Defensive cycling is riding a bike in such a way that you deny people the opportunity to cut you up or otherwise take advantage of you. Note that the information below is intended for UK cyclists - you need to check your local laws. Here's some tips:

  • Use your space. This is the most important rule of all. You have the right to use the entire half of the road you are occupying. Always cycle at least 2 feet from the edge of the road, which gives you more room for manoeuvre if motorists squeeze past.
  • Block the traffic where appropriate. There are many cases where a bad driver will try to overtake you but a good one will not. If you are coming up to a blind bend, move to the middle of your lane to discourage following motorists from overtaking. Good drivers won't and bad drivers shouldn't, so don't feel guilty about this. The alternative is to have someone push past you and then drive into you when they see the oncoming truck. Likewise on a narrow lane, move out where there is oncoming traffic to discourage pushy, impatient motorists from squeezing past.
  • Be predictable and firm. If you are turning across the traffic, look behind, signal and move out. Don't be afraid to manipulate the traffic. So long as you are doing something reasonable, and making it obvious what you are trying to achieve, few people will mind slowing for you. Never take anyone by surprise or force a quick reaction, though.
  • Make yourself visible. You can only influence other road users if they can see you. Don't be one of those fools riding in black at night with no lights. Wear bright clothing at all times, and have clean and efficient reflectors and lights if riding after dark.
  • Be courteous at all times. Breaking traffic laws and being pushy will not help your cause. If someone waits patiently for a safe moment to overtake you, give them a friendly wave as they pass. If someone slows to let you turn across the traffic, acknowledge their kindness.
  • Make eye contact. This helps you establish that others have seen you, and lets them know that you have seen them.
What e-troon has detailed above is quite true for the US as well. It's an excellent writeup. I'd like to add a few points, though:

Disclaimer: below I have written suggestions, which have worked for me and are your sole responsibility for implementing if you choose to do so. If you get yourself killed following my advice, it's because of your own stupidity. Don't let common sense be overridden by anything I may tell you.

Get out there

(The comments in this section are for streets without bike lanes)

Use your space, as above. Keep up your visibility.

  • If traffic is moving at a speed you can cycle at:, then take the lane. It may piss off a few drivers who are upset to see a "slow" bicycle in front of them, but if you can move along with traffic, it's safer to do so, and in reality no inconvenience for motorists. It increases your visibility, and thus drivers' awareness of you.

  • If traffic is too fast to keep up with and there's a wide shoulder:, ride on the shoulder, but not close to the edge. Again, the idea is to keep up drivers' awareness of you, "lowly" cyclist that you be.

  • If traffic is too fast and there's not a shoulder: It's inadvisable to cycle on street with fast traffic and no shoulder or bike lane. Find an alternate route: calmer streets, wider streets, or streets with bike lanes. If you can't find an alternate route, take a whole lane. It's going to greatly upset motorists, but hey, tough shit, they can pass you in the other lane, or simply wait. It's simply not safe to ride wedged in a tiny space between traffic and edge of road.

Get an attitude

Get off the sidewalk

Many times have I seen cyclists riding on the sidewalk. Okay, here's the thing, please don't fucking do this. Riding on the sidewalk is extremely dangerous and should only be done very carefully and in extraordinary circumstances.

When I was taking my First Aid class with the Red Cross last May, they showed a video where a father and daughter were biking on the sidewalk together through a neighborhood. The first aid scenario begins when the daughter comes off the sidewalk into a crosswalk at some 10 MPH, and gets hit by a car. This is because:

  • Pedestrians get very little respect from drivers, who expect them to go at two miles per hour and to always cede right of way. If you are on a bicycle on the sidewalk, motorists won't give a shit about you.

  • Sidewalks make you much less visible. The closer you are to the center of the road, the higher your visibility, and the farther away the point drivers can see you from. The lack of visibilty is especially important, when given that:

  • Bicyclists are a LOT faster than pedestrians. Drivers expect things on sidewalks to be moving at, well, sidewalk speed: walking speed. If you're going 10 miles per hour along the sidewalk, you're going to seemingly appear out of nowhere. The drivers won't have enough time to react, and are likely to be startled.

  • Finally, sidewalks are cluttered. Riding on the sidewalk is not only unsafe for you, but also for your friend the pedestrian. Sidewalks are meant to be a safe pedestrian zone, and people walking on them don't expect anything moving faster than the occasional runner. Peds, in general, swerve about, stop suddenly, and are generally unaware of their surroundings, which, when combined with vehicles (bikes) moving 10-20 MPH, can result in nasty crashes. In fact, most cities ban bikes on sidewalks in the downtown areas, and some cities ban cycling on any sidewalk.

If you must ride on a sidewalk, do so with great caution. Yield to pedestrians, who have ultimate right of way. If the sidewalk is crowded, get off and walk. Go slow: no faster than about 6-7 MPH. Stop at intersections, make sure that motorists see you, and behave like a pedestrian: you have the same legal rights and responsibilities as one when you're on the sidewalk.

Get in the bike lane

If there's a bike lane, ride in it. It's a lot safer, it allows you to safely and legally pass cars on the right, and it's what it's there for. There are, however, exceptions to this:

  • Obstacles:If there's broken glass, construction signs, debris, dead donkeys, or whatever else in the bike lane, you can leave the lane to avoid the obstacle. Look to your left, signal, change lanes, and then change back when you are past the obstacle in question.

  • Passing: If there's a slow cyclist in the bike lane, overtake them. Again, signal your lane change out of the bike lane, speed up past the slow cyclist, and return to the bike lane.

  • Turning: This is very important. Don't turn left from a bike lane on the right. Use turn lanes if they exist, otherwise just get in the leftmost lane. Do this ahead of the turn, as a car would, and signal your lane changes.



I hope that this find itself useful in your minds and hearts. Be safe, have fun, and go forth and cycle!

You both have FANTASTIC points, with one exception.

Eye contact

Always watch the car, not the driver. Most urban cyclists can relate at least one instance of a driver looking them dead in the eye just before, or while, attempting to kill them through stupidity. While the driver (I use the term loosely) may see you, that tends to have little or no bearing on what happens next. Personally, I tend to get my cues from the front wheel. Whatever you do, please don't trust that eye contact will keep you safe.

Other than that, EXCELLENT advise. Qousqous, I'd cool you if I could. The more people that learn it's okay to take the lane, the better.

Now, quit noding for a while and ride.

Defensive motorcycling:

Always assume that the car driver can't see you.

Defensive cycling:

Always assume that the car driver CAN see you, and that he is trying to kill you.

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