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Man cycling through a city intersection on wet roads

Bike Shorts: How to Choose the Right Lane Positioning When Stopping Your Bike at an Intersection

There’s a lot to love about road cycling, but one unpleasant truth is unavoidable: You have to share the road with vehicles.

That fact is particularly apparent when it comes to getting through intersections. Often, when you stop at an intersection on your bike, you’ll look around and realize you’re just one small, exposed person amid a sea of heavy steel. If you have a run-in with one of them, you don’t stand a chance. 

In that moment, how you set yourself when you stop at the intersection will go a long way toward ensuring your safety. It all comes down to positioning your bike correctly, and that depends on whether you’re turning left, going straight or turning right through the intersection.

“Many cyclists get in the proper position for two of these three directions but get in the wrong position for the third,” notes long-time cycling coach Darryl MacKenzie.

Read on to make sure you know the right place to be for all three scenarios. 

When Turning Left or Going Right

These two options are fairly intuitive, and most cyclists naturally do the right thing when stopping at an intersection. 

If you’re preparing to turn left, stop in the center of the left-turn lane (or leftmost lane), just as you would in an automobile. In situations with multiple left-turn lanes, choose the one all that way to the right. This keeps the traffic behind you and prevents cars from trying to swerve around once you start to turn.

Similarly, when preparing to turn right, you should get in the right-hand turn lane (or farthest-right lane) and stay in the center of the lane to turn right. Again, you’re trying to force traffic to stay behind you as you turn rather than go around you, and you want to make it clear to the driver behind you what you’re about to do.

The big idea? Act as you would in a car so that drivers treat you like one. 

When Going Straight 

Here’s where it gets tricky. 

When preparing to go straight through an intersection, many cyclists have a bad habit of pulling over to the right to lean on or be near the curb at the side of the road. But doing this leads drivers to think you’re turning right, and they’ll pull up to your left when you stop at the intersection.

If that driver plans to turn right, they may pull ahead of you when the light turns green and cut right in front as you begin to pedal straight through the intersection. Even more dangerous (and more likely) is a scenario in which a driver comes up from your rear as the light turns green, then swipes in front of you to turn right as you’re starting to go straight. In both cases, you may get hit directly or swiped by the right side of a car as it’s turning in front of you. 

To avoid this problem, Darryl offers two key bits of wisdom.

“Never position yourself to the right of a right-hand turning car,” he says. “And always stay in the middle unless there’s enough room to ride side by side with the vehicle.”

In other words, the best thing to do is take the full lane so that no one tries to go around you or turn in front of you. As with left and right turns, the more you act like a car, the more they’ll treat you like one.

The Big Picture

All of that could be considered the “micro-picture” of how to navigate safely through intersections on a bike. But we can make it even simpler by distilling it down to one macro-point.

“If you’re turning left, get in the left-bound land,” says Darryl. “If you’re turning right, get in the right-bound lane. And if you’re going straight, don’t be in the right-hand lane.”

Next time you pull up to an intersection, take a deep breath and keep those tips in mind. You’ll make it safely through. 


Looking for more cycling safety tips? Follow our blog and subscribe to our newsletter so you never miss a post. Plus, you can always find even more of Coach Darryl’s tips and insights at his website.