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Cyclists on a road in Victoria, British Columbia

Vehicular cycling (also known as bicycle driving) is the practice of riding bicycles on roads in a manner that is in accordance with the principles for driving in traffic, and in a way that places responsibility for safety on the individual.

The phrase vehicular cycling was coined by John Forester in the 1970s. In his book Effective Cycling, Forester contends that "Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles".[1]

These techniques have been adopted by the League of American Bicyclists and other organizations teaching safe riding courses for cyclists. As a method for strong and confident riders to cope with fast motor traffic, many recommendations of vehicular cycling are widely applied. Vehicular cycling has at times been controversial, particularly on larger roads not designed for bikes.


A vehicular cyclist is one that travels within the roadway in accordance with the basic vehicular rules of the road that are shared by all drivers and adhering to traffic controls.[a] Vehicular cyclists, Forester advises, should feel and act like vehicle drivers, and should smoothly and safely flow with other vehicles.[b]

In Effective Cycling, Forester introduced[4] what he calls "the five basic principles of cycling in traffic".[c]

Lane control

Bikes May Use Full Lane
The Bicycles May Use Full Lane sign in the US Federal Highway Administration's Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices may be used when lanes are too narrow for safe vehicle-bicycle side-by-side sharing
This sign indicates that there is not sufficient space for safe vehicle-bicycle side-by-side sharing
Shared Lane Marking, called a Sharrow, which has a similar function to the message shown above

Lane control is the practice of controlling a lane (also known as "using the full lane" or "taking the lane") to enhance safety. Controlling the lane is asserting control of the space one needs to be much more conspicuous (as compared to riding relatively inconspicuously near the road edge) to traffic ahead as well as behind, to be further from edge hazards, to preclude another vehicle from passing dangerously close within the same lane,[8] and encouraging drivers of overtaking vehicles to change lanes when they pass.

Lane sharing

Due to the relatively narrow nature of bicycles, road lanes are sometimes wide enough to allow them to safely share lanes side by side with motor vehicles. In lanes where this is possible, vehicular cycling suggests riding about 1 metre (3.3 ft) to the outside of overtaking traffic[9] and about the same distance from roadside hazards such as the gutter seam.[9] Cyclists can also filter forward past stopped motor traffic. Where they exist, wide outside lanes may also be shared in order to facilitate being overtaken by faster traffic.[10]

When riding in a lane sharing position, vehicular cycling, because it is based on following the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles, specifies that cyclists must yield to overtaking traffic using the other part of the lane, or obtain right-of-way to move over through signaling/negotiation before moving laterally into that space. For example, California's CVC 22107 Rule of the Road specifies, "No person shall turn a vehicle from a direct course or move right or left upon a roadway until such movement can be made with reasonable safety and then only after the giving of an appropriate signal."[11] Any cyclist who moves into lane space used by overtaking traffic without signaling and yielding until safe would be in violation of CVC 22107 in California, or in violation of similar rules of the road in other jurisdictions.

Speed and destination positioning

Vehicular cyclists use "speed positioning" between intersections. The basic principle is "slower traffic keeps to the outside; faster traffic to the inside". When lanes are marked, vehicular cyclists generally operate in the outermost travel lane. When lanes are not marked, vehicular cyclists generally operate as far to the outside of the traveled way as is reasonably efficient and safe.

As vehicular cyclists approach a junction of ways, the principle of "destination positioning" comes into play, and they should position themselves laterally according to their destination (left, straight or right):

Vehicular cyclists do not avoid riding in bicycle lanes, rather they decide whether to ride in the space demarcated as a bike lane based on their own judgement about safety.[12] They are also advised to stay outside of the door zone; when passing motor vehicles that are parked parallel to the road, no closer than the largest estimated width of an open door, plus some margin for error.[13]

The cycling skills manual Cyclecraft, the foundation of Bikeability, the UK's national standard for cycle training, defines the terms primary riding position, where the cyclist will be more visible and predictable to motor vehicle traffic, as being in the center of the traffic lane, and secondary riding position as being 1 metre (3.3 ft) to the side of moving traffic, but not closer than 0.5 metres (1.6 ft) from the edge of the road. It states that it is sensible to use the primary riding position as the normal position, only using the secondary riding position when it is safe, reasonable, and necessary to allow faster traffic to pass.[14]

On multi-lane roadways, some vehicular cyclists ride on the inside of the outermost lane (on the side furthest from the road edge in the lane nearest the road edge), for enhanced visibility to motor vehicle traffic. This position may be indicated by road markings.[f]

Looking back

Cyclists looking back over their shoulders is an essential traffic skill, in order to

  1. maintain awareness of other vehicles on the road
  2. safely navigate and merge with other traffic
  3. broadcast the cyclist's desire (to move laterally or turn) to other road users so that they can better predict the cyclist's path
  4. see if someone who is overtaking is about to make a mistake and enter the cyclist's path

Particularly in slow traffic, a cyclist's look to the rear may serve as a signal, allowing the cyclist to keep both hands on the handlebar. However, a cyclist may also use a hand signal (arm extended to the side) to request that an overtaking driver make room. The cyclist then follows up with a second look to the rear to assure that the driver has made room.


Negotiation is a technique for cyclists to safely traverse one or more lanes by merging in with the flow of other traffic. The basic method is to negotiate for the use of the adjacent lane, move into that lane, and then repeat the process for any additional lanes. The cyclist moves only when there is a natural gap in motor traffic to move into, or after someone slows down explicitly to allow them to move over.

The steps of the process for each lane change are:

  1. Look back for traffic that may be overtaking in the target lane.
  2. Wait for a sufficient gap to change lanes. Ideally, make eye contact with the other driver and use a hand signal to request an approaching driver in the target lane to yield right of way by slowing down and leaving unoccupied space in the lane in front of them.
  3. Move into the lane and control it.


Some have claimed that transportation engineers in the US have become too focused on separating cyclists from pedestrians and motorists. According to an Institute of Transportation Engineers Journal piece by Martin Pion, the implementation of bike lanes can limit competent cyclists perceptions of where it is permitted to cycle. He also notes some sport cyclists prefer to ride in lane, compared with a parallel path, because it reduces the risk of collision with side turning motorists assuming there is not a strong separation of road users.[16]


The movement surrounding vehicular cycling has also been criticized for its effect on bicycle advocacy in general. In Pedaling Revolution, Jeff Mapes states that Forester "fought bike lanes, European-style cycletracks, and just about any form of traffic calming", and "saw nothing wrong with sprawl and an auto-dependent lifestyle."[17] Zack Furness is highly critical of vehicular cyclists in One Less Car: Bicycling and the Politics of Automobility, arguing that their criticism of 'political' cyclists "totally ignores all the relevant socioeconomic, physical, material, and cultural factors that influence—and in most cases dictate—everyday transportation choices."[18] Critical Mass co-founder Chris Carlsson describes vehicular cycling as a naïve, polarizing "ideology" that "essentially advocates bicyclists should strive to behave like cars on the streets of America."[19] The makeup of vehicular cycling advocates as a group in the United States was criticized in the 1990s for being typically club cyclists that are well educated, upper-middle income or wealthy, suburban, and white, representing a social and economic elite that are able to dominate public discussions of cycle planning issues.[20] Vehicular cyclists have also been disproportionately male. In the US, males make up 88% of total cyclist fatalities.[21]

Many governmental and professional organizations emphasize differences between a person driving a car and a person riding a bicycle and consider separated bicycle facilities to be best practice for promoting safety.[22][23][24][25][26]

Distracted driving

The rise of cell phone distracted driving has increased the chance that if a motorist is drifting into a shoulder or bike lane, it is because they are not paying attention. Accordingly, if a cyclist attempts to ride where a motorist is drifting in order to ‘reclaim their right of way’, it is likely that they will not be seen. Citing the rise in US crash fatalities, David Dudley at CityLab wrote, ”the swift erosion of America’s driving abilities is yet another reason to admit that the cause of “vehicular cycling”—the safe-biking philosophy that says bikes should ride assertively rather than cower at the side of the road—is increasingly compromised by reality.”[27]

Segregated cycling as an alternative

Main article: Segregated cycle facilities

Segregated cycle facilities (both one-way roads)

Segregated cycle facilities exist in some areas, allowing cycling without sharing roads with motorized traffic. Cities that are structured that way report a high degree of bicycle usage and low injury rates, such as in the Netherlands. A 2001 study in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada concluded that cyclists found 1 minute of cycling in mixed traffic as onerous as 4.1 minutes on bike lanes or 2.8 minutes on bike paths.[28] A study of cyclists in Washington D.C. found that cyclists were willing to spend on average 20.38 extra minutes per trip to travel on an off-street bicycle trail when the alternative was riding on a street with parked cars.[29] Forester believes segregated cycle facilities to be more dangerous than on-road cycling due to increase risk from crossing conflicts[30] and that, in the case of sidepaths, they can only be used safely by cycling "very slowly"[31] Urban planning professor John Pucher writes that "Forester makes a number of theoretical arguments why bikeways are unsafe."[32] Forester objects to rejection of his test results.[30]

Pucher's various transnational studies of bicycle transportation lead him to conclude that "the overwhelming evidence is that cycling is much safer and more popular precisely in those countries where bikeways, bike lanes, special intersection modifications, and priority traffic signals are the key to their bicycling policies."[32] The authors of a 2009 meta-study on cycle infrastructure safety research at the University of British Columbia similarly conclude that "in comparison to cycling on bicycle-specific infrastructure (paths, lanes, routes), on-road cycling appears to be less safe."[33]

Forester objects to Pucher's conclusions, primarily on the grounds that Pucher ascribes the increase in use of bikes and bike safety observed to the bikeways without showing that the bikeways are the actual cause of the increased use or safety.[31]

Jennifer Dill and Theresa Carr's research on bicycle transportation in 35 U.S. cities also suggests that "higher levels of bicycle infrastructure are positively and significantly correlated with higher rates of bicycle commuting";[34] and a 2010 study comparing streets in Copenhagen that had had cycle tracks and bicycle lanes added to them found that cycling volume increased 20%. However, on the cycle track streets bicycle accidents increased 10% more than would be expected from the changed bicycle and automobile traffic volumes, making the cycle tracks less safe for cyclists than the unmodified roads. Streets with bicycle lanes added saw a 5% increase in bicycle traffic but a 49% increase in bicycle accidents. Despite this, the study notes that "the gains in health from increased physical activity [from increased numbers cycling are] much, much greater than the losses in health resulting from a slight decline in road safety." Although prior studies did not differentiate between new bike riders and those that had changed routes due to the new facility,[35][36] recent research has shown that the greater level of protection, the greater number of new bike riders (as opposed to riders who used the route before construction or shifted routes).[37]

See also


  1. ^ Such as yield (give way) signs, stop signs and traffic lights.[2]
  2. ^ In Bicycle Transportation, Forester writes that "there is much more to the vehicular-cycling principle than only obeying the traffic laws for drivers. The vehicular-style cyclist not only acts outwardly like a driver, he knows inwardly that he is one. Instead of feeling like a trespasser on roads owned by cars he feels like just another driver with a slightly different vehicle, one who is participating and cooperation in the organized mutual effort to get to desired destinations with the least trouble."[3]
  3. ^ Forester asserts that "If you obey these five principles, you can cycle in many places you want to go with a low probability of creating traffic conflicts. You won't do everything in the best possible way, and you won't yet know how to get yourself out of troubles that other drivers may cause, but you will still do much better than the average American bicyclist."[4]
  4. ^ For cycling in particular, collisions at intersections (defined broadly as "not only the junction of two roadways, but also points where driveways, sidewalks, or paths meet a roadway, or where sidewalks or paths meet a driveway") while traveling in the wrong direction against traffic has been determined to be over three times more likely for wrong-way cyclists. Wrong-way cycling increases closing speeds and wrong-way cyclists are easily overlooked by motorists at intersections.[5][6] Wrong-way cycling also makes bike-bike collisions more likely.[6][7]
  5. ^ Depending which side of the road traffic moves on, this may be turning left or right. Forester's book, being written in the United States, assumes traffic driving on the right.
  6. ^ In Salt Lake City, this left-of-center position is painted by the City in green along with shared lane markings on several downtown roadways.[15]


  1. ^ Forester (1993), p. [page needed].
  2. ^ Forester (1993), p. 285.
  3. ^ Forester (1994), p. 3.
  4. ^ a b Forester (1993), p. 246.
  5. ^ Wachtel & Lewiston (1994), pp. 30–35.
  6. ^ a b IPMBA (2008), p. 77.
  7. ^ Forester (1993), p. 272.
  8. ^ Forester (1993), p. 295, Chapter 29, Where to Ride on the Roadway: "If you decide that their overtaking will be dangerous for you, then get out into the center of the lane so they cannot attempt to squeeze by but must obviously get into the other lane."
  9. ^ a b Forester (1993), p. 294, Chapter 29, Where to Ride on the Roadway: "On wide roads, ride just outside the actual traffic lane—not along the curb, but about 3 feet from the cars."
  10. ^ Forester (1993), p. 294, Chapter 29, Where to Ride on the Roadway: "A wide road has its outside lane wide enough for a motorist to overtake a cyclist within the same lane."
  11. ^ "CVC 22107". California Department of Motor Vehicles. Retrieved October 15, 2022. 22107. No person shall turn a vehicle from a direct course or move right or left upon a roadway until such movement can be made with reasonable safety and then only after the giving of an appropriate signal in the manner provided in this chapter in the event any other vehicle may be affected by the movement.
  12. ^ Forester (1993), p. 284.
  13. ^ Forester (1993), p. 297.
  14. ^ Franklin (1997), pp. 58–59.
  15. ^ Page (2008), p. [page needed].
  16. ^ "January 2018 ITE Journal article: Routine Accommodation for Vehicular Cyclists as part of Complete Streets". ThinkBicycling. 2018-01-10. Retrieved 2019-01-21.
  17. ^ Mapes (2009), p. 40.
  18. ^ Furness (2010), pp. 72–73.
  19. ^ Carlsson (2007), p. 87.
  20. ^ Epperson (1995).
  21. ^ "Bike Accident Statistics: A Reality Check For Cyclists". Bay Area Bicycle Law. 2017-02-21. Retrieved 2019-02-03.
  22. ^ Mentjes, Dean (December 2023). "9A.01.03". Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (PDF) (Report) (11th ed.). U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. p. 1047. Retrieved 2023-12-21. Bicyclists are also vulnerable road users who have little to no protection from crash forces.
  23. ^ Schultheiss, Bill; Goodman, Dan; Blackburn, Lauren; Wood, Adam; Reed, Dan; Elbech, Mary (February 2019). "1". Bikeway Selection Guide (PDF) (Report). U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. p. 3. Retrieved 2023-12-21. Multiple studies show that the presence of bikeways, particularly low-stress, connected bikeways, positively correlates with increased bicycling. This in turn results in improvements in bicyclists' overall safety.
  24. ^ Schultheiss, Bill; Goodman, Dan; Blackburn, Lauren; Wood, Adam; Reed, Dan; Elbech, Mary (February 2019). "4". Bikeway Selection Guide (PDF) (Report). U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. pp. 22–23. Retrieved 2023-12-21. Shared lanes or bicycle boulevards are recommended for the lowest speeds and volumes; bike lanes for low speeds and low to moderate volumes; and separated bike lanes or shared use paths for moderate to high speeds and high volumes.
  25. ^ Hull, Angela; O’Holleran, Craig (1 January 2014). "Bicycle infrastructure: can good design encourage cycling?". Urban, Planning and Transport Research. 2 (1): 369–406. doi:10.1080/21650020.2014.955210. The Dutch system has a more decentralised government system, with policy responsibility shared with the regional authority. The infrastructure is very similar due to the CROW design manual being used as best practice with another major factor being funding.
  26. ^ Urban Bikeway Design Guide (Report) (2nd ed.). Island Press. December 2017. Retrieved 2023-12-21.
  27. ^ Dudley, David (22 November 2016). "The Cities That Saved Lives With Protected Bike Lanes". Bloomberg. Retrieved 2019-02-03.
  28. ^ Hunt & Abraham (2007), pp. 453–470.
  29. ^ TRBNA (2006), p. 38.
  30. ^ a b Forester (2001), p. [page needed].
  31. ^ a b Forester (2010), p. [page needed].
  32. ^ a b Pucher (2001), p. [page needed].
  33. ^ Reynolds et al. (2009), p. 47.
  34. ^ Dill & Carr (2003), pp. 116–123.
  35. ^ Jensen, Rosenkilde and Jensen, p. [page needed]
  36. ^ Jensen (2007), p. [page needed].
  37. ^ Monsere & Dill (2014), p. [page needed].