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How to overtake cyclists safely

Carlton Boyce / 17 November 2015 ( 06 July 2018 )

Share the road and drive safely with our tips for overtaking cyclists.

Cyclist riding along a country road.
Give cyclists at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car

Cycling is enjoying something of a resurgence in popularity recently. Spurred on by legendary British cyclists like Mark Cavendish, Chris Boardman, Victoria Pendleton and Bradley Wiggins the British cycling market is worth an estimated £1.5 billion and is growing at 5% a year.

Yet for all its popularity, cyclists remain unhappy about their pastime’s safety. A YouGov poll commissioned by retailer Halfords showed that 55% wanted more investment in cycling safety, with dedicated cycling lanes being the preferred option.

While separate lanes for cyclist might be the ideal solution it’s an expensive one, however, there are things that motorists can do for free to help. 

Here is our guide to overtaking cyclists safely.

The rights you didn't know cyclists have

Give them space

Rule 163 of the Highway Code says drivers must: 'Give vulnerable road users at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car,' and rule 162 says that: 'Before overtaking you should make sure the road is sufficiently clear ahead, road users are not beginning to overtake you, and there is a suitable gap in front of the road user you plan to overtake.'

So, it’s the Overtaking Triangle we covered in a previous article; essentially, we treat cyclists in exactly the same way as we would a car or other slow-moving road user.

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Why do cyclists ride in the middle of their lane?

Motorists frequently complain about cyclists riding in the middle of the road, making overtaking much harder than it would be if they stayed close to the left-hand side of their lane. This is a misguided if understandable, complaint. 

Why misguided? Well, they do have the same right to be there as you; there is no such thing as road tax anymore, and hasn’t been since 1937!

It isn’t that cyclists are being stubborn, either. Potholes that would cause us to do no more than wince when our expensive, low profile alloy wheels and tyres hit them, will thrown a cyclist off course, potentially straight under our wheels. 

So cyclists often have no choice but to avoid the gutter, riding where the road surface is much smoother, which is usually in the middle of the lane.

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Why do cyclists ride in bunches?

That’s all very well, I can hear you say, but what about their tendency to ride two-abreast and in bunches? That is just rude and inconsiderate behaviour that makes overtaking even harder, surely?

Well, no, not really. Riding two-abreast stops car drivers trying to force their way past when there isn’t enough space to pass them safely, helping keep them secure in the face of impatient drivers and riding in bunches actually allows motorists to overtake more quickly, which might seem counterintuitive, but it’s true.

Let me explain: overtaking a cohesive group of cyclists means overtaking one entity; if the same number of cyclists were riding in a strung-out line, the manoeuvre would be a series of small obstacles to overtake rather than one single one. It’s the difference between overtaking a large number of small, slow-moving cars, for example, rather than one slow-moving lorry or tractor.

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Overtaking on solid white lines

What about being stuck behind a cyclist when a solid white line prohibits overtaking?

Well, a solid white line generally means that you cannot cross or straddle it unless you are entering a premises or a side road. However, Highway Code rule 129 allows you to: “cross the line if necessary, provided the road is clear, to pass a stationary vehicle, or overtake a pedal cycle, horse or road maintenance vehicle, if they are travelling at 10mph (16km/h) or less.” 

So if you come across a cyclist labouring up a long, steep hill, you can overtake, as long as you’re careful and it’s safe to do so.

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Traffic lights

Take extra care when you are turning left at traffic lights; if a cyclist tried to undertake you as you turn across him or her, the results could be fatal. 

No, they shouldn’t do it, and yes, it would be almost entirely their own fault. But that wouldn’t be much consolation if the worst should happen, would it?

As a life-long driver and only sometime cyclist, I’m only too aware that some cyclists ride their bikes very badly indeed. However, overtaking a cyclist is probably the most dangerous manoeuvre you’re likely to make in your day-to-day encounters with them so it’s important to get it right, because the consequences of not doing so don’t bear thinking about, do they?

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