Middle of the Road

Whenever a person first discovers I bike, they reply with a story. And it’s always the same story.

“I was driving down [insert any road name] when all of the sudden I saw a cyclist in the MIDDLE OF THE ROAD!” Inevitably it always ends with them saying they “just tapped on their horn” or “squeezed by” or “yelled out to the cyclist.” 

And many many times I’ve been the cyclist in one of these stories- the one sharing the road with a driver that isn’t aware of the basic road rules regarding bikes.

What’s worse is that sometimes reasonable people panic at the sight of a bicycle in the lane… and then all that reason flies out the window.

Middle of the Road

So I wanted to explain it to those who have never biked in the city:

Middle of the Road

And there’s more. Bikes are small, but they still need space. Cars should give cyclists the same amount of space when passing as another vehicle, at least 3 ft. However, not all roads allow for that, particularly in Boston:

Middle of the Road

So don’t panic when you see a bike in your lane. Just treat it like another vehicle. If you can pass safely, that’s fine. If not, most likely you won’t be slowed down much if at all. In the city, I find that car traffic slows me down much more than the other way around.

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  • David Huntsman December 5, 2012   Reply →

    great stuff…

  • anniebikes December 5, 2012   Reply →

    I love the license plates – precious!

  • Jean December 5, 2012   Reply →

    I haven’t driven a car in over 30 years ..because I gave up my license. So this is interesting but I just have had the rare remark to me..that “I’ve got to be more careful around a cyclist”. Well, if they aren’t already careful–?!

    • HumanPoweredTransportation January 20, 2015  

      more than 0 is still more

  • greetings from Germany December 5, 2012   Reply →

    Mini-tourists, love it!!! 😀 Keep up your nice blog!!

  • Eli Damon December 5, 2012   Reply →

    I was just talking about this a few days ago. How is it that the two of us are driving in exactly the same position on the road and yet I am “in the middle of the road” and you’re not? You have no idea how much this irks me.

  • dr2chase December 5, 2012   Reply →
  • Kat December 5, 2012   Reply →

    The funny details in these are so much fun to digest – I laughed out loud at the monsters and mini touristst! Love this series especially because you point out why we can’t be in certain places motorists think we “should” be riding in. You should be commissioned by the National DOT!

  • Paul December 5, 2012   Reply →

    Amsterdam (in fact any city in Netherlands), Geneva (in fact most cities in Switzerland) pose the cyclists with exactly the same problems.
    Great cartoons with kind and realistic suggestions.
    Keep up the good spirits!

    Rgds, Paul.

  • MrDotbike December 5, 2012   Reply →

    You beat me to it! Great post! The comment I’ve been saving was, “When does a bike lane feel like you’re riding in the gutter?…Just about all the time.”

  • Roger December 5, 2012   Reply →

    Excellent resource to educate drivers, I plan to share and thank you for creating this. Hats off! All of this also applies to our little city of Burlington, Vermont as well.
    -Roger in Vermont

  • Margaret Evans December 5, 2012   Reply →

    wish your great cartoon was used as a public service message across the U.S.A.

  • Nicole December 5, 2012   Reply →

    The 3″ of passing room illustration made me anxious just to look at it!
    The mini tourists reminded me of the “Little People Project”: http://little-people.blogspot.com/

  • Outstanding post! This is the very message we’re trying to convey to motorists everywhere! Please join us on Facebook.


  • John S. Allen December 5, 2012   Reply →


  • mikeramsey December 5, 2012   Reply →

    Beautifully presented. I would like to link to bikeyface from a new website I have registered, conservativecyclist.com. I don’t have any content up yet, but plan to link to interesting cycling sites, blogs, and videos. Let me know if you will allow me to place a link to your site on my page.


  • scott December 5, 2012   Reply →

    morning coffee is always better with bikeyface! just a quick thank you.

  • Holly December 5, 2012   Reply →

    I don’t mind changing lanes in my car to pass a bike that’s going slower than I would like. What I do mind is that at the next red light, the bike I just passed squeezes between my car and the curb, so I’m forced to change lanes to pass the same bike 3 or 4 times. Please follow ALL the rules of the road.

    • dr2chase December 5, 2012  

      Sorry Holly, but in Massachusetts at least, that biking behavior appears to be legal. Maybe you should drive a skinnier car.

      I also expect to see cyclists following ALL the rules of the road shortly after cars follow ALL the rules of the road. After all, Responsible Adults drive cars, you would not expect Crazy Immature cyclists to be more law-abiding than Responsible Adults, right?

    • goodjoog December 5, 2012  

      Think about what that means for a bicyclist. Starting and stopping and sitting in traffic, effectively removing all speed and effort gained between stops. On a bicycle, you don’t just press a pedal down for a few seconds to reach 25 mph. Most commuters barely reach 15 mph, and that’s after some effort, all of which would be unreasonably lost if we sat in traffic. Think about the street design and what kind of problems that poses for the bicyclist, not only the drivers; I would much rather not make you move over, but on small streets with narrow lanes and on-street parking it can be difficult to squeeze us both in.

      Finally, ALL the rules of the road include many that make very little sense for bicyclists. For bicyclists, many “stop” directives should be “yield.” Similarly, we shouldn’t ride on sidewalks, ride the wrong way on the street, or egregiously flaunt the rules that do make sense for bicycles, like being in the left lane to turn left.

      Just sayin’, get on a bike and see if you want to sit in rush hour traffic just because the light is red. It’s one of the reasons we bike.

    • William Furr December 5, 2012  

      @Holly: I don’t like playing leap-frog with cars either. So I generally don’t filter forward to the front of the line unless there’s a bike lane (and sometimes not even then with buses and trucks) or the traffic is so backed up I’ll have to wait through multiple lights. I wish more cyclists would be considerate and not play leap-frog with the cagers.

    • cranky pants December 5, 2012  

      this is an interesting problem – let’s look at this in terms of gas consumption – if you’re passing someone 3 or 4 times on the same route, I’m guessing you’re spending a lot of time idling at lights…. let’s pretend it’s a 2 mile stretch where this happens. for a slow-moving cyclist (10 MPH) – they’ll cover this distance in 12 minutes. if you’re driving at a constant speed of 30 mph (slowest speed for max efficiency), you should cover this distance in 4 minutes – but if the cyclist keeps catching up, then it means you’re idling for 8 minutes… some quick calcs…assuming that you use up 0.025 gallons per minute idling, and your car gets 20 MPG at 10mph and 30 MPG at 30mph… (not even taking into account acceleration) – you’d use roughly 0.1 gallons traveling at 10 MPH behind the cyclist the whole way, and 0.27 gallons racing between and stopping at each light in this scenario. so maybe drive slower?

    • Chris December 5, 2012  

      Think about what your complaint actually says about the congestion you are helping to create.

      For 3 or 4 blocks or more (probably more), a cyclist is faster over-all than you in your car. But in your mind the cyclists should wait because your oversized and likely empty (apart from you) lump of metal takes up way more space than you really need or deserve.

      The cyclist needs to get through the light also and the safest position to get through a dangerous intersection (where most accidents happen) is to be up front, clearly visible and with clear visibility. Waiting in the midst of the lined up impatient traffic is increased risk as does trying to cross the intersection well hidden and likely to be hit by Mr. Impatient waiting to make a turn after the line of traffic passes.

      I’m not going to take a hit because impatient drivers don’t a clue about the reality of the situation and quote some silly rule. Some car “rules” are more dangerous to cyclists and you know where you can stick em :- I don’t agree with breaking the “rules” just because we can but I will always break a rule if the rule is unsafe – as in this case !

    • Ben December 5, 2012  

      I don’t do that very often, mostly because if I’m in the city, I’m either riding my road bike at the speed of traffic or my useful bike loaded down with too much crap to “squeeze” anywhere. However, it does make me crazy when people pass, swerve back in front of me and slam on the brakes at a red light/stop sign/turn/pothole/whatever. There are a few places where people will do this when I’m already in the turn lane.

      The most important rule of the road is “don’t be a jerk”. Don’t pass me if I’m going to have to wait behind your dumb self 100 feet later, and that goes for all bike/car combinations. Except races. Then it’s kind of the point.

    • Julie December 5, 2012  

      @Holly–I would prefer to wait at the curb at the light. This way, I can rest a foot on said curb, AND I am less likely to be in direct contact with the fumes spewing out of a car’s exhaust pipe (or two). When the light changes, I’m happy to let the car get ahead. Cyclists are forced to suffer worse air quality while not contributing to the pollution. Such a shame.

    • Velo December 5, 2012  

      I assume you are referring to a road without a bicycle lane, correct?
      Here in MA bicyclists have the right to pass cars on the right (this is a given when a bicycle lane is present) as well as take the full lane if necessary. This is wonderfully illustrated above… perhaps you should re-read it.
      (Here is a link to the government site: http://www.malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleXIV/Chapter85/Section11b)
      If there is room for the cyclist to pass you safely, they can and will and have every right to do so.
      Yes, it is frustrating to be stuck in automobile traffic, but bicyclists do not cause such situations, so accept that to which you contribute.
      Please be sure YOU are fully aware of all the rules of the road, which may differ in your state, before placing blame or acting the fool.
      But if that fails, you can always resort to some common sense, courtesy, and consideration for the more vulnerable road user.
      Driving your car is not a right. Life and safety is. Baffling, I know.

    • dr2chase December 5, 2012  

      @William Furr – it takes two to play leapfrog. If someone in a car really dislikes the leapfrog game, they can choose not to, and it’s not my problem if they’re unable to figure this out.

    • tad December 5, 2012  

      “Cranky Pants”, your reply is funny and interesting, though I didn’t take the time to really follow your calculations. You do bring to mind one of the most important issues regarding driving and fuel consumption: Acceleration. I know it will never happen, but if drivers would simply stop insisting on mashing the gas pedal when proceeding from a stop, I bet our oil crisis would disappear quickly. Alas, we humans want what we want. Just like insisting on a strong flow of water in the shower, which puts a massive strain on water supplies. I want I want I want.

    • Paul December 6, 2012  

      In Europe overtaking cars who are waiting for a traffic light is permitted. Moreover, in many places a special bicycle waiting patch is in place right before the line of the light. Handy, then you don’t have to inhale the toxic exhaust fumes of the cars!

    • Karen December 6, 2012  

      As a daily commuter cyclist, I want to point out that Holly is right. It is bad form to make a motorist pass me twice. Much more civilized–and safer!–to be taking my place in the flow of traffic like Bikeyface :)

    • Geoff December 7, 2012  

      I think its up the cyclist who knows the road for what is the right thing to do. If its a truly crowded street, bikes can go much faster than cars so it makes sense to get in front (as long as its safe). If its a fast street with not much traffic and we can’t keep up, we can wait behind the cars and go with the light or go to the front and let cars get ahead of us while in the intersection.
      Market Street here in San Francisco is a great example for jumping ahead. almost all cars in the right lane are turning right. But they can’t because of all the pedestrian traffic or a bus loading/unloading. The first car can’t even get through on the green cycle its so crowded. The cars going straight are routinely slowed down by buses, trucks, cable cars and other random required lane changes. Bikes just go around. So I do jump ahead here, and stay ahead.

    • cranky pants December 7, 2012  

      @tad – the only independent variable in that scenario is Holly’s speed. Holly identified her problem (does not like it when she passes cyclists 3 or 4 times) – the only thing she really has control over in that situation is the speed of her vehicle. I knew the obvious solution would be that she simply travels at the same rate of speed as the cyclist (since they take the same amount of time to travel a certain distance), but I knew that cars are less efficient at slower speeds – which could be a counter argument as to why this might not be preferable. I was curious so I did a quick back of hand calc just to make sure. I’m pretty sure if someone did more elaborate calculations taking into account acceleration and real efficiencies (and even wear on brakes and engine) they’d come up with a similar result.

      I wonder if there’s something psychological behind feeling uncomfortable driving at such a slow speed, though…

    • Daniel December 14, 2012  

      I’m assuming that said cyclist who squeezed between the cars also went through the red. I see this all of the time. It annoys me when I have to pass them in my car or on my bicycle.

    • Paulw June 24, 2013  

      You should reflect that this means the cyclist is travelling faster than you and getting healthier by doing so – as long as it’s legal. The speed of vehicular traffic in London is much slower than that of bike riders. We use cars because they’re warm and convenient but they’re not good for us or the environment.

  • Jackson December 5, 2012   Reply →

    You left out the part when the bicyclist runs a red light then goes the wrong way on a one-way street before deciding to ride on the sidewalk and use the cross walk while complaining about drivers not following the rules.

    • Daniel December 6, 2012  

      Off-topic. Even when bikers break rules (some do, many don’t) that doesn’t give you the right to put them (or others) in harm’s way with your 2-ton killing machine. There is no room for vigilantism in traffic. And two wrongs don’t make a right.

      So let’s stick to the subject: Drivers MUST respect the cyclists’ safety margins and their right to participate in traffic, no matter what, but YES, I also agree that many bikers also have room for improvement.

    • John John December 6, 2012  

      You forgot about cars doing the same:

      6,000 motorists caught jumping red lights in the same road in only one week:

      15,000 motorists caught jumping red lights in Bristol (plus 120,000 going on courses for breaking the speed limits):


      Difference is the consequences of cars doing it are massive, bicycles, not so much.

    • cranky pants December 7, 2012  

      if large enough numbers of people are breaking the rules, then maybe the rules need to be changed. when cyclists break rules it’s typically for their own safety or convenience. when cars do it it’s almost always convenience, but it’s important to keep in mind that the amount of energy you, a motorist, exert is miniscule compared to how much energy a cyclist must exert in the event of inconvenience.

      for example – wrong way on one way often means that a cyclist would have to travel a considerable distance to get around the obstruction (or the other way would have been unsafe and the wrong way has less conflict). blowing through a stop sign or red light is trying to avoid the additional energy for acceleration (although this inconvenience jeopardizes the safety of others).

      sidewalk and crosswalk usage are matters of safety. the cyclist does not feel safe behaving like a “vehicle” so they switch to the separate pedestrian infrastructure. This is a problem for pedestrians, but it also means that the infrastructure for cyclists is poor.

      I think it would help all of us to at least stop and at least think a little bit about why that other person is behaving that way. yes, there are instances where you do realize that the other person is a selfish jerk, but you’d be surprised just how often certain behaviors are due to the rules being inadequate or downright unsafe.

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