Let’s review. Bicyclists should ride on the road, not the sidewalk. Bicyclists should ride on the right like cars, not the left like pedestrians. Bicyclists should ride at least an arm’s length from the edge of the road, not hugging the edge.
An arm’s length from the edge is the minimum distance, and it is often appropriate and advisable to ride more than an arm’s length from the edge of the road. To take the lane, ride in the center or just to the right of center, about where your right tire would be if you were in a car. When the lane is too narrow to share side-by-side with a car, taking the lane encourages drivers to make full use of the left lane (when it is clear) to pass you.
This is counter intuitive. After all, if the lane is narrow, shouldn’t we hug the edge so that cars have room to get past? The problem with that approach is that cars will try to squeeze past when there isn’t really enough room to do so. A motorist might come so close as to knock you over or the wind of the passing car will throw you off balance.
You can discourage unsafe passing by taking the lane. When motorists have to use the left lane a little bit to pass you, they tend to use the entire left lane. They have to wait until the left lane is clear whether they are using a little bit of it or all of it, so there is no incentive to squeeze you. It has been my experience that motorists give me the same amount of space I give myself. If I ride 1 foot from the edge, motorists allow me 1 foot when passing (far too close). If I give myself 3 feet to my right, motorists give me 3 feet to my left. Taking the lane makes you appear bigger.
There are only a few streets in Kirksville that are wide enough to share, so most of the time I take the lane. It is entirely legal and it is safe. On the narrow highways with no shoulders with which our county abounds, I also take the lane, but I use a mirror and I pull over into a driveway or other safe place if curves, hills, and oncoming traffic make it difficult for motorists behind me to pass.
In many states, motorists must allow 3 or more feet when passing. Missouri state law specifies that motorists all a safe distance. If a motorist buzzes to close to you or honks at you for taking the lane, you can report the incident to the police and to the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation (MoBikeFed). One of the membership benefits of MoBikeFed is motorist contact, a tactful and effective letter to the offending motorist which leaves your name out of it.