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Sometimes when I'm riding on the road and taking up a lane, drivers behind me honk impatiently. Presumably they want me to move of the side of the road or on to the sidewalk so they can pass. Should I just move to the side to let them pass or keep going since I'm lawfully allowed the lane? I don't want to be a victim of road rage incident.

11
  • 8
    Depends where in the world you are. Different places have different road laws.
    – Criggie
    Nov 24 '21 at 21:23
  • 3
    If this is a common problem, its a matter of time before you become a road rage statistic. Regardless of the law and who is 'in the right', you probably should review your riding style.
    – mattnz
    Nov 24 '21 at 23:54
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    At least in Italy, when you ride a bike or a slow motorbike, you are expected to stay as much as you can on the right. Please don't take up an entire lane when biking or you'll be a danger to yourself.
    – Yeeter
    Nov 25 '21 at 7:48
  • 3
    @Yeeter: In most jurisdictions it says as far to the side as is reasonable and possible. If there is debris on the side of the lane, or strong wind gusts, or bad visibility it’s absolutely allowed to ride much further towards the middle. Of course being within the law is not always sufficient to avoid harm in road traffic.
    – Michael
    Nov 25 '21 at 10:36
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    Also, if there is not enough room for the driver behind to safely overtake, then you should absolutely be taking up the whole lane.
    – John M
    Nov 26 '21 at 10:16
25

Given the asymmetry of the damage in case of accident (scratched metal sheet versus potentially serious handicap), I would not reason in term of "rights". Knowing that you were in your right won't make the consequences of an accident easier to live with. And also, unless you have a camera (if it's legal in your jurisdiction), chances are that a faulty driver won't be identified.

My answer depends on the "general attitude" towards cyclists. In regions that are totally hostile to cyclists, find another road, or take a gravel bike/hybrid/MTB to go where cars can't go.

If impatient drivers are a small fraction, let them pass when you can (either by stopping, or by letting them know that they can pass): even if it's your right to be on the lane, being pushed by a car is not a nice feeling. Getting rid of them faster is also positive for your nerves and your enjoyment of cycling. When I suggest to let them know they can pass, there's an important nuance: you do it when it's safe for you to do so. The underlying concept behind this remark is: you're in your right to be in the lane, you let them pass by courtesy (and that's true for all drivers, not only the most impatient ones).

If you ride to commute, of course my answer is of limited use. If you can't find alternatives, the best but slow option I see in this context is to engage in politics to develop biking infrastructure, but that's a bit outside the scope of the question.

Something I cannot recommend enough is to get a good mirror (there are too often wobbly, so it's important to choose a good one). Being able to anticipate is a key aspect of safe riding/driving (like searching for a place where you can safely let a car pass), and a mirror is great help for that.

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    +1 because this is the only answer that acknowledges the reality that some areas are hostile to cyclists and some drivers will hit you on purpose.
    – shoover
    Nov 26 '21 at 18:51
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    @shoover some drivers will hit you on purpose In my experience, those types of drivers are rare-to-nonexistent. You're more likely to get hit by an aggressive asshat who misjudges his "punish pass", a driver who misjudges the size of his trailer (common in areas with horses - drivers pulling horse trailers only do that occasionally), or right hooked by a driver who misjudges your speed. Nevermind you have no defense against drivers who will deliberately hit you no matter what you do. I'd say if those kind of drivers are around, find yourself a bike trail or get cameras and life insurance Nov 26 '21 at 20:07
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    @AndrewHenle the hit-on-purpose is to my knowledge also rare. Besides the "punish pass", the most dangerous situation is in low visibility situation and/or moderately dense traffic (typical situation in mountainous areas), when a driver overtaking you has to return to their lane because of incoming traffic. In region where there's an animosity towards cyclists, it's the most kind of common situation when I felt endangered, mostly because it's really hard to anticipate (especially if you are overtaken by a truck/van/SUV).
    – Renaud
    Nov 26 '21 at 20:19
19

Ok, so there is a car behind you. And it's honking. That's great, they have seen you!

I believe, the best reaction to that is simply no reaction at all. Ideally, you shouldn't even give a start when you hear their horn. I know that that's virtually impossible, but even after that, simply hold your line, and don't even dare to budge a single millimeter. Don't turn your head (I know, that's really hard to do as well), don't start riding snake lines, just keep your course extra straight.

That behavior sends two messages:

  • I know my place on the road. Live with it.

  • I won't be bullied into subordination, no matter what you try. If you want to overtake, wait until you can safely do so, until then, you will stay behind me.

The point is, you don't get the safety benefit of taking your lane if you let yourself be bullied into subordination. And that's exactly what the honking is: Trying to bully you into subordination. As such, you cannot expect this car driver to keep sufficient safety distance when overtaking you, they have already declared that they are not allowed to overtake at all (otherwise, they would simply have done it). If you yield to their bullying, they will endanger your life by passing without sufficient safety distances, which is precisely what you are trying to prevent by taking your lane.

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    Honking, if used responsibly, may be an attempt to draw attention to danger. Completely ignoring it ("don't look") may not be the best idea. I know you are working with the OP's premise that the honking is just bullying, but how would one know without even looking?
    – Szabolcs
    Nov 26 '21 at 16:39
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    I do have a problem with this answer: while I do agree that a cyclist should not put themself at risk to let a car pass, deliberately ignoring someone can lead to escalation, which is to me never good. They want you out of their way, you want them far away, it is in everyone's mutual interest to end with the situation. Letting a car pass when it's safe to do so is not subordination, it is taking control of the situation for everyone's interest.
    – Renaud
    Nov 26 '21 at 17:50
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    @Renaud It's not about letting a car pass when it's safe to do so. It's about letting a car pass when it's illegal to pass (= impossible to pass while respecting the safety distances). And that's generally the case whenever a car drivers feels a need to honk. Because car drivers generally feel no hesitations passing bikes without any safety distance at all. They only remain behind you, and possibly honk, when there simply isn't any physical space where they can squeeze their car through. Nov 26 '21 at 18:45
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    @cmaster-reinstatemonica To clarify, I live in Northern Italy, and I tend to ride on roads that are narrow enough to only have enough space for one car (or space for 2 cars, but enough traffic to prevent overtaking, or not enough visibility). In such context, if you deliberately ignore a motorist because the law says that they need 1.5m to overtake, the only effect will be escalation and of course they'll get annoyed, they'll honk and try to pass whenever they can. Let them pass when it's ok, some will make a sign of the hand to thank you and everyone will have a better day.
    – Renaud
    Nov 26 '21 at 19:36
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    No offense, but i don't think this is great advice. If you do this where i live (northern italy) you will absolutely get a pissed off driver that will 100% try to "punish" you, and when that driver is in a car that's 20 times heavier than you it's really dangerous.
    – Yeeter
    Nov 29 '21 at 8:24
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If you're bothered by the traffic on a route you ride, find another route.

There's really no other way to address it. If the road is wide enough where you can get to the right (or left, as the local case may be) and allow motor vehicles to pass safely, I assume you would have done that.

If the road isn't wide enough to allow safe passage of motor vehicles, there really isn't a safe way to ride without taking the entire lane. Trying to keep right (or left) just gives the appearance of enough room when there might not be. That's especially true if larger vehicles such as buses, trucks, and tractor-trailers are common. Where will you wind up if you squeeze right, a bus starts to pass and then another bus coming the other way appears?

And if you're not comfortable taking the lane in those situation, you really need to find another route.

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    “find another route” I quite agree, but unfortunately that is in many cases not possible. It is largely a political issue: cycling infrastructure is (except in countries like Denmark and the Netherlands) still given nowhere near enough priority, compared to roads that are not or not safely usable for cyclists. Nov 27 '21 at 18:19
8

If the traffic is just one another car, I would say, do like a farm tractor: show the signal, stop at some better suitable place like niche or intersection with another minor road and allow them to pass.

Alternatively, if the distance is short (like a section of the circular traffic), car drivers in my case normally do not object much, both against the tractors and myself.

But if the traffic is high and the distance is long, I would say, this route is just not suitable for cycling. Check for alternative routes or maybe the better timing. I have really seen cyclists struggling on the narrow street when I know there is a usable (while more dirt than gravel) way around.

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    My thoughts more or less exactly. I seek to inform the people I share the road with about my intentions, and that pre-empts most of the impatience. Like, if my hand signal indicates that I will be off this in road 50 yards or so, very few drivers will become impatient. I also like the comparison with tractors. And I plan my rides to avoid any congested sections (usually not too difficult in these parts). Nov 26 '21 at 15:36
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TL;DR: Take the lane unless that would incite an immediate conflict. Do be aware that if a passing opportunity comes up, your assertive attitude may provoke an even more aggressive response. Be mindful of the effect your exhibited attitude may have on the cyclist-driver relationship as a whole.


Here's my take on the lane-taking debate. I have some premises:

  • We don't want to cause any conflicts, and we certainly do not want to escalate them if they do arise.
  • Everyone on the road wants to get to their destination quickly and without interruptions.
  • Cyclists are slower than cars.
  • Generally, there exists a pre-existing animosity between cyclists and drivers.

My personal policy for lane-taking (which is what I believe to the best policy) is to only fully take the lane if I can sprint (ideally over 40km/h) while doing so. What this does is three-fold:

  1. You travel faster, so drivers have less of an incentive to pass you anyways.
  2. You actually look like you care about getting out of their way, so you reduce the chance of escalating conflicts. People like to see effort and hate to be ignored. Think about interpersonal conflicts in a more normal setting: which is going to work better, playing along and doing your best to show agreement with the other person's argument even when you know you are in the right, or just sitting there with a F-you attitude?
  3. You appear to be more "dynamic", discouraging overtakes. If you smoothly ride seated in a stable position, you appear more "static", and drivers can start to think about when they can overtake you. If you are out of the saddle and sprinting, you bring in an element of unpredictability that in drivers' minds, increases the perceived risk of an overtake.

If I can't sprint, I ride on the shoulder or sidewalk, or let all the cars by and then ride until another build-up occurs. The last thing any driver wants is to be stuck behind someone nonchalantly riding at a jogging pace, which it can rapidly lead to frustration regardless of legality.

I strongly agree with the notion that "just because the law says you can do something doesn't mean it's a good idea". I disagree with the top answer because of this. Even though you're well within your legal rights to cycle as slowly as you wish in the middle of the lane, all that does is create even more conflict between yourself and the drivers you are holding up. Giving drivers an F-you attitude by not even turning your head to look and just carefreely pedaling along violates premise #1.

Taking the lane isn't safer in every situation. Playing cat-and-mouse with cars can piss hot-headed drivers off and give them incentive to perform even riskier overtakes as you've now challenged their fragile egos. Yes, it is an effective technique on single lane roads with oncoming traffic for example, but dangerous situations may quickly arise as more lanes become available, oncoming traffic ceases, when approaching intersections, etc.

  • Personal example: I had one of those "every cyclist is undoubtedly a wanker" drivers harass me last year. As it was a single lane road with sporadic oncoming traffic, I took the lane to hold him back while riding at 35km/h or so. It worked fine until we arrived at a roundabout and he tried to pass me extremely dangerously using the slightly wider lanes there. It was even worse at the following intersection. Now, I've learned to let aggressive drivers pass by before intersections to prevent further opportunistic incidents.

Extending beyond isolated incidents, we don't want cyclists to be characterized as F-you people. We want drivers to approach cyclists with a respectful and cooperative mentality, not one of preconceived anger fueled by stereotypes of inconsiderate cyclists.

In the worst case, we have incidents such as the recent example in Texas, USA where a teenage driver inundated a group of eight cyclists with sooty diesel exhaust before proceeding to run six of them over, with four cyclists receiving serious injuries and destroying all of their bikes. The intentional nature of this act speaks towards the systemic impacts that cyclist's unnecessarily combative attitudes can have on the cyclist-driver relationship.

2
  • I get your overall point, but your last paragraph imho sounds a bit too much like blaming the victim. 1) We don't know what experiences the driver may have had 2) Even bad experiences in the past with some members of a group are no reason to attempt to kill arbitrary members of that group. If they were, I'd kill every car driver on sight. But I don't, because doing so is not the logical conclusion of my past experiences with some drivers.
    – tim
    Nov 28 '21 at 10:07
  • @tim Fair point. I think I'll leave it though, because to some extent it's the cyclists who instigate this animosity (unlike many other victim-blaming scenarios where the victim is totally faultless). Of course the incident was entirely uncalled for, but the fact that a driver felt an urge to act that way shows me just how bad the driver-cyclist relationship is sometimes. I'll edit the paragraph to refine the meaning. Let me know what you think of my viewpoint.
    – MaplePanda
    Nov 28 '21 at 19:51
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Whatever you do, keep in mind that the vast majority of car drivers are not malicious. Most of them also don't wantonly harrass and pollute the environment by driving their car for fun, but drive because all alternatives are way more inconvenient and/or slow, and they are dependent on getting to their destination in reasonable time to do their (possibly very important!) jobs.

Unfortunately some drivers are malicious, but let's not sink to their level by actively fighting over the road as if this were a war. And unfortunately, “taking your lane” is in many situations bound to be perceived as a war-like act. Even 40 km/h (which few cyclists can sustain for more than a few minutes) feels painfully slow in a car. 20 km/h up hill borders on torture. And for the drivers this isn't just a matter of personal inconvenience either – they will feel like they are now slowing down all the traffic behind them, by failing to manage to get past this obstruction. It can put a lot of stress on their shoulders as well; the honking may be more an act of desparation than aggression.

If this is a war, then your enemy aren't the car drivers. It's the politicians who continue to put enourmous amounts of money towards making the roads faster for cars, but much less for giving cyclists safe alternatives. So if you can't cycle where it's safe without running in this problem, politics is where you should be assertive.

Now, one might think that taking your lane also works in that direction: if the traffic keeps being slowed down by cyclists, surely this raises the issue and prompts construction of alternatives as well?
Perhaps sometimes. But what it certainly won't do is convince the drivers to vote for more cyclist-friendly politicians, on the contrary it will far more likely further bring them up against politicians who, in their eyes, throw money after those self-entitled brats who have the time for bicycling, instead of putting it towards the car infrastructure that is actually important for their lives.

So, to answer the question – do use “take your lane”, but only as a last resort. I do it in small dangerous sections of a road that otherwise has a good shoulder, or in very bad weather, or on descents where cars anyway couldn't drive much faster than me, or in the middle of the night on an empty 2-lane road.

Otherwise, I try as hard as possible to get out of the cars' way. Riding on cycleways even if they're a detour, riding on barely frequented roads, riding on the edge of the road (regularly practice your balance skills and anticipate draft from passing cars), riding beside the road if there's gravel there, stairway shortcuts etc. are all options you should seriously consider.

(Yes, stairs. Carrying your bike up a stairset is actually a very quick and efficient way of gaining elevation.)

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In most cases, impatient drivers are a result of poor infrastructure: a road where the designed speed for cars is significantly faster than the average bike speed, but without a separated lane for bicycles.

In that situation, both road users are annoyed, and the bicycle is also in danger.

Only better infrastructures can change that, which in most case will come from the town hall.

Write to your city council, or join an association that is in contact with the city to improve bike infrastructure.

-5

Taking up an entire lane is a bit too much. Almost any lane can accommodate a bicycle and a passenger car without problems. Where I live, cycling on roads in cities and towns is allowed withing 1 meter from the side of the road.

It is much safer for you to reserve some space on the right instead of riding right next to the kerb.

If some badass on a four-wheeler, loaded with a doze of impatience, decides to make a road rage performance by driving ridiculously close to you, yet aggressively, you have no escape, especially if traffic is intensive and curbs are too high to jump. Can end up badly.

On the other hand, if such moron does his rage show and you have your half-a-meter reserve on the right, you can just shift right into that reserved space. When the car is abeam you, it cannot instantly move in lateral direction, so you are instantly safe.

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    "Almost any lane can accommodate a bicycle and a passenger car without problems." this is not, in fact, the case in many places. A lane width of 3m or less (which is not uncommon on older or smaller roads) simply doesn't allow a 1.8m wide car (and many SUVs are wider) to safely pass a 0.6m wide cyclist riding 0.5m from the kerb without crossing the centreline. Having been clipped by people's mirrors a couple of times I can absolutely attest to this.
    – DavidW
    Nov 25 '21 at 17:01
  • If some badass on a four-wheeler, loaded with a doze of impatience, decides to make a road rage performance by driving ridiculously close to you, yet aggressively, you have no escape, especially if traffic is intensive and curbs are too high to jump. Can end up badly. And if there's no room to share the lane, this is a good reason why you park yourself in the middle of the left tire track (right tire track for left-side drive area) - so there's no question the lane is YOURS and such a "badass" doesn't even have the chance to squeeze or "punish pass" you. Nov 25 '21 at 18:03
  • And if you really are worried about road rage incidents, get front and read HD video cameras. If anyone starts shouting at you or otherwise getting aggressive, point out the cameras. And if you're stopped, pick up your front wheel and point your handlebar-mounted camera at them, making sure to point out the camera and maybe even say something like, "Smile for the video." Aggressive asshats tend to start behaving once they know their actions are being recorded for posterity - or to substantiate a charge... Nov 25 '21 at 18:10
  • A few kilometers down the road there is a bridge that carries around 10000 vehicles a day. The lanes are 2.6m wide, the bridge is 360m long. This kind of roading is common where I live, more common than lanes wide enough to safely accommodate a cycle and a car.
    – mattnz
    Nov 25 '21 at 20:12
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    Definitely a downvote for telling the OP that taking a lane is too much. The opposite is true: A two lane road would need to be at least 9 meters wide to accommodate two cars, one bike and all the required safety distances. And that's assuming none of the cars is a truck. Most two lane roads in cities are more on the scale of about 7 meters, and passing a bike on such roads is simply illegal. As such, taking the lane is a simple act of self defense against irresponsible car drivers who would otherwise endanger your life. Nov 25 '21 at 22:28
-5

Hypothetically speaking, your reaction to loud and unexpected noise could reasonably be to brake hard. If in such a case a car would rear end you, you would call the cops and file charges. If it turns out the loud noise was just a car illegally honking without the urgency required by law for honking, well then you could generously make way by getting off the bike, walking it slowly to the side of the road and letting the car pass.

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    "you would call the cops" at that point, it would probably rather be someone else, calling an ambulance.
    – njzk2
    Nov 28 '21 at 22:13
  • "you could generously make way" why?
    – njzk2
    Nov 28 '21 at 22:13
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    @njzk2 More like the mortician at this rate.
    – MaplePanda
    Nov 28 '21 at 22:35

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