How to signal to the driver behind

This article was published in 2017, in Newsletter 130.

Much of my cycling is ‘local’, that is, on streets around my cluster of villages, or on streets within Cambridge. Of course I do have the huge benefit of motor traffic-free routes between the villages and Cambridge, but almost every trip both starts and ends on a typical street. Most of these streets will have bends or cars parked where overtaking of those on cycles needs some care. When I was younger (and fitter) and if the road had a 20mph limit (few had when I was younger) it was easy, you could just take the lane and cycle a little faster, and most drivers would stay behind.

Now I’m less fit, and especially on streets that are yet to have a 20mph limit, I find I get overtaken at inappropriate places. I think I’ve found a way to reduce these risks, especially on the streets I know well. I do the ‘correct thing’ where visibility is poor or the dangers are clear. I take the lane, making clear that overtaking me would be as silly as overtaking a car. That does not stop the idiots, but nothing will!

But there are opportunities where there is a an ‘inflection’ in a series of bends or a stretch without parked cars. At such locations I find that, if I can see or hear no approaching car, I can help the drivers behind. I simply start to ‘coast’ and move closer to the kerb. That gives space for a safe overtake, with plenty of room and avoiding a ‘close pass’. I find that I may even get a friendly wave from the overtaking driver, even ones I don’t know.

I don’t wave the driver to overtake, although I am sharing a little risk, as a car may approach at inappropriate speed, or someone may come out of a drive or side turning. This very rarely happens, but I do need to be ready to slow or stop.

Doing this means that considerate drivers can pass, and are not stuck behind me for half a mile! It is nice when drivers and riders can co-operate. Similarly when an approaching driver waits, so as to allow me to pass a parked car, I try to give an acknowledging wave.

I’ve not done ‘Bikeability level 3’ training, but I do have 3 editions of ‘Cyclecraft’ by John Franklin, going back to 1988. I’d recommend anyone who regularly cycles on busy roads to read the most recent edition, especially if they’ve not done Bikeability level 3 training. I’ve also got a copy of ‘Roadcraft’ (the Police Drivers’ Manual) from 1965! I’d recommend any police officer to read both!

Jim Chisholm