‘Why are cyclists so annoying?’ – Explained

Words by George Shipman

on 22/01/2018 11:20:53

Drivers and cyclists alike face stress and frustration on the road- so let’s try to help each other

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Let's get one thing straight: I am a car driver and I love driving my car; I am in fact a car enthusiast. But I am also a cyclist, so I’d like to take some time to explain a few things to all the drivers out there in the hope of limiting road-side frustration and dangerous manoeuvres. 

I am not here to defend law-breaking cyclists; it is not okay for cyclists to jump red lights, stay in the middle of the road or cycle on pavements. There are a minority of cyclists that do these things, just like there are a minority of motorists who talk on their mobile phones whilst driving. This is not about point-scoring - I'd just like us to all get along, and to hopefully make the roads a safer, and much less stressful place.

I suppose I would just like to explain to the driver who passed within 2 inches of my handlebars this morning, that I have not chosen my road position just to antagonize you or make you late - I am cycling in the safest place for both myself and for you. I am avoiding potholes, the gutter and your blind spot all while avoiding dangerous junctions and traffic islands. I do realise it is frustrating for you to have to overtake me more than once when I catch up to you in a traffic jam - but I also need to get to work. You may even tell me to "get off road", but I unfortunately cannot cycle on the pavement (this is both illegal and dangerous).

Driver’s often have this reaction and attitude towards a cyclist, and in many ways, this is not surprising. Here are some statistics for you: 81% of drivers believe that cyclists should stay on the far left-hand side of the road, 65% think cyclists must use a cycle lane when one is available, 73% also think that that cyclists are not allowed to ride two abreast (a figure that rises to 92% among Londoners), and almost 25% of all motorists think that cyclists are legally allowed to ride on pavements! These assumptions are all 100% incorrect. Many motorists do not cycle regularly, and therefore have no idea as to why cyclists may not want to ride in the gutter and "out of the way". Once drivers know, they may be more sympathetic.

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Please do not get impatient with cyclists who ride away from the curb and parked cars. We are in fact hard wired to not hug the curb, and in doing so this helps to increase our visibility. Additionally, it helps avoid risks of a) being overtaken in dangerous places; b) parked car doors being opened; and c) having to swerve into traffic to avoid potholes.

In fact, my road position will vary depending on what I can see up ahead and the speed that I am travelling.

If I am only moving at 12mph, I will naturally be closer to the curb to avoid holding up traffic whilst also being far out enough that I can swerve in (instead of out into the overtaking traffic) to avoid any potholes. In a similar manner, if I am riding at 26mph and can spot a traffic island up ahead (and there is not enough room for both myself and a car to get through safely), I will naturally head towards the centre of the road to avoid any possibility of a collision. Drivers often become frustrated by this and cannot understand why I’m moving in this way, however this is purely for our safety and not to cause annoyance.

If I acted in a manner that an uneducated driver would “ideally” like, I would quickly find myself forced off my bike by a driver that hasn’t correctly anticipated my speed or their surroundings. My priority is risk avoidance, not slowing down the motorist. With a little knowledge and understanding of each other (yes it works both ways), an extra few seconds of patience can go a very long way.

A new law has recently come into place that states that motorists must give at least 1.5m (4.92 feet) when overtaking a cyclist. This is not a recommendation; this is the law. Therefore, if there is oncoming traffic on the other side of the road, a motorist cannot feasibly pass me in a legal manner. The road position that I assume is to take away the option to overtake, and then once the road is clear I will move closer to the curb. If you have ever cycled on a busy road, you will quickly understand this.

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When I am driving, and see a cyclist doing this very thing, I can understand why, so I wait and then pass them in the same manner that I would overtake a slow-moving car. This barely hinders my progress and ensures safety for everyone involved. Although I will undertake the same procedure when I see a cyclist hugging the curb, I will also fear for their safety when a less knowledge driver comes along and takes advantage of an unsafe gap.

Even I get frustrated with cyclists when they do not correctly follow the law or they act like they own the road, and this may only be 1% of cyclists that behave this way, but unfortunately this is what sticks in a driver’s head. This annoys me no end, maybe even more so than fellow car drivers. But because I know the laws of the road, I feel that I can approach this cyclist and give them a friendly reminder of the rules; no frustration is required, just ideas of safety and how their actions affect us all.

One person isn’t going to change the safety of all cyclists and motorists, however knowledge is power; and acting when you can, no matter how small, will reduce the stress and frustration of the morning commute. It may even improve the cyclist – motorist relationship in general. We can then get to work in harmony, not frustration.

Just remember that the one cyclist you saw that was flouting the rules of the road, does not accurately reflect how the majority of cyclists behave. Please be considerate towards every cyclist.

Here are some helpful points that could be helpful for motorists while dealing with cyclists:

1. Always look carefully for cyclists before making any turning maneuver or changing lanes in slower-moving/stationary traffic. This is particularly important for lorry drivers.

2. Leave more space and distance when travelling in poor conditions: we can see even less than you.

3. Never cut in/turn left sharply after overtaking a cyclist. Drivers do not appreciate it when other drivers do this to them – it is actually one of the top five causes of driver stress.

4. Drive at a considerate speed, don’t accelerate or brake rapidly without good reason around cyclists or follow them impatiently/too closely. ‘Tailgating’ intimidates both drivers and cyclists.

5. Before turning out of a minor into a major road, wait for any cyclist riding along the major road to pass you – don’t turn out in front of them. (Especially with faster moving cyclists)

6. Give way to oncoming cyclists when they have right of way – don’t try to squeeze past. This is something that happens far too often to me, I always say thank you if a driver waits.

7. Signal your intentions clearly to cyclists. Cyclists should also clearly signal their intentions too. Again, drivers expect this of other drivers and it causes them stress if it doesn’t happen.

8. Make sure you understand how advanced stop lines (ASLs) and mandatory/advisory cycle lanes work and the regulations that apply. Also, be aware of cycle symbols painted on the road and understand why they are there.

9. Look out for cyclists before opening a car door, and make sure your passengers do likewise. It is an offence to injure or simply endanger someone by opening a vehicle door, or permitting someone else to do so.

10. It is not compulsory for cyclists to use cycle tracks beside the road. All too many of these tracks are not well designed/maintained, or they may be obstructed. It is often better for cyclists (especially faster cyclists) to ride on the carriageway, both for their own and pedestrians’ safety.

11. Cyclists riding in groups (e.g. on recreational rides) are not required to ride in single file and often ride two abreast on narrow and winding lanes in the interests of safety. If they form a long, single-file line, drivers may try to overtake only to find that they are forced to pull in dangerously. Riding two abreast is a way of deterring drivers from dangerous overtaking manoeuvres. Please have patience.

12. Aggressive behaviour is inappropriate towards all road users, including cyclists – it is something that drivers put in their top five causes of stress – Calmness always prevails.

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