Vehicular Cyclists

I’ve been called many things over the past few years with regards to how I cycle and what  I post on youtube. Many of them I will not repeat but one I’m often called or people relate to is a vehicular cyclist.

The idea behind vehicular cycling is you put yourself in a position where you are visible, your actions are predictable and you cycle in a manner which confirms with the principles of driving in traffic. Basically similar to a motorbike but with out all the engine noise and a little less overtaking.

Why do I cycle as a vehicular cyclist?
I do so for my own safety. In some situations I’m traveling much faster than the perceived speed that cyclists can go and at similar speeds to other motorised vehicles. I take a central position in the lane to make my self more visible and stop stupid overtakes from cars behind who just can’t see past the skinny vehicle in front of them.

Taking control of your lane can also be important to force drivers to overtake or pass you properly and safely. For example the following video shows a dual carriageway. If I cycle to the left then drivers should pass me in the other lane, giving me several meters of space, due to difference in speed. But many drivers can not be trusted to do so. So the application of vehicular cycling in this situation should force drivers to pass you correctly in the other lane. Again you can’t trust drivers to do so, but with the application of vehicular cycling I have a nice buffer to my left to utilise as run off space, where as if I was cycling in the gutter, I would have the option of hitting the curb and falling off.

Vehicular cycling has some down falls. Not many cyclists do it, so people perceive that you have the attitude that you are more important and are making a point. This makes people angry for some unknown reason and I often get comments of “get in the cycle lane” even if there isn’t one.
It’s also very very hard for a cyclist which isn’t powerful or fast to take a central position in the road, it can be very daunting to do so and you often get a lot of pressure from vehicles behind you.

It’s often said that vehicular cyclists want it this way and that way and don’t want segregation. I don’t specifically think that is true. If you give me a good cycling facility, segregated or not, and I will use it. If you don’t, then for me to be safe I may have to act as a vehicular cyclist.

What ever happens to cycling in the UK, for several years cyclists will still at some point have to act as a vehicular cyclist to be safe. And we need drivers to understand that they need to share the roads with us.

11 thoughts on “Vehicular Cyclists

  1. I don’t think what you decribe here make you a vehicular cyclist. For me and many other’sa vehicular cyclist is a person that favours roads and mixing with traffic to safe cycle tracks because he or she thinks that the road is faster (and a ton of other excuses). I ride in exactly the same manner, and on the road frankly because there’s usually no cycle track where I am going. Where there is one I tend to use it even if it sometimes looses piority because I am not that fit, I ride a bakfiets with my kids and/or I have a weeksworth of groceries in the box.
    Being a vehicular cyclist is a mindset, not a riding technique. Very akin to that of creationists and bible literalists. Other cyclists are made to ride as vehicles because of principles of british bicycle campaigners upheld for the past decades – not because they believe in it.

    1. Vehicular cycling can mean several things at the same time. Specifically cycling on the road, in my books, does not mean vehicular cycling. If you cycle in the cycle lane that has been assigned to us on road space, that is not vehicular cycling in my opinion.
      Is vehicular cycling a mindset? Or have many people portrayed the idea of what it is incorrect. Have i portrayed the image of what it is incorrectly?

      If you look at cycling in america, they do not have vehicular cycling, and they do have cyclists on the road. They base cycling around ‘you must keep as close to the curb as possible’. And any cyclist that tries to cycling in a manor which would be perceived as vehicular cycling is nearly run off the road or pulled over the by the police.

      I am very much open to debate on this matter, it is a tough but interesting topic which has several caps that are very for and against.

      1. I guess you are right when saying that VC has more than one meaning. For all I know, as David Hembrow put it, “vehicular cycling is a survival technique, which allows to cycle in poor conditions of british roads” (quoting from memory). There’s no for or against really – you do what you can to survive on the road, and the techniques you mention are common sense really, not something that makes you belong to a specific group.
        Now there are of course very useful pieces of advice in Cyclecraft, though the biggest problem I see is that quite a few people can’t see beyond Cyclecraft – they see it as a way of life, not a survival guide. Some of them say, that any dedicated and separated infrastructure will mean loosing our right to ride the roads, other try to make others believe that the Dutch and Copenhageners do not cycle because of their infrastructure, a little bit like Stockholm Syndrome.
        So I think people who ride bikes, are just people who ride bikes, regardless of how and why they ride – no need to call them anything else. Vehicular Cyclists though are a different group to me.

  2. This is an interesting post. I would identify as vehicular cyclist, more because I try to ride inline with traffic and follow the style suggested by Cyclecraft/Bikeability rather than because I don’t believe in cycle tracks/lanes.

    It’s very much easier to adopt this style where the speed limit is 20mph compared to 30 or above, for me, as I can comfortably travel at 20-22mph on the flat. However, it takes a very assertive and confident manner to proceed at, say, 25 or 26 mph on a 30mph road in free-flowing traffic. That’s why I fully support 20mph limits in London.

  3. Good simple observation, Gaz: that until we’ve got somewhere decent to cycle, the only way many of us will remain vaguely safe is the grim world of ‘vehicular cycling’.

  4. Gaz, I really enjoyed reading your piece. I would describe myself very much as a ‘segregationist’, that is to say I don’t believe there will ever be mass cycling in this country without proper, decent, separated cycling infrastructure on the busiest and hairiest routes. I don’t want to see it *everywhere* but on those scary A roads I do think it is important.

    But as you rightly surmise, ‘vehicular cyclist’ can also be interpreted in different ways. I am a ‘vehicular cyclist’ in that I use VC skills to ensure I stay alive on the roads as we currently find them. When ‘VCers’ come in for flack, I don’t think it is an attack on people who ride like this, but is more a criticism of people who use the tenets of VC as a campaigning base and think that it is the best way to go about growing cycling.

    And as you point out, the key to good infrastructure is its usability – because there is an awful lot of crap out there at present! I would say that technical know-how in installing proper bike lanes is just as important as the political will to build them in the first place.

    Good piece, helped me to question some of my own thoughts and perceptions!

  5. I read a lot of bike blogs and the one thing that separates this one from all of the rest is that at no point while reading this did I think you were going to go on about how you are the victim of something a driver did.

    A cyclist can break 15 traffic laws in the space of a quarter mile but if a car makes a rolling stop somewhere, a cyclist will treat you like you just shot the pope.

    1. You are hitting the problem of labelling people by their method of transport. That would be unacceptable if we were to substitute colour, religion or gender.

      Cyclists don’t treat you like you shot the pope. Some people on bikes will do that. As might the driver behind you. Intolerence is the real enemy on the road and you should be careful you do not share it.

      The bottom line is we all accidentally or deliberately behave badly on the road. The likely consequences, however, are very different between drivers and cyclists. Just as we expect airline pilots to be more careful and be subject to rigidly enforced safety regulations than, say, pedestrians we also should expect, nay demand, the same from motorists.

      From someone who drives more than he cycles …

      1. Nay… thats funny. You’re correct it isn’t 100% of them out there, but it’s a high enough % of them that I feel I can and will generalize, even if it does ruffle a few feathers. In my personal opinion, a great deal of the accidents involving cyclists could have been avoided by the cyclist.

        I don’t get upset with a cyclists actions on the road. I get upset with their blatant disregard for the laws and common sense. I also get upset by the fact that a lot of them (in my opinion) are extremely hypocritical when it comes to this subject.

        I feel cyclist should take more responsibility in their own safety (in my opinion)

        From someone who drives more than he rides

  6. I going to start to vehicle cycle tomorrow after getting buzzed by a clown on a 3 lane road. The left lane which I was in had just started, and there was no other traffic, yet he felt he had to buzz right in my lane for some reason doing about 70km/h. I am not getting cameras like yours because I was so close to getting hit.

  7. Great article and as ibikelondon said it’s really made me think about how I ride! Techniques, methods, skills or whatever you want to call them that I use regularly – sometimes without even thinking about it are popping up in other pieces I’m reading on VC (or bicycle driving as Wikipedia also refers to it :-))

    For me the reason I prefer to ride in such a way is that I feel it makes me safer. If I can ride (fairly) predictably in a visible position on the road then surely that is a good thing? I’ll admit I’m not a great one for hand signals when I’m pulling round or overtaking people (although I’m constantly shoulder checking over each side before moving) I’ll always ensure I give one if I’m changing lanes or taking another road. I’ll even give hand signals when waiting at lights just to ensure drivers are aware of my intentions. I’ve seen a few riders recently that fail to do this and it just makes predicting that behaviour rather tricky – their road position and my expecting them to NOT signal is usually just about enough to avoid hitting them 🙂

    I think it also helps to be able to read AND anticipate other riders (and traffic for that matter…) which is something I was thinking about this morning as I came down CS7 with dozens of other riders and the usual queue of cars. I can negotiate them all fairly safely as I try to anticipate what they would do by thinking what would I do in their situation? For example if I’m approaching a rider to overtake and we come up against stopped traffic, move over to let them overtake the traffic whilst still being able to pass them. Of course you also have to consider the worst case scenario and try and act accordingly!

    I appreciate VC isn’t for everyone and understand it shouldn’t be necessary to ride in such a way to get around safely.

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