As Far Right As Practicable

In the last post, I mentioned the often-used rule of bicycling on the road: Ride as far to the right as practicable. But what exactly does that unfamiliar word — “practicable” — mean?

Here’s what it’s not: It doesn’t mean ride as far to the right as possible. I can ride in the gutter, an inch from the curb. That’s possible. But it’s not practicable.

It doesn’t mean as far to the right as practical. “Practical” is close to practicable, but refers more to something being useful, as in, “Riding to the right is a practical way to cycle.”

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines practicable as “capable of being put into practice or being done or accomplished. Feasible.”

“Feasible” provides the cyclist with some latitude. What is feasible for an experienced cyclist might not be feasible for a newbie. So how far to the right you ride is, in the final analysis, up to you.

A French reader, Ronan, commented after the last post, “I while riding alone take something like 70cm between the right shoulder and the edge of the road. This puts the bike’s wheels in the trace of the cars’ wheels.”

The League of American Bicyclists suggests the very same thing: “Ride in the right third of the lane if there is not sufficient room for lane sharing.” That would put your wheels in the spot occupied by a car’s right-side wheels. Ronan points out that such a strategy forces passing cars to pull out into the oncoming lane to pass. That could pose a hazard to the car, if there is oncoming traffic. But if that’s the case, a safe driver will wait until the traffic has cleared, then pull around to pass.

A cyclist rides in the right third of the lane, leaving room to avoid door of parked cars.*

This cyclist rides out from the curb, not quite out to the right tire track.**

When I’m out riding, I tend to stay farther right than the right wheel track of cars. On most of the roads I ride, that’s practicable — for me. Your mileage may vary. Most roads are in good enough shape that I can ride close to the right edge without jeopardizing myself. Of course, I’m always aware of a crumbling road edge or debris and will adjust my position to account for those things. Interestingly enough, I often find that riding in a designated bike lane is not practicable, because bike lanes seem to be magnets for broken glass, gravel, and other crud. If that’s the case, I do ride out in the traffic lane. The law does not require cyclists to use the bike lane.

So, to reiterate what I stated in the last post, when someone yells, “Car back!” and you’re out in the lane riding two abreast, ease over to the right side of the lane. A far right as practicable.As far to the right as feasible. As far right as you are comfortable with.

*Picture from YouTube video, “Lancaster, PA road course.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yK4IbydpmQA&feature=g-hist&context=G2ddd92fAHTyrKBQADAA

**Picture from bikecommute.com

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10 thoughts on “As Far Right As Practicable

  1. Good post, I’d been thinking about this very same thing recently – I only recently heard the “ride in line with where a car’s right wheels would be” guidance, and it makes the most sense for me out of anything I’ve heard. Many of the roads I ride on have crumbling edges or nothing good if I go off the edge of the pavement (drainage ditches, etc) – riding in line with a car’s right tires puts me in the sweet spot most of the time and it’s something my brain can handle pretty easily regardless of what the lane looks like.

  2. A good descritpion, I think. I also think this is where the trouble begins with motorists, who are largely ignorant of the challenges faced by cyclists. My wife (who I think quite highly of) is not a cyclist, but she is married to one. Still, she often asks me questions which come from the motorists’ perspective. “Why is that cyclist not on the shoulder like he should be?” is a typical query. I point out that as we wizz by at 40mph, it is difficult to discern what sort of debris is in the shoulder at that moment or what the condition of the pavement may be.

    In the future, I’ll simply say that it probably wasn’t practicable to do otherwise!

  3. I think it is also important to remember that we as cyclist can also be courtious to motorist at the same time. If we are riding in the motorist right wheel track, when a vehical comes up behind us as long as it is safe to, we can move over to the shoulder.

    • Yes, of course. Provided there’s a shoulder. In my suburban neighborhood, that’s not a problem, but when I ride on country roads they’re usually two lanes with no shoulder.

  4. I love the term practicable. It leaves so much room for common sense. There are streets in my area where we have the perplexing situation of discontinuous bike lanes (bike lane runs for two blocks, stops for a block, starts again). I think they make the car-bike interaction trickier. Cyclists have to prepare to merge into unsuspecting traffic. Both are often caught unaware.

  5. You all must live in a “perfect” world, LOL! In my area, all you’ll get for “riding in the right wheel track” is HONKED, YELLED AT, Told you are a idiot and cussed at LOUDLY! Sometimes, motorist are so riled that YOU, bicycle scum are “slowing me down” that they will ride RIGHT ON YOUR wheel and gun the motor!!!! To the normal “brain dead cager”, “Practicble” means “IN THE GUTTER” and out of my way, cause I pay taxes and you don’t therefore, it “IS MY ROAD”! I WISH we had all these wonderful, understanding drivers you all seem to have. JMHO, YMMV.

  6. I believe 12″ from where the asphalt meets the concrete gutter pan to be a “practicable” distance. I am capable of riding on the concrete gutter pan but I do not consider this to be a safe practice. In my opinion 3 feet from the edge of the road does not meet the legal “practicable”. Plus, I know of no study that indicates 3 feet from the edge is safer than 1 foot. The most common type of motor vehicle vs motor vehicle collision is the rear end type. Take responsibility for your own behavior and do not trust your safety to anyone else. We do not live in a perfect world.

    • let’s all be careful not to make assumptions about pavement condition, obstructions, lane width, etc.

      in Texas the “far right as practicable” has several important exceptions:

      — lane too narrow to allow sharing
      — obstructions and debris
      — parked cars (I’m allowed to ride outside of the door zone)

      and remember the most common type of car-bike collision is a turning event — hugging the curb is setting yourself up to be less visible

  7. Pingback: As Far Right As Practicable | Bike Noob « In The Spin

  8. Pingback: My Favorite Posts of 2012 | Bike Noob

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