I have come to realize that some people pretty much equate "vehicular cycling" or "vc" with simply cycling legally. I feel this is at least partially my fault because I have often defined vc in too simple terms, as "cycling on roads in accordance with the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles". For me, the "rules of the road for drivers of vehicles" did not mean explicit laws, but rather, more general principles that the laws are based on, including some that did not fully manifest in any laws. I've written about vc including lane positioning and other behavior in order to be defensive, visible, predictable and assertive about our rights, but that's not really captured in the words "in accordance with the ... rules ...". Hence, and for other reasons, some people understandably interpret vc as "cycling legally". But I think that misses a lot.
If vehicular cycling (vc) was simply "cycling in accordance with the law", then we'd have very, very little to discuss, and no need for Forester's book, or Cyclecraft, or the many websites, or the Wikipedia entry, etc.
I believe my latest definition, which has been in my signature for a day or two now, captures the difference between vc and simply cycling legally, at least in general terms: defensive bicycle driving on roads visibly, predictably and assertively in accordance with the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles. I reserve the right to refine it again, of course, but I think at least now it captures the concepts of vc being less than what is legal (by limiting our behavior to that which is defensive), and sometimes more than what is legal, by putting defensive, visible, predictable and assertive ahead of "in accordance", implying their priority when there is a conflict (the cyclist's safety is never compromised in the name of legality).
Edit: Per patc's suggestion (see #16), a slight refinement: Vehicular cycling is defensive bicycle driving on roads visibly, predictably, assertively, and in accordance with the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles".
To clarify further, here are ten examples off the top of my head where vc and "simply cycling on the road in accordance with applicable codes and rules" is significantly different. The first five are where the given behavior is legal, but is not vc. The middle five are the opposite: where the given behavior is not legal, but is vc. The last five are vc techniques that are consistent with the law, but are not mandated by the law.
- It's legal to ride in door zones, but it's not vc.
- It's legal to cut across two lanes of traffic during a gap in motor traffic from a bike lane on the right to get to a left turn lane, but it's not vc.
- It's legal to go straight across an intersection in a bike lane that is to the right of the rightmost lane that serves right or straight, but it's not vc.
- It's legal to enter an intersection on a green without looking left and right first to make sure no one is running the red, but it's not vc.
- It's legal to pass stopped cars on your left while traveling 20 mph in a bike lane, crossing driveways, etc., but it's not vc.
- It's not legal to use a look back alone to signal a turn (a hand signal is legally required), but if other drivers yield to you as a result of your look back, the look back alone is sufficient per vc.
- It's not legal to slow down as you approach a stop sign, make sure it's clear, and roll through the stop sign without first coming to a complete stop, but it's vc.
- It's not legal in some states to leave the right side of the road even when the lane is too narrow to be safely shared, but it is vc.
- It's not legal in most states to ride at night without side reflectors, but it is VC.
- It's not legal in many states to leave the right side of the road simply because you're approaching a place where a right turn is authorized, but is often vc.
Techniques and practices that are part of vc education, but are not mandated by law:
- negotiation for the right-of-way,
- using a centerish position as one's primary/default position (or at least much more often than the law mandates).
- using the slow/stop arm signal to get tailgaters to back off.
- instant turn
- using destination positioning at intersections and their approaches.
Again, these are off the top of my head, and are meant to be a random illustrative sample, not an exhaustive list by any stretch. Some might be arguable one way or other. I'm not going to defend each one - the point I'm trying to make here is made if even only a couple of these differences are accepted as valid and significant. Yet I believe all of these to be valid and significant differences. Also, there are areas not touched on here, like how laws that apply to drivers of slow vehicles are consistent with vc (like prohibitions from freeways and some tunnels and bridges).
In any case, cycling lawfully is, well, cycling lawfully.
Vehicular cycling is more, and less, than simply cycling lawfully. It's significantly different.
I think equating the two is missing a lot, and, arguably, the whole point of vc.