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When bicycles pass on the left

Date

On Your Bike

After wearing out his knees with basketball and running, Michael O'Reilly became yet another MAMIL (Middle-Aged Man In Lycra).

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Careful undertaking ... it's legal for bicycles to overtake cars on the left.

Careful undertaking ... it's legal for bicycles to overtake cars on the left. Photo: Nick Moir

One of the best things about riding a bike in heavy traffic is being able to overtake cars on the left hand side.

Most capital cities have arterial roads that turn into part-time car parks during rush hour, especially when cars are queuing to get over a bridge or similar bottleneck.

In ideal conditions, a commuter cyclist can pass literally hundreds of cars, and perhaps even be showered and at their desk before overtaken motorists have finished finding a place to park, as shown in this YouTube video.

But being on the left can contain significant dangers. I haven't seen full police details of the incident, but Monday's horrific accident in Melbourne, where a cyclist was run over by a truck, could be a reminder of the risks of being alongside a vehicle.

Bicycles have a unique right to pass other vehicles on the left, as described in the NSW road rules. Bicycle Network Victoria has some additional advice on the issue.

It's not a well-known rule among motorists, which can lead to misunderstanding and even anger about perceived lawlessness.

Some motorists also complain that the rule means they have to pass the same cyclist on multiple occasions.

Maybe, but the question is, once they've passed the cyclist, why don't they zoom off, never to be seen again? More than likely, the motorist is repeatedly being held up by traffic lights or the car in front of them. They are still in the same place in the traffic, it just takes a bit longer to move around the bicycle to get there, and frustrations about traffic congestion in general are pinned on the cyclist – not the other cars.

Here's an informal list of things I try to remember when "undertaking".

Mind the gap. Make sure you will be able to get to the other end of the vehicle in front of you, and that there will be space for you when you get there. If a space is too narrow for you to cycle normally, it's probably best not to go.

Go slow. Sure, if you're on a big road shoulder you can pick up the pace, but if you're threading carefully, moderate your speed. Don't go flying through narrow spaces – a lot can go wrong in a hurry.

Watch out for left turners. Especially if they don't indicate. As explained by Bicycle Network Victoria, the law says you can go past them if they're indicating but not yet turning. But you wouldn't want to be trapped alongside if they start moving.

Dooring double danger. Not only do you have to be careful of doors opening on parked cars to the left, but there's a chance someone might fling open a passenger door of the car you're passing on your right.

Beware trucks and buses. There are so many reasons to be cautious with large vehicles. The driver likely can't see you. The huge wheels can catch you. Longer vehicles take more time to get past. Wider vehicles tend to be closer to the kerb, and if they're moving on a road with a bend, they create a squeeze point. And if the vehicle starts moving and turns left, any cyclist alongside could be in a world of trouble.

Watch for pedestrians. When a road turns into a car park, some pedestrians thread through the stationary cars rather than walk to an intersection or zebra crossing. They probably aren't looking for your kerb-crawling antics, especially if sneaking past a big 4WD.

Lastly, I work on being courteous to motorists, and staying well clear of wing mirrors. And if there's a couple of cars between me and a light, and beyond that an open road, I figure I don't have to move to the front just because I can.

Do you pass on the left? Do you feel safe about it, or have any advice on the matter?

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187 comments

  • The truck incident on Monday was tragic. However, both cars, pedestrians and bikes all get in trouble with the Aust. Road Rules Reg 28, where trucks & buses are legally allowed to turn left from a non-left turning lane. In most cases, it is impossible to know when a large vehicle is going to do this manoeuvre, and the turning arc of a trailer can cut easily into multiple lanes when turning.

    The subsection c of the rule needs to be expanded on how heavy vehicles notify traffic around them that they are turning from a non-designated lane. Either that, or more education is required for both heavy vehicle and other road users on what to expect. Indicators are usually not enough in this case as you are not looking to your right to check if someone is turning left in front of you.

    Commenter
    Kongming
    Date and time
    November 15, 2012, 4:24PM
    • Firstly the incident on Monday was tragic, my condolences to all involved.

      Kongming, All truck drivers that I have taught regarding turning left from the second lane use the following process. Basically it is to drive up the white line to the corner with the left indicator on. 70% of the vehicle will be in the right lane allowing for the trailer to swing in over the left lane to make the corner.

      If cars, bicycles and motorbikes could recognize this it would help everyone stay safe.

      Commenter
      Peter
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      November 15, 2012, 5:29PM
    • Kongming why do you think trucks and buses can turn left from a non left lane? Do you think it has something to do with size? As a truckies (here we go) wife my hubby along with his work mates use their indicators. (yes there are idiots out there) I know it must be confusing to some people, the truck is in the right lane with his left indicator on or vise versa or the "do not over take turning vehicle" sign on the back of the truck bus is another confusing one. To be safe keep a good distance the drivers can't see you if you are to close to the front side or rear. Cyclists, drivers and walkers take your ear phones out and "stop, look and listen". Remember your house doesn't move it will be there when you get home but take your time relax and get there safely.

      Commenter
      charlie
      Location
      Yass NSW
      Date and time
      November 15, 2012, 6:12PM
    • The fact that it is legal for motorbikes to be allowed to ride between cars is completely retarded! It is a registered vehicle and as such not be treated any different than a car or a truck.

      Commenter
      Dani of Eastern suburbs
      Date and time
      November 16, 2012, 9:15AM
    • Kongming,
      YES, the recent events were very tragic and my condolences to family and friends.
      Now what on earth makes you think that the rules need changing. As cyclists we also have an obligation to watch and READ the traffic as well.
      Trucks have indicators on their sides as do trailers so there really is no excuse for not looking at what the truck is doing.
      Basic physics says a truck and trailer CANNOT get around a corner like a car and bike can, and is only plain commonsense that he is going to move out further to be able to negotiate the corner. That also applies to right had turns as well although usually to a lesser degree.
      Bikes passing on the left in the left lane.....not a problem. If you pass them once or fifty times on a section of road it is the luck of the draw so why are there complaints?
      The above article if read properly is basic COMMON SENSE!

      Commenter
      Unbelievable
      Date and time
      November 16, 2012, 9:33AM
    • @Dani, this from the Vic Roads website....
      Lane splitting. You must drive with your vehicle completely within a lane. Riding between lines of moving vehicles is illegal and dangerous.

      Motorbikes can lane split when traffic is stationary, not moving. Also why would a motorbike sit in lanes of stationary traffic? Its one of the advantages of riding!

      Commenter
      shemp
      Location
      melb
      Date and time
      November 16, 2012, 10:26AM
  • How about they make it illegal for bike riders from riding in the center of lanes.

    Must carry their license with them (in order for police to be able to identify them easier if they have committed an offense.

    Demerit point loss from vehicle license (or if they do not hold a current license to be fined with community service on cycling safety) if the bike rider is seen to be riding Negligent (especially city bike couriers cutting off cars, which has lead to many near misses/minor incidents).

    *end of rant*

    Commenter
    Grr
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    November 15, 2012, 4:35PM
    • How about you stop polluting the air with toxic waste and pay congestion charges.

      Commenter
      Suburbanite
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      November 15, 2012, 5:10PM
    • Taking the lane is the safest place to ride in certain situations, particularly in busy traffic amongst motorists who are not paying attention and distracted by radio/gadgets/phone/passengers.

      And a drivers licence is not required to ride a bike.

      Commenter
      Andrew
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      November 15, 2012, 5:13PM
    • Depends on the situation.

      You take the centre of the lane if you are approaching a roundabout; cause you don't want to confuse other users; and you don't want to give the nut behind you the mistaken belief that there is room for him to squeeze through the roundabout at the same time as you.

      If there are parked cars on the left, you generally ride out of the door zone.

      And cyclists also need to be wary of the arrogant pedestrian who is too good to walk on the pedestrian only footpath and must instead walk on the bike only bike path that runs parrallel.

      Commenter
      Thriller
      Date and time
      November 15, 2012, 5:25PM

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