Right-handed, right-pedalled?

This article was published in 1999, in Newsletter 24.

Picture the scene: I’m biking along the cycle track near the M11-Barton Road junction one early evening in July, doing about 15 mph. I pass two or three cyclists, and now there’s one coming the other way. So I move slightly more to the left, to leave room for him to pass, and my alertness level subsides to normal. But the oncoming cyclist moves too – to his right. Uh?

I move further to the left. I’m about six inches from the edge now. He moves further my way too. What’s going on? Closing fast, brakes on, veer off the track onto the grass and come to a muddy stop.

It’s instilled into us from a very early age that we keep to the left on the roads. Why is it that so many cyclists try to pass on the right when freed from the constraint of a road with cars? As a rule, if you keep your ground, the oncoming cyclists will veer to the correct side of you at the last minute, but just occasionally they don’t.

I’m not talking about foreigners here. These are Cambridge people. What is it that makes them do it? Is there some innate urge that wants us to keep right, not left? Is it that like left-handers in past times, the conventional keep-to-the-left rule is forced on us against our natural tendencies?

Am I imagining it? I don’t think so – even as a disciplined cyclist I find myself wanting to pass on the right sometimes and have to stop myself doing so.

Some years ago I nearly crashed into someone on the cycle track alongside Perne Road. Since I was forced to a stop, I asked why the cyclist was on the wrong side. ‘Well, that’s what the arrows tell me to do.’ ‘What arrows?’ It turned out this particular cyclist thought the Give Way triangle painted on my side of the road was actually an arrow telling them to use the right-hand side when looked at from the other direction. Duh!

Am I alone in meeting cyclists on the wrong side who don’t seem aware they shouldn’t pass that side? Having been forced to a halt at least three times and off the road twice, I’m getting paranoid about it.

David Earl