Vehicular Cycling

Vehicular cycling is the idea that a cyclist should take up the position on the road, as if he / she was another vehicle on the road.

looking over-shoulder-taking full lane

It is related to the idea that:

  • Cyclists have a right to be on the road, and it is necessary to defend this right.

    “Every person riding a bicycle shall have all of the rights and duties applicable to other drivers.”

  • The best and safest way to cycle is to behave like a motorist.
  • If cyclists get cycle paths, there is a danger that they will lose the right to be on the road or at least lose the skills necessary to be confident in traffic.
  • The safest way to cycle is to mimic the actions of a motor car, and to be confident, assertive, quick out of the blocks and take up the middle of the lane to increase visibility and safety.
  • “Cyclists Fare Best When They Act And Are Treated As Drivers Of Vehicles.” (John Forester)

Others are much more critical of this approach to cycling.

  • If cyclists need to behave like an unprotected car, you will necessarily limit cycling to the preserve of a small number of fairly fit, (usually male) and cycling will never become a universal forms of transport.
  • To look at cities where cycling has really blossomed, the approach has strongly veered towards segregated cycle lanes and providing safer routes where cyclists don’t have to sprint ahead and behave like a motor vehicle.
Cycling Botley Road

A shared cycle path. Many slow cyclists prefer this segregation from cars. I prefer to use the road. Which is better? At least we have choice.

This issue raises a lot of interesting ideas, and in a way I’m sympathetic to both viewpoints. Firstly, I am a fit male cyclist, who often accelerates away from lights. I even regularly race on dual carriageways, which are practically motorways (though I have certain misgivings about that, but that’s another story). I would easily fit into the vehicular cycle stereotype. But, also I really would like to see cycling become a mass form of transport I would like UK cities to be transformed into cycle havens, where cyclists are able to use segregated facilities and safe cycle routes. If that means it’s slower to ride around town, I would be very happy for the compensation of enabling more people to feel safe to cycle.

Cycling Oxford

Despite understanding logic of cycling 1m from kerb. I’d never dare do it here because you’ll have buses queuing up behind, eager to squeeze by. Often buses pass with 1 foot or less to spare.

Some points on Vehicular cycling

  • With the current UK road design, I feel being able to cycle quickly gives more confidence to be on the road (probably a false confidence). It sounds silly, but when a car gets stuck behind me I often speed up. Though it shouldn’t have to be like this
  • The way to encourage cycling is not through expecting cyclists to be able to do 0-20mph in 5 seconds. If anything, this expectation, would put the majority of people off cycling completely. We don’t design city centres, so pedestrians get an advantage from dashing away at zebra crossings.
  • I am worried about losing the right to cycle on roads. Good cycle paths are great for parts of towns, but I don’t want to be forced onto ‘shared use pavements’ when cycling in less densely populated areas. I like the current law that states use of cycle lanes is optional.
  • In densely populated cities, many cycle journeys are less than 5Km, speed isn’t the issue. Safety is. If cyclists can be made to feel less vulnerable, it would encourage more to cycle.
  • I don’t think segregated lanes would deskill cyclists. IN fact, more cyclists would raise awareness of cycling amongst drivers. The safest places to cycle are those with highest rates of cycling.
  • It very much depends on the area. Some parts of cities need segregate facilities, or at least safe passageways, but providing cycle lanes in cities, shouldn’t mean the end to cycle on roads.

Individual Choices

Cycle Paths

A great segregated cycle path, ideal for avoiding heavy traffic and encouraging kids to cycle to school.

  • It is one thing to advocate segregated cycle lanes and cycling nirvana, it is another thing to get it. On the one hand, I would press councillors to invest in good quality cycle infrastructure. But, on the other hand, every day we have to cycle with the facilities and road design that we actually face.
  • Often it is safer to ride out 1m from the road. (best position on road for cycling) Hugging the curb can reduce visibility. (though even as a confident racing cyclist – I still often end up there because I feel too vulnerable in the middle of the road or am being honked by impatient cars.

Good Cycle Lanes and Bad Cycle Lanes.

A genuine concern amongst ‘vehicular cyclists; is the idea of being forced to use bad or dangerous ‘cycle lanes’. For example, so called shared pavement cycle paths, which often I’m really not keen on using. This is because they are too thin and too congested with pedestrians. Even if it is a shared pavement, and even if you cycle at walking speed – many pedestrians still really dislike it. I don’t like irritating pedestrians, so I usually end choosing the road and irritating the motorists instead.

Also, you feel that these cycle lanes may well be designed to actually improve traffic flows for cars by getting bikes off the road.


The way to encourage mass cycling is not through the ‘vehicular cycling’ approach. The way is to encourage real cycling infrastructure, better training, lower speed limits e.t.c which helps cyclists avoid danger.

An individual riding in UK cycling cities, may be advised from a personal perspective to take on board aspects of vehicular cycling. We would like better cycling facilities, but until you get them, you have to cycle in the safest way. The safest way is not timidly hugging the curb.

Fundamentally, cyclists do have a right to be on the road, but the provision of good segregated cycle lanes doesn’t have to change this. If cycle lanes are worse than useless, it is important to have the right to cycle on the road. If cycle facilities are good, cyclists will want to use them. Even hard nosed time trial list like me enjoy a good segregated cycle lane.

A key part of Cycle craft is the idea that cyclists would benefit from better training. And if we don’t promote cycle training, but encourage cyclists to avoid traffic, these skills may be lost.  Again, better cycle facilities and segregated lanes could be promoted along with cycle training which helps for all circumstances.

4 Responses to Vehicular Cycling

  1. paul July 30, 2012 at 4:11 pm #

    No idea about the rest of the world or even the UK but in my home town of Leeds the cycle lanes cause more problems than they solve. Many are shared with pedestrians and rejoin the “main carriageway” with a near impossible 90 degree bend. Added to this this type of cycle lane tends to a minefield of debris and rubbish left behind my the wonderful British public. My regular route to work is not so bad. The first 3 miles has a nice wide cycle lane and the car ” lane” has traffic calming measures. However this near perfect layout fails at its end. The cycle lane finishes at the same point as the speed bumps. To add to this there is a slip road onto the M621 some 30 yards beyond. If I were to be in the cycle lane at this point , and I have seen this happen numerous times, a car would accelerate to overtake me only to brake sharply to turn left feet away from my front wheel to join the motorway. I consider myself a competent cyclist and always feel more confident and safer positioning my self as if I was driving a small car. Should add this includes NOT filtering between cars at traffic lights/ junctions. Preferring to sit patiently in the Que and wait my turn.

  2. Koen July 8, 2012 at 8:56 pm #

    Why are your pictures of cycles lanes examples of bad infrastructure? Why are the cyclists who use them called ‘slow cyclists’? Bad surfaces, way too narrow, not enough separation, dangerous, for if you fall, you fall onto the road. Have you read this ? It could be so much better, for cyclists, for drivers, and even for velomobiles and racing cyclists!

    • tejvan July 10, 2012 at 11:53 am #

      one of the cycle lanes has junctions every 50 m. So if you cycle you are permanently stopping to give way to cars turning left and right. I feel safer on the road. Those wide lanes look nice!

  3. tejvan July 6, 2012 at 7:54 am #

    BTW: this article written in BRI A&E dept, with nothing more than stale cheese sandwich for sustenance. If article is not up to usual standard I’m getting my excuses in early.

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