Gutter Bunnies

Gutter Bunnies are cyclists who ride on or outside the fog line, on the shoulder, or on the narrow concrete road gutter. There are certain times that it’s beneficial to use this paved real-estate, but those of us who ride regularly might want to think twice about using the gutter all the time. Here are some of my thoughts:

  1. The gutter is unkempt: It’s usually riddled with road debris, pot-holes, storm drains, and other bad stuff. The cyclist either has to risk damaging the bike and possibly losing control, or has to be prepared to dart out into the lane to avoid these perils. Neither option is safe.
  2. Motorists aren’t expecting anything on the shoulder or in the gutter. The guy 2 cars behind you probably can’t even see you until he’s right on top of you, thanks to the car between you and him obstructing the view. If that motorist is driving too far to the right, you get clipped or at least have a close call.
  3. The Right Hook: A right-turning motorist is likely to underestimate your speed and make a right turn directly into your path.

Most states have laws similar to Kansas which pertain to bicycles on the road (gathered from

8-1587. Traffic laws apply to persons riding bicycles.
Every person riding a bicycle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this act, except as otherwise provided in K.S.A. 8-1586 to 8-1592, inclusive, and except as to those provisions of this act which by their nature can have no application.
8-1590. Riding on bicycles or mopeds; riding on roadways and bicycle paths.
(a) Every person operating a bicycle or a moped upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable, except under any of the following situations when: (1) Overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction; (2) preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway; or (3) reasonably necessary to avoid conditions including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, parked or moving bicycles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards or narrow width lanes that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand edge of the roadway.

That is to say that in many places in the US, if you’re going slower than traffic, you aren’t required by law to be a Gutter Bunny, but you usually have to stay to the right as far as you can within safety and reason. That, to me, precludes things like storm drains, twigs and glass bottles and other things in my path.

When there’s room, I usually stay near the area where most cars’ right wheel goes.  On multi-lane roads where there’s a wide outer lane, there’s usually ample room for your bike in a safe lane position, 3-4 feet of buffer, and another car without it having to cross the line.  On multi-lane roads without a wide outer lane, this lane position makes it much more likely that passing motorists will simply change lanes to get around you.  It’s also a more assertive position that makes your place in traffic quite clear.  Turning motorists will almost always hang back.

When the roads are narrower and full of no-passing-zones, the road dynamic changes quite a bit. Most motorists have learned that they can cross the double line to get around slow moving vehicles quickly and safely, within the spirit (although not the letter) of the law. Dave Moulton wrote a great ranty piece about this phenomenon.

There are a number of debates about bike lanes, sidewalks, paths, using the road, and all that. I really don’t mind using bike-specific infrastructure, but it’s far from a requirement for getting around.


  1. hadrian on a bicycle July 13, 2010 8:39 am 

    Confessions of a gutter bunny. (I never even knew we had a name. Fancy that.)

    On quiet (especially country) roads, which in our area often don’t even have shoulders or lines, and which are often in bad shape, I frequently ride well into the lane. But I’ll admit that I wander into the gutter on busier roads.

    However, of late, my commute takes me on one such road regularly. I’ve noticed that when I’m in the gutter vehicles rarely move over at all from their customary line of travel. But if I go so far as to even ride on the fog line, drivers will typically give me at least a couple of feet and often more. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been making a conscious effort to ride on or just left of the fog line for that very reason.

    Thanks for the post.

  2. PsySal July 13, 2010 8:59 am 

    Great post; I’ve got a few rules of thumb myself:

    Try not to ride where you feel too uncomfortable, but where you feel you are being noticed (i.e., you should feel “exposed”.)

    For cyclists that might currently be riding in the gutter, try moving just a little bit further out each day, like hadrian notes above.

    What makes asserting yourself on the road so difficult at first is maybe that you don’t really know how cars will respond, so it feels very uncomfortable. If you feel too uncomfortable, you might not ride predictably or make good decisions. No matter what, always be predictable!

    Another rule of thumb is to never be closer to the side of the road than a car would be. I.e., if a car would not drive closer than 4 or 5 or so feet from a row of parked cars, certainly I will not.

    Assert yourself on the road and you may soon find the usefulness and enjoyability of cycling increase immensely. Make yourself extremely visible and predictable. I think a dorky hi-viz vest does wonders to communicate “I am a road user too, please respect me” but others may disagree.


  3. burnhamish July 13, 2010 9:44 am 

    I guess I’m a gutter bunny, too! I should get a t-shirt ( I am a scofflaw, as well, as I often pass the 20 cars who have just stacked up at the stoplight (the same light each time, during a particularly heavy rush hour). If it’s a few cars, I’ll take the lane and wait in line- it just depends on the situation. I’m already in violation of the law since Michigan requires reflectors on both front and rear sides of the pedals- and I have eggbeaters. So what’s a little passing-on-the-left between friends?

  4. BluesCat July 13, 2010 9:48 am 

    On two-lane local roads or minor collector roads — where speed limits are posted at 30 mph or below and there is just a center stripe or no striping at all — I will take the center of the lane without hesitation.

    On four-lane (or above) major collectors or arterial roads, where speed limits are 35 mph or above, unless there is a marked bike path or a separate MUP I will take to the sidewalk. (Sidewalk riding is allowed by Arizona state law, but disallowed by some city ordinances in communities such as Tucson. I still risk a ticket by riding the sidewalk if I’m riding in Tucson. You kinda haveta be riding here to understand why it’s safer to ride the sidewalk.)

  5. Ian July 13, 2010 11:06 am 

    Every road is different and Cyclists need to be proactive in protecting themselves and riding safely. I live in an urban area and different situations call for different approaches. On streets with no shoulder in a residential area this usually means claiming the lane completely and making cars either wait to pass or follow behind. On major roads it usually means staying a little closer to the fog line, but still staying on the road. On one particularly nasty stretch of road near an interstate on ramp and overpass I ride on the side walk 100% of the time. There is simply too much vehicular traffic that is not prepared to deal with cyclists (Thank you cellphones). In that case the sidewalk is essentially a bike path. It is 8 feet wide, protected by a curb and completely devoid of any pedestrian traffic.

    I don’t like to ride on sidewalks, but in most cities that are built almost completely for cars the sidewalks are abandoned. I would never ride on the sidewalk in NYC, but in the suburbs and strip malls of the USA they are sometimes the best choice. Hell maybe that is the answer Paint bike lanes and pedestrian lanes on the sidewalks of suburbia and call it a day.

  6. harry krishna July 13, 2010 1:59 pm 

    thank you for documenting this condition. i first noticed it in the early ’80’s. i’ve lived long enough to see natural selection at work.

  7. tadster July 14, 2010 5:43 am 

    I think ‘gutter turtle’ is more appropriate–I crawl at 18mph on a 45mph highway. There’s even a turtle ..err, bike lane for that. Speaking of which, as far as I know, if there’s a bike lane, cyclists (lawfully) must use it. Unfortunately bicycle lanes are often gutters themselves, strewn with debris, rocks, roadkill, or worse. It’s not a bad idea to call or write your local government to ask them to maintain those lanes. In fact next time I see a street sweeper cleaning up, I’ll call and say thanks.

  8. Ghost Rider July 14, 2010 6:17 am 

    tadster, many states and municipalities do not require a cyclist to use the bike lanes where they’re present. Then again, many do; Florida just passed a law requiring me to stay in the bike lane unless I’m avoiding debris.

    You’re right, though…once bike lanes are painted, the cities do not often do a good job of maintaining them, and they become repositories of debris. Here in Tampa, I’ve got to dodge roadkill, broken glass, used hypodermic needles and a variety of other goodies that have made homes in the few bike lanes we do have.

  9. Iron_Man July 14, 2010 9:58 am 

    Most states have a rule that states if you are in a lane that is too narrow to share with a vehicle you are permitted to take the center of that lane. This is the safest choice as it forces drivers to use the oncoming lane to make a pass. Even moving to the right wheel mark, yet not being a gutter bunny, is not as safe as taking the center of the lane for many streets if doing so entices drivers to squeeze past, which is all too common. It takes a person willing to commit murder to run a cyclist down that is in the center of the lane, but it only takes a person with poor distance judgement to clip or trample a cyclist that is to the right and giving too much space within the lane. There are far more drivers with poor judgement on the road than there are intentional killers.

  10. Deano July 14, 2010 11:36 am 

    In Alabama there are certain highways I have to ride on that are major trucking routes to Florida. When I’m on these I ride the shoulder. There’s a rumble strip near the white line to warn drivers when they cross it. I’m just too afraid of being smacked by an 18 wheeler driver who’s asleep at the wheel. If he crosses that rumble strip hopefully it will wake him a bit. As far as actually riding in towns or cities I stay in the lane. Drivers are typically more alert on stop and go city streets. I also believe in having more blinking lights than a UFO. My bike makes me look like an attention whore; this is good for my health.

  11. burnhamish July 15, 2010 9:24 am 

    After reading more of the above comments, I have started asserting myself a little more on stretches of road where I have more restrictions to my right, such as a curb or a sheer cliff (okay, we don’t have sheer cliffs in S.E. Michigan, but wouldn’t that be exciting?). If I have a couple of feet on the right of the fog line, but still ample space to the right of that, I’m comfortable that I have an out if I need it. Even then, I have drivers moving far into the oncoming lane when they pass. Just a bunch of drivers not confident in their distance judgement, I guess. Which is kind of scary.

  12. Noah July 15, 2010 9:29 am 

    They move far into the oncoming lane (or sometimes, completely drive in the oncoming lane even in no passing zones) because you are forcing them to look ahead and wait until they have a clearance good enough to really get around you. If they have the clearance, they pass you the same way they’d pass a car or other slow moving vehicle. They get in the opposing lane and go around.

    Most states have laws stating that passing is legal even in a no passing zone if you are getting around an obstruction or slow moving vehicle, but that you must make sure you do so safely.

    What you noticed is exactly the reason I take the lane most of the time. It’s safer for everyone, and the folks who get mad and honk are just angry people by nature. Don’t mind them. As iron_man said, it takes a person willing to commit murder to run you over when you’re out there in the lane.

  13. burnhamish July 15, 2010 10:28 am 

    I will experiment tomorrow.

  14. Dan July 16, 2010 7:50 am 

    It took me a little time to get used to riding in the lane. I usually use the right tire rule, but in a narrow lane or passing parked cars the center makes more sense.

    The toughest part is not the fear of injury, it is instead the fear of inconveniencing those behind us. I went from always trying to stay out of the drivers’ way (I’m a nice boy), to instead politely claiming my place – and my own speed. Drivers can wait, pass, or run me down; it’s their choice at that point.

    I also have no issue taking the left lane for a turn. I see many cyclists who will pull the right and stop, waiting until both lanes are clear before crossing like a pedestrian.

    Everyone on the road – drivers, cyclists, passengers, pedestrians – all have a risk of injury while travelling. It is up to all of us to act lawfully, respectfully, and predictably. Taking the lane appropriately satisfies all three.

  15. burnhamish July 17, 2010 4:19 am 

    Last night I rode in the right tire track in places I otherwise rode a narrow shoulder. Most cars treated me as usual, passing with no incident and plenty of clearance. A few unenlightened drivers could have left a little more space, but overall a positive experience. There was one place I should have taken the center on a narrow, hilly blind curve, because not only did the yahoo in the pickup leave me with about a foot, he could have taken out the car in the oncoming lane who approached soon after.

    Up until now, my attitude was like Dan’s above, trying to accommodate drivers and not annoy them with my presence. I would never intentionally antagonize them, of course. However, a thought occurred to me during the ride, regarding “trying to stay out of the drivers’ way” and not inconveniencing them- I’m putting forth a great deal of effort just keeping my line and paying attention to everything around me, so if a driver has to lift his foot off the accelerator and (God forbid) apply the brake to slow down for fifteen or twenty seconds, I can live with putting him through such physical hardship.

  16. Get Paid To Drive A Free Car July 19, 2010 2:39 pm 

    Can i make a suggestion? I believe that youve got something decent right here. But what if you supplied a couple of links to a internet page that backs up just what youre stating? Or perhaps you might give us a little something to take a look at, anything that would connect what you are declaring to something tangible? Just a suggestion.

  17. BluesCat July 19, 2010 2:55 pm 

    Psst, hey, Noah, I’m gonna be REALLY interested in seeing if Get Paid To Drive is actually something more than a spammer. Notice, (s)he doesn’t say anything specific, the post could just as well be on a Tea Party site as a biking site. (snicker)

  18. burnhamish July 19, 2010 4:15 pm 

    Maybe they want us to plaster advertisements on our panniers.

    @Noah: That narrow lane video is (was) my commute!I need to move more left from now on.

  19. Raiyn July 20, 2010 12:45 am 

    Feel free to quote me on this: Free cars are like free pets – they don’t really exist.

  20. BluesCat July 20, 2010 7:59 am 

    Great videos, BTW, Noah.

    And it is important to note that they show a two lane road. From personal experience, I have found that on a FOUR lane road you are MUCH safer on the sidewalk than in the outside lane (no matter WHERE you are in it). The reason being that as a car passes you in the inside (left-hand) lane, he or she instinctively slows, which means the impatient driver behind him/her banks into the outside lane to pass and — since (s)he can’t see you there masked by the car (s)he was following — (s)he mows you down from behind.

  21. Chuck July 20, 2010 3:59 pm 

    Hello All,

    I put about 4,000 rural miles a year on my Easy Tour LFRB and I do not and will not ride the line unless I really have to.

    To start with I have tires appropriate for commuting, they are not thin skinned skinny tires, they are not MB tires. They are reasonable tires that have some real tread and Kevlar ply.

    I do have a yellow flag and reflective tape on my frame and fenders, I will be seen unless the car or truck driver is really distracted (AKA just not looking). I feel from a lot of years and a lot of miles, every inch I get closer to the cars increases my probability of getting hit.

    I also think it’s a bit ego driven to push up into the line or evening into traffic when it’s not needed. I ride outside the line because I want to be there as it gives me more room.

    Recap, get the right tires and make your bike as visible as possible, be safe and enjoy the ride.

  22. Dan D July 21, 2010 1:09 pm 

    If the road I’m on has a wide flat shoulder, I will ride it. Much of my commute does, especially the high traffic areas.
    If it has a narrow shoulder or no shoulder, I will take the lane.

    It’s basically down to what I feel comfortable with, and everyone else should do the same within reason. Remember you may need to dodge, left or right, and obsstacles may come off the edge of the road at you (pedestrians, animals, car doors). As long as you allow for those, there’s no major problem with riding a wide shoulder.

  23. Chuck July 22, 2010 12:07 pm 

    I guess because I don’t push too fast and just working to get there, I’ve never really had much problems with obstacles. I’m in the Phoenix AZ area and my biggest problem was chunks of dried up cactus along the edge of the road. Once I put some green slime in my tires I’ve never had any flats or problems.

    Being rural wide open roads I get cars and trucks going from 35 to 60 MPH past me. I pick my route to work that has a much paving outside the line as possible. I have had to dodge a few coyotes, snakes and lizards but not many cars on the sides of the roads where I travel.

    Best wishes all!

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