A Rough Guide to Filtering

One of the great things about being on a bike is that we can fit into smaller spaces than cars can. This means that, unlike a car, we can effectively jump queues of stationary traffic with relative ease. However, there is a right way to do this…

The Primary Position

Contrary to what some ill-informed drivers would have you believe, there are two positions for us on the road. As vehicles (or carriages), we have just as much right to be on the road as anyone else, but out of courtesy, we often spend our time in the secondary position about a metre from the kerb so that others can pass.

However, when traffic is moving at the speed you are, you are well within your rights to spend your time in the primary position —smack bang in the middle of the lane, where the surface is usually better and you are less likely to get a face full of door in one of our lousy cycle lanes.

This is where 20mph zones are important to us. You may or may not be there yet, but cruising quite comfortably at 20mph is not beyond the realms of possibility. The more you can keep up with the traffic, the more time you can spend out of the gutter.

Vehicular Cycling 101

For those of you whom drive this will be fairly familiar territory to you. One of the things we are taught when learning to drive is that you do not undertake. The general rule is that if you are going to pass another vehicle, it had better be on the right. This is of course assuming that they are also following the rules and not sat in the outside lane and holding everyone up.

The same is true for filtering. One of the things you’ll see often whilst out and about is people on bikes filtering down the left side of the road. In our defence, this is where the cycle lanes often are, but as we’ve discussed before, you often need to take cycle infrastructure with a pinch of salt. Much of it is dreadful and a lot of it will lead you to a sticky end.

The trouble is that people rarely check their nearside (passenger side) mirror; people will turn left without checking said mirror and if you’ve filtered into an “advanced stop line” where a lorry sits at the front of the queue, chances are the driver has no idea that you are there. This is often how people end up crushed to death at junctions. Don’t do it.

So, always pass on the right. If you are in a queue of traffic, pass on the right.

  • If the traffic slows down and comes to a stop ahead of you, take the primary position and look to pass on the right.
  • If you’ve just seen the lights change to red ahead of you, chances are you have enough time to get to the front. Move to the right of the lane and pass the stationary cars on the right. If it is a dual carriageway, take care that traffic isn’t moving more quickly in the outside lane before moving out.
  • If it’s quite a large queue of traffic ahead of you, scout out a few bolt-holes in the traffic ahead of you (people often leave a bit of a gap between themselves and the car in front) and aim for the nearest one. If you’ve got time to move to the next one, proceed with caution.
  • If you are not sure how long ago the lights changed or how long you have before things start moving again, it is probably worth staying where you are. When the lights turn green, cars often bunch up again and that bolt-hole you were eyeing up will disappear.
  • If there’s lorry at the front, stay back and let it go first. As the traffic moves on, find your way to the secondary position again and continue on your way.

It also goes without saying that whilst you are riding in traffic, keep your eyes and ears peeled. No headphones, please. You need to get a feel for the traffic around you and for that you need all of your senses…well, perhaps not taste —exhaust fumes are not terribly appetising.

2 thoughts on “A Rough Guide to Filtering

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  1. Sound advice, two bits I would add, watch out for drivers who are thinking of turning right, maybe it’s a few cars ahead of their position, they see a big gap in the on coming traffic and they pull out onto the wrong side of the road, overtaking the queue they were in and then make their turn. Secondly, regarding roundabouts, never (and I can’t stress that enough) filter to the front of the queue (2 -3 vehicles back from the front of the queue and get back into primary) why? Because the drivers at the front of the queue are entirely focuses on looking at the traffic coming from the right, and don’t look ahead, until they pull off.


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