GLC: Lane Changes

Knowing how to change lanes safely, confidently and conveniently is important when cycling in a group. This is something that just about all groups can improve.

We need to change lanes to prepare for a left turn on a multi-lane road, to leave a bike lane, or to leave a right lane that becomes a right-turn-only lane or freeway on-ramp. Sometimes we have to change lanes to the right when two roads join and we must move into a new right lane.

When moving into a lane that could have overtaking traffic, the movement must be led by the rear rider. The front rider cannot assess the distance and speed of traffic behind the group. If the front riders move first, a car could be trapped in the lane change.

Basic Lane Change

The first step of the lane change is to alert the group that it is coming. 

This can be done by the front rider making a left hand signal. All riders should pass the signal back so the rear rider can initiate the movement. The signal should be given well in advance of the turn so the rear rider has time to find a gap or negotiate.

Then the rear rider checks for traffic and negotiates as necessary — moving into the lane first, then calling forward for the group to move left. 

If the rear rider is monitoring traffic and recognizes an opportunity to change lanes, she can call forward, then initiate the movement.

Multiple Lane Changes

Multiple lane changes should be made one lane at a time. In the presence of faster-moving traffic, rear riders should wait for all of the group to enter the middle lane before moving the group to the inside lane. 

When entering a left-turn pocket on a medial-divided road, the front riders enter first.

Entering a left turn pocket

When entering a left-turn pocket on a medial-divided road, the front riders enter first.

If there is a painted median, the rear rider will need to monitor and communicate to deter motorists from trying to pass in that area.

Converging Roads

When a new road joins from the right, creating a new right lane, the front rider should begin signaling at the join, but wait for the rear rider to clear that point and negotiate into the right lane. If a motorist is approaching in the right lane at the same time as the group, he may hesitate, it’s sometimes best to wave him through… as long as all riders know to wait for the call to move.

Two-way Center Turn Lanes

illustration of lane change with center turn lane
Rear rider protects the group from potential overtaking.

Two-way center turn lanes can be tricky. 

Overtaking motorists will often pass at will on a road with a center turn lane. They may not pay attention to the group’s signals, or they may simply be impatient and unwilling to wait another second.

It is the rear rider’s job to protect the flank. This rider should turn and communicate “don’t pass,” then move into the center turn lane ahead of a left turn lane.

If the group is turning from the center turn lane, rather than a left turn only lane, beware of oncoming motorists turning left. Don’t enter the lane too early.

Negotiating in Slow Traffic – The Wedge

When the group is moving near the speed of traffic and in congested traffic, we use a wedge maneuver to change lanes.

The rear leader drops back and negotiates with a motorist in the adjacent lane. Once that motorist cooperates, the rear riders move into the new lane and slow to create a gap between them and the car ahead. The rest of the group moves into that gap. 

If the group gets to the turn pocket before the front riders have moved into the left lane, the rear riders should hold that lane until the front riders make the lane change, while the other members of the group enter the turn pocket. 

It’s best to make lane changes early, or even plan ahead for ways to avoid lane changes. But if you do find your group in a last-minute lane change, you now know how to handle it.