One of the most common questions people ask about cycling on Google is why do cyclists ride in the middle of the road, so we've got the answer.

If there’s one thing that annoys drivers almost as much as cyclists riding side-by-side, it’s cyclists riding in the middle of the road.

The thing is that cyclists don’t ride in the middle of the road to get on drivers’s nerves (although if you’re leaning on your horn and revving your engine behind, then that may well be a factor). No, the answers are much more sensible, and all involve cyclists looking after their own safety.

Poor road surfaces

Winter cycle commute

The main reason for cyclists riding in the middle of the road is to avoid poor road surfaces at the edge of the road. You may think that potholes are bad when you’re driving in a car, but that’s nothing compared to what they’re like when riding a bike.

For a cyclist hitting a pothole, the best case scenario is that they get a nasty bit of pain right where it hurts, but the worst case scenario is that they can fall off, potentially causing serious injury or worse.

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In fact, nearly a hundred cyclists have been killed or seriously injured on Britain’s roads in accidents where defective road surfaces have been a factor, so this is not something to be taken lightly.

Drivers also shouldn’t assume that just because they haven’t seen a pothole, doesn’t mean that the cyclists won’t have.

Cyclists are constantly on the look out for poor road surfaces, as even a narrow break in the tarmac (which a car driver would not even notice) might be enough to trap the skinny tyre of a road bike, potentially causing the cyclist to fall.

Hazards ahead

Moving into the middle of the road (which is also called taking the primary position) can also be used as a cyclists way of saying “please don’t overtake me, it’s not safe to do so”.

Often this is because there is a hazard coming up in the road ahead, such as a traffic island in the middle of the road.

If a driver were to overtake here, then they would either have to pass very close to the cyclist (the Highway Code requires drivers to give cyclists, and other vulnerable road users, at least as much space as they would a car – roughly 1.5m) or accelerate around the cyclist and cut in at the last minute.

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Neither of these are safe, and will often result in the cyclist being hit, or the driver hitting the traffic island, neither of which are preferable to adding two seconds to your journey and overtaking after the traffic island.

This is also the case on narrow roads, where the cyclist may stay in the middle of the road until it is safe for the vehicle behind to pass, so drivers aren’t tempted to try and get round without giving the cyclist enough safe.

Parked cars

Cyclists will ride away from parked cars in case someone opens a door (Credit: Toronto Star via Getty)

Like potholes, parked cars at the side of the road may seem pretty innocuous to drivers, but for cyclists they can cause a trip to hospital.

Well, OK, not the cars themselves, but the people getting out of them, who may open the doors without looking (or at least without looking for cyclists) potentially knocking an unfortunate rider to the ground.

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This is especially the case when riding past schools where parents are dropping off their kids, or past taxi ranks on a Friday night.

For this reason cyclists will often ride at least a couple of metres away from cars parked on the side of the street.

Slow traffic

This one only really applies in towns, where cyclists will ride in the middle of the road because they’re travelling at the same speed as the other traffic around them.

This means that the cyclist is easier to see for drivers behind (which is particularly important at night), but also means that drivers won’t be tempted to overtake before having to slam on the brakes because of slow traffic ahead.

Riding in the middle of the road in this situation will also make it easier for cyclists to overtake other traffic on the outside if it comes to a halt, which should be safer than going up the inside.