Views / Ottawa / Your Ride: Ottawa

Be brave, cyclists, and take the lane if need be

If the space is too narrow for a bike and car to travel, the law says the cyclist should move out and block the car until it’s safe to pass.

A cyclist rides past a car in Ottawa.

Haley Ritchie/Metro

A cyclist rides past a car in Ottawa.

When you start riding a bicycle in traffic, there are a lot of things to learn. None of those things, in my experience, are harder to actually put into practice than these three small words: Take the lane. It took me years to get the confidence and learn how to do it.

I understood the logic behind taking up the whole lane pretty early. There are times when you have to. If the space is too narrow for a bike and a car to safely travel side by side, the law says the cyclist should move out and block the car until it’s safe to pass.

This puts the cyclist where the driver can see him or her, and it forces the driver to stay back until there’s room (and very often, drivers will try to squeeze past if you give them an inch of space to do so). The irony is that while it feels far more dangerous — like the proverbial “swimming with the sharks” — you’re actually safer, as long as the drivers behind you don’t do anything murderous. And I believe that drivers generally aren’t murderous.

But it is a test of will to stay in what most people think of as the cars’ space, even for a short time. I asked other cyclists about it and one of them called it “brainwashing yourself that this is normal cycling behaviour.”

Others talked about learning to ignore the cars behind them, or about having to ride faster to avoid being honked at or tailgated.

In my case, sometimes I actually have to get angry in order to ride in the middle of a busy road. I get enough close passes at high speed that I get mad, and that gives me the courage to claim that centre-lane space.

I tell myself, in order to keep my cool while I’m out there, that no one is actually trying to run me down. I try to forget the fact that a couple of cyclists I know stopped taking the lane because they did get hit by aggressive or careless drivers.

Fear of impatient drivers figures heavily when cyclists talk about this issue. We all know that many drivers don’t understand why a cyclist would be in the middle of the road.

We know some drivers even think we’re doing it just to get in their way. We’re not.

Kathryn Hunt @k8thek8 is a writer, editor of Centretown BUZZ, storyteller, poet, cycling blogger, rock climber, mysterious techno vixen (confirmed) and geek. Not necessarily in that order. You can read her cycling blog at theincidentalcyclist. blogspot.ca.

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