + taking the lane especially when traffic gets moving to be able to get back to the right lane. That sometimes is not for the faint of heart.

I would say to touch on etiquette in general don't split lanes if traffic is moving or if you are just coming to a stop light with traffic. There just take your lane and act like a car. If traffic is totally at a stand still, then yes splitting lanes is an option and should not be looked at with too much contempt.

Here is a video of a ride where traffic was stopped for a not so clear reason to me. As a result, I ended up splitting lanes, got caught in the wrong lane when traffic started moving (2:00), and finally got back over to take the right lane. As I think over the several thousand miles I have ridden, this is probably the only time I have ever split lanes, but I have not ridden in places like NYC or LA. Also, note that I am riding slower plus pedaling slower in preparation for a car to move unexpectedly in front of me when splitting lanes.

Hope that helps.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.