Why Are You Riding In the Middle of the Road, Boy?

So I’m riding along minding my own business last night on a suburban 4-lane parkway divided by a median.  I’ve just started my ride and am less than a mile in when a motorist pulls up next to me at a stop light and decides to engage me in a little friendly conversation.  He asks me why I’m riding “in the middle of the road.”  I get the feeling that he’s not being a jerk…that he genuinely doesn’t understand, so sure, why not?

First, a little background…

This is a fairly typical road for suburban America, which is to say it’s designed to move traffic forward as fast as possible without considering any other road users.  There are left turn lanes, but no right turn lanes.  Their are curbs but no real shoulders.  It’s as if the engineers who designed it were on crack or, at the very least, distracted while putting this case study of how not to design a road together.

Then there’s the construction.  It’s shoddy, to say the least.  The pavement is crumbling.  The curbs are cracked. The lines are faded.  It’s just mediocre, as if nobody cares…probably because nobody does.

Anyway, I’m planning to go straight through the intersection so I take the right lane (first picture) which is bicycle-speak for riding down the middle of the lane because that’s the correct way to ride this stretch of road.  There’s room for motorists to pass in the second lane and most (but not all) can pull this off without too much of a problem.  The dude in question chose to follow behind me instead of passing, which is fine, too.  I was riding along at about 22 mph and he knew he was going to have to stop for the light so I appreciate that he didn’t blow by me at 60 mph, cut me off and slam on the brakes as is common. Those of you who ride a lot are probably nodding your heads in agreement.

I took the lane here because (1) there's not a lot of traffic (2) the curb is filled with debris and (3) there's no right turn lane ahead.

I “took the lane” here because (1) there’s not a lot of traffic (2) the curb is cracked and uneven and filled with debris and (3) there’s no right turn lane ahead.  You can see my shadow.  I’m smack dab in the middle of the right lane.

As I approach the intersection (next picture), I moved over to the left side of the lane.  Again, my shadow shows my lane position.  This is how I normally ride this stretch of road.  In fact, I basically straddle the lane divider.  Now technically I shouldn’t do this.  I should be in the middle of the lane, but if I do that I end up blocking the traffic that wants to turn right on red and that’s “most” of the traffic at this intersection.  So even though I don’t have to do move over, it’s safe and I do it as a courtesy so that motorists behind me don’t have to wait.

As I approach the intersection to stop, I moved to the left side of the lane to allow the motorist the space necessary to turn right on red.  I don’t have to do this, but I figure it’s a nice goodwill gesture and since it’s perfectly safe, why not?

So anyway, the dude pulls up next to me and asks me why I’m riding in the middle of the road. I explain to him that I’m riding in the road because that’s where I’m supposed to ride and the only reason I’m as far over as I am is so that he can get by me and make his turn.

“Oh” he says, and that’s that.

Did it help?  Beats me.  It didn’t hurt, though.  I honestly think that a lot of the problems we cyclists have with motorists who drive aggressively stem from the fact that there are an awful lot of people who simply do not understand the rules of the road.  We cyclists have a legal right to use the road and, in fact, the road is usually the safest and best place for us to ride.  Bicycles are vehicles.  They don’t have a motor, so they are not motor vehicles, but they are still vehicles.  Vehicles belong on the street, not the sidewalk.  No serious cyclist would ride on the sidewalk.  It’s more dangerous than riding on the road.

So now you know, if you didn’t already.  Please share this with a friend.  Most of us who bicycle don’t want to slow you or anyone else on the road down.  We don’t want to block you.  We don’t have anything to prove.  We don’t think we’re better than anyone.  When we take the lane, we do so because that’s the safest way for us to ride.  Give us a minute and we’ll get out of your way…as soon as it’s safe to do so.  I promise.  Thank you.


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