Know Your Place in Traffic

by LAB

As a cyclist, you are entitled to a position in the traffic flow. While classified and functioning as a vehicle, a bike is significantly different from a car, and that poses some particular challenges. Here are some guidelines to help you.

Because bicycles are narrow vehicles, it is often possible to share a traffic lane with a motor vehicle. When the lane is wide enough to share, ride just to the right (3-4 feet) of the motorized traffic. If the lane is too narrow for you to safely share, ride in the center to fully occupy the lane, (this is referred to as “taking the lane”). Motorists who want to pass you will be unable to squeeze past and remain in the lane. They will need to acknowledge that they are passing another vehicle, wait for oncoming traffic to clear, and pull across the centerline or over into the lane to the left of yours.

When you are traveling at about the same speed as other vehicles, you are in the flow of traffic and should ride in the middle of the lane. In the middle of the lane are more visible to drivers entering the roadway or turning left. Don’t hug the right and risk having a motorist turn right from your left side.

If you are moving slower than the traffic around you - for example, if you are grinding up a hill at slow speed - move to the right. When riding slowly, it is possible to ride safely within a foot of the edge of the road, but generally, you want to avoid the area close to the curb (where debris accumulates and cars may be parked) and ride closer to the middle of the road. Pick a good line and stay straight on it to be predictable to other drivers. Do not allow your path to swerve.

In a very wide lane, there may be room for you to ride several feet from the curb and still allow traffic to pass on your left. In this situation, it is safer to ride just to the right (3-4 feet) of faster traffic. You are more visible; you can avoid car doors opening; you can be seen by drivers entering the roadway; and you will reduce the hazard to you from road debris that collects near the curb. You are not delaying traffic, and it is the safest place for you to travel.

Rural roads can present a particular challenge where lanes are narrow and speeds are high. You will need to be concerned generally about being visible to motorists. When passing over the crest of a hill, ride as far to the right as possible in case motorists approaching from behind you cannot see you. You still have a right to your position in the lane, but you may face an added challenge of an overtaking car heading toward you in your lane. In such a situation, be prepared to look for a place to pull off the road until the driver is safely past you.

Reprinted from League of American Bicyclists The League Guide to Safe and Enjoyable Cycling. For more information on good cycling tips, see How You Can Ride Better.
For more information about the League of American Bicyclists, visit their web site,, or e-mail them at

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