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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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 KansasCyclist.com):
- 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.