12 October 2022

Will the cycle be unbroken? Will Canberra drivers and cyclists ever call a truce?

| Zoya Patel
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While Canberra has great cycling paths, unfortunately, not every trip can be made on dedicated paths or lanes. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

It’s a tale as old as road cycling – the ongoing feud between cyclists and drivers on Canberra roads.

Drivers regularly complain about how annoying it is to dodge cyclists riding on roads, frustrated at large groups that spill into driving lanes and the inconvenience of slowing down.

Meanwhile, cyclists exert their right to be on the road and the legal obligation of drivers to pass safely.

There’s a clear responsibility on both sides in the eyes of the law, but that clarity doesn’t dampen the antagonism between the groups.

Lately, I’ve noticed a sort of belligerent doggedness in the cyclists I pass, who refuse to move over or adjust their riding to make passing them any easier.

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More than a few times I’ve encountered pointed glares as I pass or a cyclist, on their own, cycling in the middle of the lane with no intention of moving. I feel like people would usually move over out of politeness, even if only a little, and similarly, I would coast far back until I had room to move over. It was just mutual courtesy.

That acknowledgment of each other seems to be dwindling, certainly in the interactions I have on country roads.

Now, I appreciate that being a cyclist on the roads must be incredibly frustrating – many drivers don’t know or care about their obligations to cyclist safety, and I’ve seen plenty of dangerous manoeuvres from vehicles passing bikes that don’t allow anywhere near enough room or cut out in front of oncoming traffic.

Given cyclists are the vulnerable ones in the situation, I completely understand their expression of their rights and the desire to be obstinate in the face of bad driving.

That said, I feel like it’s getting unnecessarily acrimonious on the roads, and after I coasted for ages behind a cyclist on a country road the other day, who could have moved over to allow me to pass him safely without having to veer into the other lane through a blind stretch of road, but who chose to stay smack in the middle of the lane, I’m wondering what it will take to break the negative cycle (pun intended).

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I’ll admit that I occasionally mutter under my breath when passing huge groups of cyclists on single-lane country roads. I wonder if they could perhaps ride on roads that are more appropriate for their numbers. I get annoyed and impatient like many drivers, but I would never drive dangerously or compromise their safety to shave a few seconds off my driving time.

For every driver like me on the roads, there are dozens who, I have no doubt, don’t show the same concern for cyclist safety. And there are plenty of cyclists who make no attempt to meet us halfway, either.

Do we need better driver education on our obligations for safely passing cyclists? And if that’s the case, should road cyclists also have to do a compulsory course or training on safely riding on the roads? Do we need more bike lanes on our roads?

Or are Canberra roads doomed to forever be the sites of silent standoffs between road cyclists and drivers, both of whom have a right to be there, but neither seem willing to broker a truce to keep the roads safe and fair for everyone?

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The road rules require drivers to move to the left-hand lane when driving slowly. IE We give way to the faster vehicle. We allow them to use the right-hand lane and where required, overtake us etc. We probably all agree that it is logical that the faster vehicle should not be impeded by the slower one.

Logic, however, goes out the window when the slower road user is a bicycle. In that case, the faster user, the car, truck or bus is required to “give way” or make room for the slower road user.

Putting a faster user in a situation where the slower user has priority is dangerous for the slower road user, no matter how much care everyone takes.

Felix the Cat7:47 pm 13 Oct 22

lol @ drivers moving to the left lane! Do you actually drive? It is the exception to the rule for most motorists to move to the left lane.

Hi Felix,
Haha. You are right.
The thing about the left lane is that there is usually less traffic in it too!
You do however need to keep an eye out for the “lane hopper” type who insists on jumping across lanes in the hope of getting ahead of that one car, before getting to the traffic lights!

A lane is about 2m across. A country road is likely over 80kmph speed. This means you need to pass with a 1.5m gap between you the cyclist.

This means you need to be passing the cyclist IN THE OTHER LANE ANYWAY regardless of where the cyclist is in the single lane.

If you are hoping for the cyclist to move over as you said in the article and squeeze past him in your lane – ON A BLIND SECTION OF ROAD then quite clearly you are the problem.

Learn the road rules and be safe.

A couple of things :

1. Drivers need to give cyclists a wide berth , it’s just common sense. A car weighs about 15-20 times more than a cyclist , so it’s an unfair match in terms of physics.

2. Cyclists – be smart, yes the law says X about being a vehicle, but the point at which you test that will usually wind up in a severe injury, which does you no good when you’re a dead Lycra covered stick insect….

I think there is a bit of give and take to be done. I think a pig headed entitlement mentality is plain stupid on behalf of cyclists, and the spidey comment of with great power comes great responsibility also applies to drivers.

I take the common sense approach and imagine my child on a bike, and treat appropriately.

Beligerance and stupidity will get cyclists killed, drivers also need to be smart.

Thus endeth the Lesson.

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