There is a one-mile two-lane road close to my home with no bike lane, but with a large sidewalk. I ride this road every day, and it got me curious what I should be doing. The speed limit is 35 and the roads are pretty empty except during rush hour.

Most riders either stay close to the curb like below.

Close to the curb

And I have noticed that cars pass them on the left, and it seems very unsafe to me when there is another lane.

Other riders use the sidewalk like the below. But since there is a lot of foot traffic and trees and such you would be very slow.


And I do the below.

Enter image description here

I hog the whole lane so no cars pass me on the left. I average around 16-18 mph on this road, and it's only a mile long. Most of the time it's fine, but during traffic I feel like am not courteous.

And once in a while there are cars parked although very rare like the below. Which I really like because the whole lane is for me, and I can go around the cars.

Enter image description here

  • 5
    Don’t hug the curb, but keep to the right. Keep distance to parked cars. Riding in the middle of the lane is usually unnecessary and just makes everyone hate you.
    – Michael
    Feb 26, 2016 at 22:00
  • 2
    3 and 4 are what the League of American Bicyclists recommend. Feb 26, 2016 at 22:06
  • 9
    A road with two lanes going in the same direction, and two more lanes going in the opposite direction, is generally known as a FOUR-lane road. Why does this question call it a 2-lane road? Feb 26, 2016 at 22:06
  • 7
    I would like to state right now that "safety" and "courtesy" are rarely overlapping concepts when it comes to riding in motor-traffic; sometimes it's a choice between intentionally blocking the lane or getting killed. Feb 27, 2016 at 9:00
  • 3
    In the United States, I'd take the lane. But here in Chile cars give cyclists more space, and I'm comfortable with riding on the side of the road and letting them make the decision as to when passing is safe.
    – BSO rider
    Feb 27, 2016 at 21:23

10 Answers 10


I use the method in your 3rd picture - I take the middle of the lane when there are no bike lanes. I am helped in these cases by the fact that these roads in my city usually specify the right-most lane as a shared car and bike lane.

Besides the speed issue you state when riding on the sidewalk, it is also hazardous for both the cyclist and pedestrians.

I feel that riding far to the right, while still in the lane, just invites cars to pass you even when there isn't enough room.

Taking the middle of the lane is my way of encouraging them to overtake the proper way by fully moving into the left lane.

  • 1
    And if you ride in the middle of the lane a closely passing car will 'just' blow you to the side and not into the ditch!
    – Carel
    Feb 26, 2016 at 18:33
  • 1
    what city has the law that says the right lane is shared by bikes?
    – nolawi
    Feb 26, 2016 at 19:10
  • 1
    @nolawipetros You can find such lanes all over the U.S. e.g. Seattle. Feb 26, 2016 at 21:41
  • 4
    Your intuition here is correct; statistically, riding too close to the curb is a major cause of cyclists being injured, because many motorists underestimate how much space a rider needs as a margin of safety when being passed. Feb 27, 2016 at 9:06
  • 1
    @nolawipetros This is an extreme instance with the dashed lines outlining the sharrow marking, but is a good example of the shared lanes I mentioned. What I like is that the symbol isn't offset to the right, so the cyclist doesn't feel pressured to ride too close to parked vehicles.
    – jcbrou
    Feb 27, 2016 at 17:37

I use the following rule of thumb: If there is enough space for two cars next to me, I move to the side. If not, I keep the whole right lane for myself. I do the same even if only one lane is available in the direction; if the lane is too narrow in some parts (like in the city next to the tram stops), I occupy the whole lane and do not let cars overtake.

Honestly, I know I could probably be fined for doing this in some countries, but heck, my life is more important than some stupid fine I face. It's important to send the message to the driver behind you: I'm sorry but I don't feel it safe to be overtaken here and now.


Stay to the right of the lane and not on the curb.

The primary problem with this is that cars may pass you too closely. This is both annoying and dangerous. I have had good experiences with mounting a "Distance reflector" which make me appear wider than I am. This alone is enough to make cars hold back and pass properly if the space is too tight. This was very useful when I had to ride a narrow road to work with heavy two-way traffic.

enter image description here

(picture source - http://shop.dcf.dk/Default.aspx?ino=4485)

  • 3
    In Germany, Cars have to maintain at least 1.5m distance to bicycles when overtaking. I sometimes think about using above device, 1.5m long and equipped with a waterproof marker pen at the tip. Overtake too close -> get marked :)
    – Jasper
    Feb 28, 2016 at 11:11
  • The device alone may have more effect than you think. Give it a try. Feb 28, 2016 at 15:57
  • 1
    This picture doesn't show something that makes you appear to be wider than you actually are. It makes you actually wider, because the distance reflector extends out even further than your handle bars. I would suggest something a bit taller, and mounted in a V shape; cars who are uncertain about how tightly you mounted your reflector will naturally want to give room in case your reflector falls horizontal (and would hit them). Such a thing may kill aerodynamic (air flow) but, then again, so does the mounted device as shown in this picture.
    – TOOGAM
    Feb 28, 2016 at 15:57
  • The reflector folds in easily. It is not a scratching device. Feb 28, 2016 at 16:00
  • @ThorbjørnRavnAndersen in my experience, I have seen this device on mostly inexperienced bikers, or old people; and probably for that reason, people are specially respectful keeping the distance around them.
    – Davidmh
    Feb 28, 2016 at 21:02

First of all, you should go with what is law in your country. In my country we all learn to ride as in picture one, and all drivers learn to pass with enough space and not to pass when there is not enough space.

In the Netherlands cycling on the sidewalk is illegal for anybody over 12 years of age, and does get fined.

I must admit that I do take the lane on those roads where cars do tend to pass while there is not enough space. But in my area those are mostly single lane roads.
When I do take the lane I do get out of the way and let cars to past as soon as that is safe to do.

When there are cars parked you of course go round them with enough space not to get doored.

  • 2
    Cycling on the sidewalk is illegal in the Netherlands? Has anyone explained that to the residents of Amsterdam? ;-) Feb 27, 2016 at 0:12
  • 6
    Sounds like you are an other of those tourists who took a cycle path for the sidewalk :-)
    – Willeke
    Feb 27, 2016 at 20:51
  • 1
    @CareyGregory Amsterdam has many cycling lanes integrated with the sidewalk, separated by markings. Hard to see for the uninitiated. (Although people also cycle on the sidewalk, and sometimes get fined, and angry about getting fined, especially in the city center.) Feb 29, 2016 at 8:49
  • Oh, the difference between sidewalk and cycle paths was pretty obvious, but I still learned to get out of the way quickly when I heard a bike bell behind me on the sidewalk. :-) Feb 29, 2016 at 14:46

It depends on the situation.

If there is a satisfactory "sidepath" it should be used, but often any sidepath is bumpy, covered with dirt and trash, has too many inappropriate intersections, and/or is too busy with pedestrian (or slow bike) traffic to be reasonable. (Though note some US states have a mandatory sidepath law which requires you to use the sidepath, even if less that reasonable.) (But also note that bikes are often prohibited from using "sidewalks".)

If the sidepath cannot be used, for whatever reason, you should ride (assuming US traffic directions) somewhere in the right-most traffic lane (except when performing a left-hand turn).

Where in the right-hand lane you ride depends on three factors:

  1. The condition of the road. Often the right-most portion of the lane is in poor condition and needs to be avoided when possible.
  2. The width of the lane. With a wider lane it's reasonable to occupy just the right-most portion of the lane while still giving vehicle traffic room to pass, with minimal lane shifting on their part. With a narrow lane, on the other hand, it's unwise to "encourage" vehicles to attempt to squeeze past without executing a complete lane shift, so more of a "claim your lane" style is advised.
  3. The amount of traffic. In light traffic it's more reasonable to "claim your lane", as the number of drivers you inconvenience is small. In heavier traffic you need to make more effort to not block traffic flow (though you also need to make an effort to be visible and predictable in your movements). So in heavy traffic you may need to consciously shift your lane position based on the immediate situation, pulling off onto the shoulder if possible to let large trucks past, eg.

The considerations here don't really vary that much between a 2-lane road and a 4-lane road, other than the 4-lane road makes it more practical to "claim your lane". But on a 4-lane road you need to be conscious of whether it's a thoroughfare where vehicle lane position is not a major concern for drivers, vs a city street where jockeying for lane position is a significant concern.

  • I'll note that a potential exception to this "stay to the right"-rule may include two-lane, one-way roads wherein parking is allowed only on the left. In that situation, if you ride on the right, drivers wanting to pass you have to balance the amount of space on two sides of their vehicle to avoid a collision with either you or the parked cars. Since most drivers are humans and not chameleons, it's best not to challenge them to this task. Feb 27, 2016 at 9:13
  • @SeldomNeedy - Yes, a true one-way road (vs a "divided highway") changes the equation a bit. Feb 27, 2016 at 13:42

I get a lot of advice of claiming your lane, and that is your right (probably), but you can be dead right. I have been rear-ended three times in my lane in a car in the city at speeds that would have flat killed me on a bike.

You have distracted drivers and on top of that are not tuned into a bicycles. I will take my chances riding on the right unless there is physically not enough room for a bike and vehicle. I have been bumped into the ditch, but I walked away. I will ride the sidewalk if it is legal. Number one, I will pick routes with a bike lane even if it is twice as far. Number two, routes that have room.

If that picture is to scale there is room to get around so I would hug right.

I also ride a cyclocross with big touring tires so I can hug a curb or ride off the pavement if dirt rather than a curb. I race CX and can hug and jump a curb and ride dirt.

I get there are statistics of taking your lane versus the number of accidents, but my take is the reality of getting killed. In taking your lane the problem is if they are not paying attention; then you have taken away their out. Someone on the cell phone in the left lane jumps over; boom, they have no room, but to run you over. To the right, if they are hugging right and don't see you until the last second, they just have to jockey a couple of feet.

Light up - a flashing light is your best defense in my mind.

Right hand turn coming up is the most dangerous situation (even if you have a bike lane).

Rush hour is the absolute worse as you not only have more cars, but you have people on autopilot.

To the right you will have more debris and broken glass.

On my commute there is a 12-block section where I have no option but to claim my lane, and it is flat scary. Cannot ride the sidewalk in a business district in my town. There have been like six instances of car changed lanes and flat had to lock up the brakes to not hit me. If I ride the car pool lane they get mad. If I ride the non-carpool they tell me to get in the car pool. I have even had buses tail me and honk the horn. Talked to the bike police, and they told me I have a right to any lane.

In a city with a bike culture like Seattle you can typically claim your lane and will be respected. That culture is not shared by all cities. Road rage is reality and a bike is going to lose. If they honk don't flip 'em off - wave, pull over, and let them pass - my exception is if there is a red light ahead. If you are first at red light and there are only a few cars behind you then pull over and let them by. You may have a right to the lane, but you just don't have mass to defend it. My favorite is follow a bus or large truck - they don't accelerate fast and with drafting I can typically hold traffic speed. The downside is bus stops, but I use that as a rest. A lot of buses and trucks don't like you in their blind spot, but I still do it. At stop, pull out in their mirror so they know you are there. If they are turning right or left then pull back so they can see you in their left mirror.

I accept the downvotes. But I have commuted to downtown in one of the biggest cities in US for over 10 years with no major injury, but with a number of close calls. I feel like some of the close calls would have been splat if I had taken the lane.

  • 1
    In the city, it often isn't a ditch on your right, but a row of parked cars. So it really does vary case by case.
    – Karen
    Feb 26, 2016 at 21:31
  • 3
    There is research showing that taking the lane is actually safer, especially in city traffic. I don't have a reference handy but I've seen it before and you can't argue with the numbers. Feb 27, 2016 at 0:11
  • 1
    @CareyGregory And I can't argue with a number not presented. I will go with personal experience over a study on this matter and you can make your own decisions. I get you have problem with me and that is your problem. My answer is simple and I gave my reason.
    – paparazzo
    Feb 27, 2016 at 10:29
  • 4
    Another major hazard with parked cars is doors opening. Most official (e.g. UK highway code) advice says to leave enough space that you're safe from unexpected doors opening. On most roads that means taking the lane.
    – Chris H
    Feb 27, 2016 at 13:37
  • 1
    @Frisbee Problem with you? Not in the least. I don't know how you got that impression but it's entirely untrue. Please don't take minor quibbles over details as something personal. Feb 27, 2016 at 16:08

I would not even consider myself a cyclist anymore, but this discussion reminds me of one of the LAST times I rode a bike on one of the single lane side streets in my part of town. I was riding towards the right of the lane trying to balance distance from parked cars with allowing cars to pass, when some fool in a full sized pickup truck zoomed by me and almost hit me with his extended right mirror.

I would not say that he "misjudged" the clearance, for I think he actually swerved towards me, and in fact he judged the distance very well: he just missed me because I was riding in a straight line, but he would have killed me if I happened to wander a foot to my left when he was passing. After he passed he moved back to the center of the street. S'truth.

By my social calculation if he had hit me it would have been a "terrible accident" (which he had set up), no legal penalty would have attached to the poor unfortunate whose day had been ruined by some thoughtless cyclist who had the discourtesy to swerve in front of his truck and force him to kill them.

When I was young and athletic I rode my bike at high speed in the city streets, and if I could not quite keep up with traffic I was at least a contender: in hindsight not a bad strategy since the few accidents I had were from hitting an obstruction in the pavement, never from being on the receiving end of a car. Now that I am older and slower I would only ride a bike in some sedate place where they had isolated bike lanes! I might feel safe if they took the damn wheel out of cunning human hands and required all cars to drive themselves.

  • Gidday and welcome to SE Bicycles. Sorry to hear of your experience. Even if you don't feel that you're an active cyclist any more, please feel free to hang about and share your knowledge. Personally I have a camera on my bike to prove what happens, but its a sad state of the world that I need such a thing.
    – Criggie
    Feb 29, 2016 at 6:30
  • 1
    Thank you kindly, and the real question is how I wound up in this venue, because I feel I had set out to research IPv6... Mar 3, 2016 at 4:36

Where I live motorists have no problems changing lanes to pass, regardless if it's a wide lane or a narrow lane, they will give space. I ride 6 days a week and I've been riding and "Taking the lane" for almost 10 years now, and 9 times out of 10 motorists see me and change lanes to pass. I do, however, from time to time get some bozo who feels the need to pass me closely on purpose, as to try and teach me a lesson. Those incidents are rare for me.


I think it's, as already said above, very much dependent on the country you're riding in. in England the "Sidewalk" is a "Foot path" and the clue is in the name! It's illegal to ride on the footpath but, due to general antipathy of officialdom, it only seems to get a prosecution if there's some sort of incident. I believe that, in USAnia, you often cycle on the hard shoulder? To me that is like being bullied off the roads and I would resist doing that as much as I could.

  • 1
    In the UK - certainly around where I live in Hampshire and West Sussex, there are a fair number of footpaths that cyclists have permission to use - such as on certain bridges, and busy roads. Where the norm is to ride on the road, we keep near to the kerb and expect drivers to pass leaving plenty of room and where the driver behind doesn't have enough room then they should wait for a gap in the oncoming traffic to be able to pass safely. I drive a bus for an living and this can often take a long time :-) Feb 28, 2016 at 13:43
  • @David Wilson. "Keep near to the kerb"... I did my cycling proficiency test in 1974. we were old to always cycle with your wheel, nearside wheel on a trike, at least 3 feet from the kerb.
    – Pedaldog
    Mar 3, 2016 at 0:14

The most courteous thing to do is to make sure that an old lady crossing the street doesn't have to get her ankles wet, by covering the mud puddle with your jacket. Of course, that's an extreme courtesy, but it does leave your jacket muddy.

I've heard of people describing Internet connectivity in the 1990s. People often had a choice between reliable, fast, and cheap. They were allowed to pick any two.

  • Reliable and cheap - dial-up over phone lines. (Not fast.)
  • Reliable and fast - T1 lines (they were fast in the day). (Ridiculously expensive; businesses may be able to afford them. Most homes wouldn't.)
  • Fast and cheap - Internet provided by the cable TV companies. (Often went very slow, or even was non-functional, at certain times of the day.)

Those were the widely available options at the time. None of them offered everything desired. Sometimes, you just have to make a choice.

In the case you're describing, you have identified possible solutions (safe, or courteous). Now you're asking for the solution that provides all conceivable benefits. Sometimes, that might not be an option. You may need to make a choice.

In your case, you can choose between riding towards the right side of a lane and letting people pass you more easily, by causing them to only swerve over by a partial lane. Or you can choose to ride down the middle/left of a lane, in which case the car will need to swerve left by 80-90% of a lane, and will probably just decide to do a full lane change. That is less courteous. It also makes them far less prone to drive so close that their mirrors touch your handle bars. If they move over a lane, and then something went awry and your wheel (and handle bars) suddenly turned left unexpectedly, the chances of a collision may be rather low, instead of being almost certain.

Are you willing to be a bit less courteous? I try to be courteous when it is sensible. I often open doors for people, at some detriment to myself as I stand outside. However, I'm more willing to let an old lady risk getting her ankles muddy, than to go through the entire rest of the day with my jacket being dirty-wet just so someone could enjoy using it as a floor mat.

For myself, I've gotten into the habit of taking up more of the lane, because I've decided that my own safety is sufficiently important. Letting somebody else feel more comfortable with moving over less far is not worth the much higher chance of me becoming permanently injured.

  • 2
    Old ladies and muddy puddles aren't relevant to the question. Internet access in the 1990s isn't relevant to the question. If you ever actually said anything that was relevant to the question, I'd got bored of reading irrelevant prattle before I got to it. Feb 28, 2016 at 7:01
  • @DavidRicherby Then you, unkind sir, are not the audience that my writing style targets.
    – TOOGAM
    Feb 28, 2016 at 7:39
  • I see this as an 'answer' in need of editing. All prattle should go and only the relevant parts should stay. But I do not see enough 'relevant' to even want to handle it.
    – Willeke
    Feb 29, 2016 at 20:43
  • Only your last paragraph is relevant to the question. Try and be more focused on answering the question.
    – Criggie
    Jul 31, 2016 at 2:36
  • @TOOGAM This is a Question and Answer site, not a forum, creative writing or essay site. In journalistic terms, your style here is burying the lede. It's not a bad enough answer to warrant deletion, but it's not a good answer by the standards of these sites. Please consider reworking this answer so that the important actionable items are at the very start, the straightforward support is second, and the vaguely related stories come last.
    – freiheit
    Jul 31, 2016 at 18:12

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