Why do buses pull in on cyclists?

A diagram of a bus passing a stationary cyclist and a moving cyclist.I often have the experience of a bus starting to overtake me a reasonable distance away, then pulling in too early so that the rear of the bus nearly hits me. It is also common to have the experience of a bus overtaking a cyclist and immediately pulling in to a bus stop, cutting across the cyclist’s path.

I have wondered why this happens so often; surely they can’t all be doing it deliberately! The only other explanation I can come up with is that they think “bicycle = slow, so I can treat it like a stationary object”.

The picture on the left shows a diagram of a bus overtaking a stationary cyclist. It takes about three bus lengths. However, if the cyclist is moving at half the speed of the bus, it will take at least six bus lengths as indicated in the image to the right. This is a fairly typical scenario, for example with the bus travelling at 30mph and the cyclist at 15mph.

I suspect many bus drivers aren’t really aware of this.

An implication that leads on from this is that, if there is a bus approaching from behind a cyclist who is approaching a pinch point (narrowing of the road), the cyclist ought to be taking primary position (“claiming the lane”) when they are at least six bus lengths from the pinch point. For a normal British double-decker bus, that is 90 metres away.

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7 Responses to Why do buses pull in on cyclists?

  1. Mark S says:

    I usually put it down to the driver being so dedicated to running the bus service on time and operating a speedy service for his passengers that they simply can’t bare the 5-10 second delay to wait behind me whilst casually brushing aside my safety and general happiness. I salute (usually with a slow comedy clap or a double finger V sign…) these drivers 😉

  2. MrHappyCyclist says:

    Love the irony. The trouble is they as so stupid that probably think you are really applauding them.

  3. PositiveCyclist says:

    Nicely explained. But even admitting this lack of understanding by some bus drivers, there’s no excuse: the bus driver must mirror before starting to pull in and will then see s/he is not yet clear of the bike.

    The other point is that if the bus needs to start to slow down within 6 or 8 bus lengths, it’s probably not worth / safe to overtake in the first place.

    • MrHappyCyclist says:

      Yes, I agree on both counts. What is needed is better training for bus drivers on when and how to overtake cyclists.

  4. Michelle says:

    It could well be sloppy mirror work and poor forward planning on the behalf of some bus drivers. I would never bother to overtake a cyclist if someone had rang the bell on the bus, what would be the point of overtaking them when you are about to pull in? Also before overtaking I’d check the road up ahead, is there a bus stop with someone stood there? Are there any pinch points coming up that might force me to move over before I’m clear of the cyclist? Are their traffic lights ahead that could change? When overtaking a cyclist using the mirrors is vital, I make regular checks to make sure the cyclist is ok and hasn’t wobbled, fallen etc. I would never pull back in until I am 100% certain that I am clear of the cyclist. the shadow of the vehicle can help in this situation, except at night of course. Once I have pulled back in a double check ensures that the cyclist is still happy and safely peddling along.

  5. Tim says:

    This happens to me all the time, including this morning on Wilmslow Road. It often seems to be the case that perhaps the driver has started to overtake not planning to stop at the next bus-stop and then someone has rung the bell at the last minute (which often happens to be fair).

    Of course, in this case the driver should be well aware they are in the middle of an overtaking manoeuvre, and slow down – or stop if required – to let the cyclist back past before pulling in. To just pull in regardless is terrible driving, and given that most of the buses should have cameras these days it’s probably worth reporting, although I generally don’t have the time or the energy.

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