What is a hard and fast rule on where to ride within a lane, if one exists at all?

I've heard people say that you should ride as far over as you can while avoiding drains, potholes, small children etc.. and keeping out of the way of motorists. I have also read that further out into the lane is safer causing motorists to give you a wider berth and increasing your visibility.

Which is correct and are there any meaningful statistics to be found?

Related: Best ways to avoid getting hit by cars?

  • There is no "hard and fast rule". Jun 26, 2015 at 11:59

1 Answer 1


The hard and fast rule is to do whatever it takes to keeps you safe.

The first thing is to ride with lights at night and reflective gear.

Generally, what I do is, if theres a wide enough shoulder I will use it. If there isn't, I take the lane. Being in a corner of a lane is a problem since motorists will try to sneak past and can't always judge the room needed to do so safely (at least a 3 foot margin from you). The side of the road is generally bad as debris tends to collect there, so you increase your risk of punctures and what not.

Note that there may be legal things to do -- The Washington state bicycling guide says cyclists must be as far right as it is safe not as far right as is possible (my personal policy also follows this). Check with your local area to see what the legal policy is (if any).

To quote the Washington state bicycling guide: "Washington State law requires cyclists to ride as far to the right as is safe, not as far to the right as is possible. There is a crucial difference. Assess the situation to decide how far towards the center of the lane you need to travel to be safe versus unduly delaying motorized traffic. Taking the full lane is generally safest when traveling for short stretches on lower speed roads (20-25mph). On higher speed roads, it may be safer to reduce your speed and stay further to the right rather than compete with faster vehicles for the full lane.

You may find it necessary to take the lane in the following kinds of situations:

• when traveling at traffic speed and you need to prevent motorists from inadvertently cutting you off;

• when descending a hill and you need extra space (for reaction time) due to your speed;

• when lane width does not permit a motorized vehicle behind you to safely pass;

• when road conditions (potholes, road debris or parked cars) preclude you from riding farther to the right. Be aware that many motorists neither understand that you have the right to take the lane in these situations (or at all), nor may they see road condition hazards which you are trying to avoid."

Another thing to note is that part of safety (aside from abiding from the law) is dealing with harassment. From the same guide: "Most motorists are courteous and happy to share the road with cyclists, but unfortunately, the small minority of drivers who are rude or threatening stand out. Harassment can make a commute unenjoyable or even dangerous. Fortunately, it rarely occurs. If harassed, try to keep your cool and remember that your safety is the priority. You will rarely convince an irate motorist to share the road, and besides, you don’t want to provoke a person unstable enough to harass you in the first place. Your best bet is to develop your riding skills, know your rights, ride legally and try to keep calm in the event you are harassed. Noting a car’s license plate, description and occupants may help when reporting an incident to the authorities."

  • 3
    And pick the route. There are often bicycle friendly routes even if it is longer. Avoid rush hours if you can.
    – paparazzo
    Nov 25, 2014 at 15:00
  • This might seem obvious but to avoid confusion I feel that I should comment about this. If you live in a country where you drive/ride in the left hand lane (like me here in the UK) the rule is as far left as is safe. If you happen to live in one of these countries all of the above is still good info but when you see 'right', read 'left'!
    – nettux
    Jan 5, 2015 at 16:55
  • One thing you missed: Parked cars. Keep lots of distance and keep an eye open for people inside or outside of those cars.
    – Michael
    Jun 26, 2015 at 8:50
  • In some cases, mainly on roads with low traffic, I find it a good policy to move somewhat to the center of the road for visibility but move to the side when you hear a car behind you. That way drivers get to see you, but they also know you've noticed them and expect them to overtake you.
    – AVee
    Jun 28, 2015 at 19:26
  • 1
    @nettux443 there isnt any rules on position here in the UK but the accepted guidelines from CTC and British cycling is: primary position (centre of lane) when you can keep up with the traffic and secondary position (a meter closer to the kerb) when you cannot. Jun 29, 2015 at 13:18

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