How to ride a roundabout


Are you confident of when to give way and when to take your turn in a roundabout? Simon Vincett explains.

To ride a roundabout confidently you need to be assertive about taking your turn and you need to indicate clearly. Traffic can flow quickly, so you must be clear about what you’re doing. The rules are that you must give way to traffic in the roundabout coming from your right and you must not stop in the roundabout. There’s an extra rule about giving way in a double-lane roundabout that is explained later.

If you don’t feel confident, it’s a good idea to pull over the side of the road before the roundabout, dismount and walk your bike on the footpath past the intersection as a pedestrian. However, if you know how it’s done you can take you place in traffic with confidence and ride through.

As with any instance of merging and giving way, try to make eye contact with the other road users so that you both can be sure that you’ve seen each other.

The single-lane roundabout

Illustration by Karl Hillzinger
Illustration by Karl Hillzinger

Left turn

Even if you’re turning left, you need to be careful of other vehicles trying to squeeze past when there really isn’t enough room. You need to take your turn on your own terms. So 25 metres before the roundabout (about the distance between two light poles), head check and, when clear, merge towards the middle of the main traffic lane.

By law, you don’t have to indicate left but it helps the other traffic if you clearly communicate where you’re going. Stop at the dotted line if you need to give way to traffic coming from the right.

In the roundabout, keep towards the middle of the lane. When you exit, move left when there’s a bike lane or when there’s room for other vehicles to pass.

Straight through

Let’s look at riding straight through the single-lane roundabout (taking the second exit). Before the roundabout, as described above for the left-hand turn, check over your shoulder and merge towards the middle of the main traffic lane. Give way at the roundabout if necessary.

Enter and stay towards the middle of the lane as you move through. Don’t leave passing space on your left or right because you don’t want a vehicle passing you when you’re in the roundabout.

You don’t need to indicate when you’re going straight through a roundabout but it is helpful to other traffic if you can indicate left when you’re taking your exit.

When you’re out of the roundabout, move left when there’s a bike lane or enough room for another vehicle to pass.

Right-hand turn

This is the most challenging turn, just because you are occupying the roundabout for the longest time.

Twenty-five metres out, check and merge towards the middle of the main traffic lane. Indicate a right turn by holding up your right arm as you approach the roundabout. You must indicate when turning right.

Give way to traffic in the roundabout if necessary. Otherwise, you’ve now entered the roundabout indicating right and you’re about to start turning right. It’s time to put your hands back on the handlebars. Ride in the middle of the lane through the roundabout.

When you exit, move left when there’s a bike lane or when there’s room for other vehicles to pass.

Sounds easy when you put it like that? It is really, if you just indicate clearly and confidently hold your spot in the traffic flow.

Illustration by Karl Hillzinger
Illustration by Karl Hillzinger

The double-lane roundabout

The double-lane roundabout is challenging for bike riders to negotiate because the traffic tends to move faster and you may have to give way to traffic in the roundabout. The question to ask yourself is, “Do I need to ride this way or is there a more bike-friendly alternative I could use instead?” If you have to or want to use the double-lane roundabout, this is how it’s done.

For a left-hand turn, you stay in the left-hand lane. Move towards the middle of the left lane as you approach, at least 25 metres from the roundabout. Give way if necessary and when clear, take your spot in the outside lane of the roundabout. Exit and move across to the left when the bike lane starts or when there’s enough room for a vehicle to safely pass.

To go straight through, the process is the same as for a left-hand turn, except you remain towards the middle of the outside lane of the roundabout past the left turn exit and take the second exit instead.

This is where it gets starts to get tricky.

If there’s a vehicle in the inside lane leaving the roundabout at an exit that you are riding past, by law the bike rider must give way. The laws says “give way means the rider must slow down and, if necessary, stop to avoid a collision”.

So when you are riding straight through to take the second exit, if a car in the inside lane wants to exit at the first exit, you must give way to it.

With the right-hand turn you have the option of using the outside lane of the roundabout or the inside lane. If you choose the outside lane, you must give way to any vehicle leaving any exit you’re passing.

To use the inside lane you must do more merging, first on approach, by moving into the right hand lane, and then after you exit, to move from the right-hand lane back to the left of the left-hand lane.

For more see the Australian Road Rules, Feb 2012 version, Part 9 Roundabouts.

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One thought on “20”

  1. Good article. One small amendment though, the rule is not that you must give way to traffic coming from your right. The rule is that you must give way to all other vehicles which are already in the intersection. So, if you enter the intersection while someone else has also entered on your left, you may have to slow down so you don’t run up the back of them. This may not seem like an important distinction when talking about cycling, but it is important for explaining cyclists’ rights to some motorists. As a motorist, you can’t just run over a cyclist who is in front of you through the roundabout!

    1. Thank you JB and I would call this a BIG amendment. In my view what makes roundabouts dangerous for car drivers and cyclists is many people’s misunderstanding regarding right of way. It continues to confuse the matter if we mention giving way to the right. This misunderstanding is one reason why so many motorists tailgate and speed into roundabouts, thinking that they have right of way over cars entering from the left. It’s also why so many cars line up on the smaller streets, waiting for cars on the busier road (to their right) to pass.

      1. David you have hit the nail right on the head. None of the sites I have read, point this misunderstanding out. It’s the one thing where roundabouts seem to fail and it prevents the proper flow of traffic. People just seem to assume they have right of way simply because they are approaching from the right and most people do give way because they are just as ignorant.

  2. This article could be made a million times more helpful (and it already is quite helpful) with an animated gif showing each possible outcome… #justsayin’ 😉

  3. I love this article – would be great if you could do more like it, highlighting rules that aren’t always clear – particularly as a rider and driver I’ve actually hit someone (softly) because they didn’t follow this rule, and its happened to a friend as well – the left turning vehicle rule!!! Either bike riders need to be taught not to pass… Or drivers need to have it made clear you can enter the bike lane – protecting drivers and riders 🙂

  4. I have a problem with single lane round abouts when there is a marked bike lane that stops at the entrance to the round about. Makes it really difficult to merge towards the main traffic lane as suggested and means that cars think they can fit in the round about next to the bike.

  5. I have always exercised my right not to have car drivers overtake me while I travel around a single lane roundabout. It’s not necessary and only the truly aggressive motorist feels they need to do it. All to gain less than 10 seconds in travel time. However, I would say riding every day to work that 50% of drivers express frustration at me taking up the lane in this situation regardless of road law or putting safety first.

    What I have noticed recently is a roundabout or two in South Melbourne where a single car lane roundabout has been marked out with a car lane and a bike lane. This sets up a dangerous precedent where cars can catch up to a bike going around a roundabout, overtake and then take an exit cutting across the cyclist regardless of whether the bike was taking this same exit. It sets up the same scenario as the cyclist turning right from the outer lane of a two lane round about. Messy and dangerous.

    This also makes me wonder about whether I have to be indicating with my right hand off the handle bars the whole time as I turn right while at the same time trying to break if cars pass me and then dive left to get off the roundabout. There surely has to be a better way.

    1. “There surely has to be a better way.”

      There IS a better way. If there’s a marked bike lane through the roundabout, on the left of the main traffic lane, why are you trying to turn right from it? If you’re turning right at the roundabout, you should be in the right-hand lane (ie. the traffic lane, NOT the bike lane), or else you must give way to exiting traffic as per the double-lane roundabout diagram above.

  6. Really dislike the “extra rule” for bikes on double laners. It places rider in vulnerable position (car whipping round from behind), slows us (loss of balance, getting momentum, pedals clicked in, etc), and causes driver carelessness (increasing car driver sense of entitlement yet again). They’d have to give way if a car/truck/etc, why not a bike too?
    Can anyone explain why it’s necessary?

  7. Very good article.
    I always “take the lane” coming up to a roundabout otherwise drivers just squeeze you out at the worst time.

    Turning right is very problematic with on-coming drivers. About 20% of the time they just wont see your arm signal, even if you have the skills/confidence to hold your arm out up to the last moment. Basically just assume everyone won’t see you and will pull out infront of you and you’ll be fine.

  8. When going straight through or right on a double and the rider is in the left most lane, giving way to another vehicle in the right most lane, is only applicable if that vehicle is ahead, ie, not overtaking, and they are indicating left. The latter hardly ever occurs, and not just cyclists, we are all left guessing who is doing what! The other important issue is how the roundabout is designed. Too many have a fast entry and slow exit, the complete contrast to sensible design. The slowest part of the roundabout ought to be the give way line at entry, that means the entry ought to aim at the island, rather than the road going straight through.

    1. What a good idea. I cant see why it wouldn’t work – have the island to the left as you approach rather than the centre.

  9. Always appreciate tips and discussion. my question is, what is the rule for when I want to go straight ahead on a two lane roundabout when the left lane is a left turn only and the inside lane is the straight ahead lane?

  10. Thanks for bringing up the topic. I don’t think this article is as amazing as everyone is saying it is. Why is the car hazard pictured on the right of the two lane round about there? The car is at fault as it has to give way to you. Also, I think there are more useful hints… like the importance of keeping a little bit of momentum if possible, so slow down if you see you might just have to wait for a car or two so you don’t need to completely stop. There is also no reason why you can’t go into the right lane in a two lane round about to go straight (if lots of cars are in the left lane to turn left, take advantage of the freer right lane and the possibility to keep your momentum). I think the most important thing is to not feel different to anyone else on the round about, except that you will be a tad slower and people can wait if they have to. Avoid the rule about turning right from the left lane unless you get stuck – it just means you lose momentum which is one of the most important things on a round about.

  11. I have been a cyclist for over 60 years and driver of a motor vehicle for 50. My driving and cycling experience extends to all continents, especially Europe and it has long been my contention that very few Australian road users know the rule about giving way to traffic already on the roundabout. Drivers in our major cities, where most roundabouts are located invariably fail to slow down when they are approaching a roundabout from the right and try to force their ‘right of way’ which is extremely reckless and dangerous. Sydney drivers are particularly notorious for this. There is simply no comparison between the courtesy shown by European motorists towards cyclists and the aggression of Australian motorists. My rule now is if in doubt then stop and wait until clear. The alternative just is not worth it.

  12. Not only do you have to give way to all vehicles already in the intersection, it is not appropriate to signal a right turn at a roundabout. A law regarding right hand turns already exists. In this case you must turn right before the centre of the road. Obviously this is not associated with a roundabout. At a roundabout there are only left hand exits.

  13. Great comments, however these need to get to the RTA and the designers/specifiers of roundabouts. (do they even care?) If at all possible I take the middle of a lane, one hand on the brake the other indicating when needed, and watch everyone like a “hawk”.

  14. I’m only new at riding my bicycle on the road and I am learning getting a lot better to but sometimes I question myself if I’m doing it right the road rules for a bicycle I mean because some cars don’t really like me I just ignore them now when some yell out abuse or come a little close so I’m still looking up road rules and also speaking to a guy Craig from Chain Reaction Bicycles at Cronulla but this article was great the best I’ve seen so far and seem to understand I’m feeling more confident now and realise its just idiots on the roads that was making me doubt and feel silly on the unreal loved it…

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