How to overtake a person on a bike

How to overtake a person on a bike

By Andy Chivers

My impression is that drivers overtaking other drivers on ordinary roads is a rare event nowadays. Modern cars are so much better at accelerating, cornering and braking compared with 30 years ago, so meeting a car going significantly slower than you is unlikely. The opportunity to overtake is rarer too, as the increasing number of cars on the road means gaps in the oncoming traffic are infrequent.

Overtaking in a motor vehicle is an inherently dangerous activity, and reducing that risk is one reason for building dual carriageways and motorways. Two cars going at 50mph will be approaching each other at a cumulative speed of 100mph and that gives little time to react if something unexpected happens. 

But there is one vehicle that all drivers will overtake sooner or later: a bicycle.

Going uphill, someone riding a bike may struggle to reach a speed above 6 mph, so the frustration experienced by a a driver that can easily reach 30 mph is understandable. Given the disparity in potential speeds, it is a source of pleasure to me when out cycling on Oxfordshire’s roads that so many drivers are patient, considerate and careful when they meet a person cycling on the road. The Highway Code says drivers should leave as much room overtaking a bike as they would for a car (see rules 162-67 and 212), but this is ambiguous – does it mean you treat the bike as taking up the same space as a car (I hope so), or that it’s ok to leave the same gap between the car and bike as you would between two cars (no thanks)?

The Highway Code is clear about when you shouldn’t overtake: on a bend, at the crest of a hill, close to a junction, where there are double white lines, near to zebra crossings or anywhere that your view is restricted.

Imagine yourself driving along a quiet country lane and there ahead of you is a lone cyclist, pootling along, gazing at the hedgerows and clouds. What should you do? Here is my ideal scenario:

  1. The driver keeps their distance (about 10 metres) and assesses the situation.
  2. When there is a straight section of road with no oncoming traffic, and the the driver is confident they can overtake me safely, they indicate, accelerate moderately and move completely to the other side of the road to overtake. 

If the driver has followed these two steps, there will be no need to put their foot to the floor because they will have given themselves plenty of time and space to travel at a moderate speed.

It is an offence to pass a cyclist with less than 1.5m gap (also known as a ‘close pass’). Thames Valley Police have run several ‘close pass’ campaigns to help raise awareness of the problem. 

The nice thing about overtaking calmly and safely is that everyone ends up feeling good about themselves and each other. There might even be time for a friendly wave.

Driving a car should be seen as a social activity where you relate to everyone else you encounter not as a video game with tricky obstacles to overcome, but as another person using the road.

There is a campaign group (only me so far) pressing for all unclassified roads to be limited to 40mph (or should that be 30mph?). Another pressure group (me again) thinks this should apply on Sundays to all roads, with the exception of A roads and motorways, to allow families and less confident bike riders to experience the roads as they should be: for everyone.

A few years ago a quote from a lorry driver was going round which roughly said: ‘I have never been in a situation where saving a minute of my time was worth risking the life of a cyclist’. It’s not a bad mindset when the road winds on and on and there is a bike rider ahead. 


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