Roundabouts can be a nightmare for cyclists. Navigating them is mainly a matter of practice but approaching them for the first time can be daunting. This guide to UK roundabouts contains much advice, and some of it may be relevant to other countries. Bear in mind that in the UK, traffic drives on the left, and that the specific rules about roundabouts may vary from country to country.
As a cyclist, the most important thing is to be visible — this means wearing high visibility clothing, having appropriate lights fitted, and signalling as clearly as possible to make it perfectly obvious what you are doing. This is particularly important because drivers can find it hard to know what a cyclist is intending to do.
The Highway Code
The Highway Code states that you may choose to walk your bicycle around using the pavement, to follow the left hand edge of the roundabout, or approach it as normal. Remember that, in the end, this is your life you are talking about so always err on the side of caution. Cars are bigger than you and they will always win.
Signalling is done by outstretching an arm at 90 degrees to your body in your chosen direction, and is vitally important for telling other road users where you are going. If you cannot control your bicycle with one arm, this will be a serious problem on the roads. If you cannot do it, don't attempt to navigate a roundabout — get off your bike and cross by foot. It is advised that you master this skill before venturing onto any road and are fully confident before venturing onto a roundabout. Stick to Cycle Paths if you are not.
Cyclists Who Drive
If you also drive, then cycle around the roundabout the same way as you would were you driving a car. Remember to signal clearly for as long as possible and make eye contact with drivers where you can. Make sure you get in the correct lanes in plenty of time, and cycle in the middle of them, not at the edge where it could be confusing for other drivers. If you cycle right at the edge they may also be tempted to overtake you, which could be very dangerous.
If you get to a stage where you feel that it would be dangerous to cycle, then don't be afraid to pull in and walk on the pavement.
These little things are becoming more numerous, especially in towns and cities. Thankfully they usually occur on smaller, quieter roads, and don't usually have more than one lane on approach to the roundabout. This makes them easier for someone who has never before tackled a roundabout.
The basic rule on a roundabout is that traffic to your right has priority. This means that traffic that is already on the roundabout has priority over you. It also means that if the roundabout is empty you have priority over any cars to your left that are waiting to get onto the roundabout.
At a mini-roundabout you can see all around the roundabout. Watch for indicators on cars — if they're coming off at your exit there's a good chance you can pull out without getting in the way of the car behind them. If they are not indicating at all it usually means that they are going straight across the roundabout, but beware — drivers often don't indicate on mini-roundabouts.
Make sure you signal clearly from a good ten metres before the roundabout, and for as long as possible once you are there. If you are stationary, continue to signal so that those around you know where you are aiming for. If you are going straight ahead you don't need to signal but if you feel it would help other road users you can indicate left after you've passed the first exit. Follow the lane around the roundabout — don't be tempted to cycle straight over the bump in the middle — and beware of drivers who do so.
Standard roundabouts have an island in the middle that cannot be cycled over. They will often have several approach lanes and can have several lanes on the roundabout itself. If you're not a driver this can be daunting.
Sizing it up
There are several methods of crossing. If you are unsure, the easiest approach is to pull over safely, dismount and cross as if you were a pedestrian. It isn't always the safest option, because crossing the road can be more dangerous than being part of the flow of the traffic, but if you are not confident on the roundabout you are more likely to cause an accident if you stay on the road.
Remember that if you choose this option you must walk your bicycle around — it is not permitted to cycle on a pavement unless it is clearly marked as a cycle route.
Around The Edge
If you would rather stay on your bicycle, you have two options; cycling around the edge, or following the flow of traffic. Unless the roundabout is small and has few cars, cycling around the edge is likely to cause some problems for drivers who will assume that you are leaving the roundabout each time you get to an exit. On a medium to large roundabout it is much safer to go with the flow of traffic.
With The Traffic
Assuming that we are approaching a four-exit roundabout, the road usually splits in two on approach. If you wish to turn left, keep in the left lane, and if you wish to turn right, stay in the righthand lane. If you wish to go straight ahead you can technically use either lane, but the left is preferable. As you approach make sure you look out for any signs or road markings that might change this — local road use may mean that the left exit has a lane to itself, for example.
Once you reach the roundabout, the fun begins. If you are turning left, your life is easy. Using the rules you learned from the Mini-Roundabout, get onto the roundabout when there is a space in the traffic, keep to the left and gracefully continue on your journey. Remember to signal clearly.
If you are continuing straight on, once you get on to the roundabout keep to the left (not taking the first exit, of course). Remain on the edge of the roundabout and take the exit. Although you are not required to signal when you are going straight on, it can be acceptable to signal left but only when you have passed the first exit. Signal too early and you risk people assuming you will take the first exit.
Turning right will be your greatest challenge. Signalling right, aim for the middle of the roundabout. Pass the first exit. When you get to the second exit, you will need to move out to the outside (left side) of the roundabout. Switch to signalling left, and make sure you keep your eyes open, taking special interest in the cars behind you. They may not know what to expect, and may well attempt to zoom past you on the left. Keep alert. If all goes well, you should be able to easily leave the roundabout at your exit as you are in the left lane. If you are still stuck in the middle, switch back to indicating right and come around for another pass.
If you are lucky, there will be lanes marked in a spiral around the roundabout, making it both easier to follow the lane out and for drivers to know what to expect. Some drivers will still cut across these though, meaning both that they are an extra hazard to avoid, and also that they may block you from view, giving other drivers less time to see you.
If there are traffic lights on the roundabout, don't panic. Just try to make sure that you are in the correct lane (and obey the lights, obviously!)
Giant roundabouts, where there are several lanes on approach and several on the roundabout itself, are even harder to navigate, but they still follow the same rules as a Standard Roundabout. The key thing is to look at the road signs and the road markings — they should clearly inform you which lane you will need to be in. Here you also have to be even more aware of the traffic around you, because often the drivers will have just as little clue as you which lane they should be in. If the traffic is heavy, or you have any doubt at all, get off and walk. On Giant Roundabouts, it's probably safer.
If you are a motorist, you must be able to deal with a cyclist in front of you on a roundabout. Cyclists can be of varying skill levels, but unfortunately you don't know which is which! Although there are a lot of cyclists who know what they are doing, there are many who don't. Here are a few tips on dealing with cyclists:
Be patient. Legs aren't as powerful as engines.
Keep your distance. An unknown cyclist may do something unexpected — make sure that you can brake in plenty of time.
Keep your eyes on the pavement as well as the road — cyclists, like pedestrians, may well use the pavement to cross a roundabout.
If they are already on the roundabout, expect that at some point they will need to pull out into the outer lane just as another car would. Because they are slower than you, you may need to match your speed to theirs.
Make eye contact if you are happy to let them pull out. It will give them the confidence to do so in good time, which, in the long run, will be quicker than waiting around for them to figure out if you mean it or not. But be careful - just because you can see their eyes doesn't mean they can see yours; the windscreen can hide you from them.
On a closely related note, don't try to overtake a cyclist on a roundabout by going around the left side of them (unless they are clearly indicating that they are not leaving at this exit) because this will prevent the cyclist from leaving the roundabout properly. It will annoy both the cyclist and the other drivers behind; they will now have to cope with a flustered cyclist who may cut up other cars in a desperate attempt to get off at their exit.