Reading the Roads we Ride

Reading the Roads we Ride.

Missed a couple of weeks blogging due to time spent on school playground working, timing the theme of this to co-incide with the upcoming publication of the New version of the Bikeability/ National Standards cycle training bible- Cyclecraft. John Franklin first published this in 2007 when I qualified as a trainer. As time has gone on many of us cycle trainers are looking forward to the updated version Cyclecraft released on 23 June.

Cyclecraft 2014
Cyclecraft 2014


Today also happens to be when Bournemouth Borough Council interview and appoint the new assistant road safety officer who will be charged with managing the Bikeability provision for Bournemouth, I do hope they hire someone dynamic who wants to provide a quality service and I wish them best luck.

Road Culture changes have been happening steadily, both for the good and bad, more vehicles certainly than ever before, but aside of the cycle campaigning organisations drivers now cannot fail to be aware of the benefits of more people cycling more often. More recently organisations tasked with providing service have become more assertive, for example now ‘taking the lane’ passing junctions is taught routinely which recognises riders as road users equally as drivers. One of the biggest changes I recognise in my 30 years on the roads is the way that modern cars used now require much less handling than in previous years, applied to those approaching from side roads giving way to T junctions- often now drivers wont change down through the gears slowing down, they will go straight from 3rd to neutral whilst braking hard, when youre passing side roads this is unnerving due to the speed and not being sure whether the vehicle will stop, hence the reason for assertiveness on a bike.

Adult cycle training is covered in Level 3 Bikeability, the vast proportion of children who receive training through the schools and local Councils only cover Level 1/ 2 unless they are Secondary students 13 years and older. My post here represents the techniques that I teach to Adults to be able to make confident bike journeys, the intention isn’t to detract from the new …, just to add to what is becoming ever more important. We all actually share the road, here in Dorset- Bournemouth and Poole people aren’t that stressed, meaning they do even despite there being the same endless queues like every urban centre in the U.K have time to live, to give space to each other.
Traffic Streams. Reading the road, on a bike you’re already able to read the road better than drivers, with 360 degree vision, you’re positioned above the sightline of sports cars and others that have to take a place behind a truck or bus. If we lived in the fantasy world of the marketers, everyone would have a clear road ahead of them everywhere, and I wouldn’t need to write this either. Traffic streams form and break up constantly, road users know, or should know the speed of the road so its predictable what speed you can move at, and if you’re a confident cyclist you’re likely travelling between 15- 20 miles an hour- not far off the 25 that will be the speed of most urban traffic in 30 M.P.H zones. Getting a fast start in between streams can be demanding, although the reality of town traffic means that we are constantly moving between streams, and less often totally separate (unless you ride on dual carriageways)
Taking the lane. Looking behind at the driver is essential with this. I use the looks behind like a brake on the vehicle behind me, one thing that creates aggro is unpredictable behaviour, whoever the road user. Looking back before moving/ signalling where there are road narrowing’s or other features ahead that necessitate taking the lane is something to practice if you don’t do so already. Other places to take the lane would of course be around junctions when turning, around lights, roundabouts. You will find this referred to as ‘Primary position’ in most books and training. It’s what I would always call ‘Asserting’.
Being part of the Traffic around junctions. I have had a great deal of positive feedback from trainees after they have used this technique. On a bike we can see others slowing down for junctions or lights ahead, if you’re not filtering past walking pace speed queues, then the intelligent way to ride is make yourself part of the stream. Instead of squeezing through gaps towards lights or give way lines, keep rolling, and whilst looking back take the lane. You may be stopping 3 or 4 vehicles back from the lights, and restarting maintaining the same speed as those people around you, and their observance of you will gain you space. Behaviour breeds behaviour, regardless of the road user and keeping a good pace up asserting you’re part of the traffic will gain you far more respect than becoming a road warrior. It behoves us more than ever to lead by example on this.
Filtering. There are however some times when the density of traffic is just so slow, passing vehicles on the right is the best option if you want to get anywhere. Three reasons why filtering is always better than trying to squeeze through gaps on the inside:- Drivers are unlikely to open their doors, drivers can see you in their rear view mirrors and oncoming traffic can see you. This of course needs care, keeping the brakes covered and yielding to larger oncoming traffic. Currently slow moving queues are also where most people are happy to let drivers from side roads into the queue, so never think that there won’t be frequent changes.

Language. Asserting or Inviting. The couple of examples above just provide help on adult riding in urban traffic, and are backed up by the language I use with trainees. On the road you’re either asserting or inviting, asserting in primary position, being assertive. Or when there’s plenty room, and you want to allow traffic to pass on longer sections of road- inviting in secondary position, inviting others past. Next time you’re out on a bike on road, ask yourself “What am I doing right now? Asserting or inviting” you’ll be doing one. We are all sharing the roads and even in the current stage of mass cycling promotion nationally, we’ve got a few decades yet of persuading Old Blighty to start getting fit for free, saving money and feeling good by bike to do. I hope these couple of techniques help, do contact me for more info or to book training.



Recommendations, Tom Vanderbilt. “Traffic” If you are fascinated by the way we use the roads this is a must read:- Washington Post précis of the contents

“In this brilliant, lively, and eye-opening investigation, Tom Vanderbilt examines the perceptual limits and cognitive underpinnings that make us worse drivers than we think we are. He demonstrates why plans to protect pedestrians from cars often lead to more accidents. He uncovers who is more likely to honk at whom, and why. He explains why traffic jams form, outlines the unintended consequences of our quest for safety, and even identifies the most common mistake drivers make in parking lots. Traffic is about more than driving: it’s about human nature. It will change the way we see ourselves and the world around us, and it may even make us better drivers.” Enjoy you’re riding.


  1. insightful stuff…..wish everyone was able to use the roads in the ways you descibe, being calm and avoiding rushing always helps too, however you are travelling, it’s just that being on a bike naturally helps to make one calm and in less of a rush.

    • Admittedly im speaking from more local experience in the last few years of living in Dorset. Other cities may well experience ever more levels of manic behaviour. Leading the way with good lane discipline, awareness and acknowledgement of others is a major way of ensuring youre space. Behaviour does breed behaviour. I didnt survive 30 years and a near death with poor bike use on road.

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