Hug the Curb or Take the Lane?

Riding with my wife last weekend, we approached a stoplight. The road was four lanes, and a right turn lane bended off just before the light. I was leading my wife by several lengths. I scanned back, signaled that I was moving left, and crossed the right turn lane to merge into the farthest right straight ahead lane.

My wife dutifully followed, but she didn’t like it.

“Ooh, I’m not comfortable here,” she said.

“This is the safest place you can be,” I replied. “The right turners have to go behind you to turn, and you’ve got a clear shot across the road onto the shoulder on the other side.”

“I know,” she said. “But I still don’t like being here.”

The light changed, and we moved ahead. We could immediately point at the shoulder. All the cars that came up behind us moved to the far left lane anyway, so we were by ourselves in the right traffic lane at the light.

About two miles later, we came to another light. This time, a hatch-marked triangle filled the space between the right lane and the right turn lane. Once again, I crossed from the shoulder into the right lane. Once again, my wife followed, but I pointed her to the triangle.

“Feel better there?” I asked.

“This is way better,” she said.

Taking the lane. From

When I took my Road I course (now Traffic Skills 101) two years ago, the notion of “taking the lane” was foreign to me. Bikes stayed on the right, period. I had no idea a cyclist could use the road like a car, and do it safely. The class was an eye-opener.

Now, I routinely practice “vehicular cycling,” considering my bike another vehicle on the road. When you ride predictably like that, cars are more likely to give you a break, because they understand what you’re about to do. I’m happy to take the lane, because I know that’s often the safest place I can be on the road.

Pat has not taken any kind of a bike handling class, and hasn’t been exposed to the practice of vehicular cycling. Being in the middle of traffic is not her thing. She’s comfortable hugging the curb. If a right turn lane looms, she’ll often stop before she gets to it. It’s a cautious kind of riding, but it’s not as predictable as riding like a car would be.

Unfortunately, I can’t show her that she’s wrong. Despite the stance of classes like Traffic Skills 101, there are no scientific studies that support the contention that vehicular cycling is safer than hugging the curb.

Infrastructure gets studied, and those studies have shown that segregated biking facilities, like bike lanes, are safer than having to share the road with motor vehicles. But the United States isn’t Holland, and we don’t have the well-developed cycling lanes they do. We must ride on the road, so we must learn to coexist with our motorized brethren. I encourage everyone to take a bike handling course like Traffic Skills 101.

Now, if I could just convince my wife…


  1. says

    Take the lane, always. People are preoccupied enough to bother with seeing cyclists to the right, and if they make a right turn all of a sudden…

    Take the lane, stay high and visible, turn around and look at the driver when a car pulls up behind you, make eye contact, and ride defensively but assertively.

  2. Frank says

    Today: “Bikes are supposed to be on the right!” as I joined the line of cars at a red light. Aaarghhh!!!!!

  3. Tim says

    Great post. I find that taking the lane, being visible, communicating with my fellow travellers has kept me the safest.

    It’s a reality here in the U.S. Until we build out segregated infrastructure, cyclists will occasionally have to “become traffic.”

  4. harry says

    yeah… i agree with you that some kind of communication is really important. few days ago, while i was driving at 50mph, i almost hit a group of cyclists b/c they came in the middle of the road w/o giving me any signs.

    • Rodney King says

      Unless you were on a limited-access road — in which case “a group of cyclists” wouldn’t suddenly appear — why were you going 50 mph?

  5. says

    Experience leads to comfort. If your wife rides enough, especially with a certified rider, she will feel much more comfortable doing the right thing.

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