With the growth of traffic over the past few decades, complex junctions have multiplied, often simply to accommodate greater volumes of motor traffic, with little thought given to cyclists in their design. They seem daunting, but it is possible to ride through them safely and effectively.
By the time you can handle busy multi-lane roundabouts and gyratories you'll be employing several complex skills all at once, but before you think about handling these, make sure you have good basic skills.
Are there any skills and techniques that are common to handling all complex junctions?
Yes. It's mainly a case of assertive riding, which allows you to move in and out of traffic streams of varying speed.
Although all circumstances are different, typically you're cycling in the primary road position of one lane of fast-moving, busy traffic and wish to move to the right-hand lane moving in the same direction. First, look for a slightly bigger gap in the traffic to your right than the average - this could well indicate a more cautious and considerate road user. As the gap approaches from behind move to the right-hand side of your lane while signalling right.
Decision time - make a judgment whether the driver you've 'selected' will let you in. Signs that they will include the gap getting bigger and their vehicle slowing down.
Don't pull into a gap in front of two-wheelers, buses or lorries unless they leave a much larger space than normal because their stopping distances are longer than for cars.
How do I cross fast, seemingly impenetrable multi-lane traffic?
Use the techniques discussed above to move from lane to lane. Start gap-spotting behind you by allowing at least 50m for every lane you have to cross and always at least 100m before the turn itself. It's then a matter of finding your way across each lane using the negotiation techniques above. Never try to cross all lanes in one go - repeat the gap-spotting and negotiating procedure for each lane. The faster and busier the traffic the earlier you'll need to start your move.
Why are roundabouts commonly recognised as 'big risk' areas for cyclists?
Even the Highway Code recognises that roundabouts are generally tricky for cyclists to deal with (cycle specific rule 61 states: "Roundabouts are hazardous and should be approached with care"). Unfortunately, rule 62 follows up with some terrible advice: "You may feel safer either keeping to the left on the roundabout or dismounting and walking your cycle around on the pavement or verge."
Accident figures suggest roundabouts are between four and eight times more dangerous for cyclists than light-controlled junctions, and that the outer 1.5m of the roundabout is the most dangerous area. Cars entering roads at an angle to the roundabout pose a particular danger and should be watched like a hawk - drivers here will be looking over their shoulder or in their mirrors and so are less likely to see you.
Cycle lanes often tend to force cyclists into this danger zone; there's no legal compulsion to use cycle lanes and on roundabouts it's likely you'll want to steer well clear of them.
That's enough about the dangers, so how do you reduce roundabout risk to an absolute minimum? The majority of road cyclists will know that the broad rules for negotiating roundabouts are the same as for cars, as expressed in Highway Code rules 160-166. Special tips for cyclists, not all mentioned there, include:
Riding in the correct gear as you approach a roundabout will help you negotiate it smoothly and safely. Make your decision whether you should be able to head on to the roundabout or not and select the appropriate gear about 5m before the Give Way line. Even if you can't get on straight away try not to stop completely, because even a little momentum will help you maintain speed and head on to the roundabout more safely.
Be aware that HGVs and vehicles with trailers may need to occupy the left-hand lane even if turning right - due to their turning circle being extra large.
Keep away from the edge - on most roundabouts the primary riding position in your lane is most appropriate. Especially avoid travelling near the edges when passing entry roads. Try to make eye contact with drivers approaching on them.
While on the roundabout try to avoid braking unless necessary - remember you're still riding a bend.
Be aware of the hazards posed by different roundabout types. For example, a built-up central island has vegetation or signs that can restrict your view; although supposed to slow drivers, such features deliberately obscuring visibility seem to have little or no effect. Make sure you look out for traffic appearing suddenly and at speed as you enter.
Single-lane approaches to roundabouts, especially featuring a traffic island on the approach, can mean drivers race to get ahead of you towards this 'pinch point'.
Very busy multi-lane roundabouts can be difficult to enter. Sometimes you can use vehicles on your right as a 'shield' if you have enough momentum to keep pace with them. Buses and vans are particularly useful for this, but be careful because they may move outside of their lanes.
Mini-roundabouts: There's generally less room for error here so maintaining a slower speed than on larger roundabouts is essential. You should also observe cars using the mini-roundabout carefully because they may sweep straight over the raised centre of the roundabout.
Gyratories - how will I know one when I see it? How will I deal with it?
Gyratories are essentially enlarged 'super roundabouts', such as where motorways and A-roads intersect. Similar techniques are required in negotiating roundabouts but with the added difficulties of greater speed and more complex weaving traffic, due to the greater distance between entry and exit roads. Try to spot other vehicles heading for your turning and follow about 1.5m inside the path of their vehicle. In this way you can try to stick with a driver, if you can maintain sufficient speed, along the more exposed and difficult sections of the gyratory.
Slower riders and/or larger, busier and more difficult gyratories may be forced to take the outside line, even though it's a hazardous option.
Great care should be taken if you choose this option and you should signal right while crossing intermediate exits because traffic behind may be expecting you to turn left. It may even be necessary to stop at the edge to cross these exits, remembering to allow a large gap to pull out into so you have enough time to pick up speed.