Three ways to ride: The courier way, Taking the space and Cruising at your own pace
Riding at your own pace on a busy single road or fast multi lane road is more difficult than it sounds. What I mean by this is that it is hard to enjoy riding in traffic at a speed which suits you.
Some of the many reasons part-time cyclists don’t enjoy riding on the road are that traffic passes too close and the traffic is moving much faster than the cyclist. This feels scary and your safety often feels (and is) compromised. Feeling scared is a justifiable response given the speed of the cars and the ability of their drivers to A) avoid you, and B) give you enough space and time to ride freely.
One way to deal with this problem is when possible (downhill inclines, flat stretches between traffic lights, riding with a tail wind, through winding sections, in slow moving traffic) to ride as fast as the cars. However this often relies on your ability to power along in top gear and your split second skills in making sudden moves based on the failure of drivers to respect your existence / right as a vehicle to a lane or even realize that you are there and moving that quickly. This is the cycle-courier way.
The alternative is to cruise along avoiding trouble. This viable, seemingly safer method, allows for a more relaxing ride. This is because it is at your own pace. A more languid and chillaxed pace also frees attention to take in the surrounding area, other hot cycles, find places you are looking for, and generally experience the world from two wheels. This is a fine method until you reach busy areas like a bus stop or approach intersections where cars can intimidate and push you to the side of the road or out into fast moving flows of traffic.
At a gentle pace you will likely be close in to the kerb / pavement. In this position there are times where motor vehicles will compromise your safety. These are the times I like to accelerate and move into a more visible position in a lane or ‘take the lane’ by being right in the middle so no cars can force me to the edge of the road and I can proceed without being impeded. If riders don’t do this they are often blocked or put in an unsafe position.
Your safety as a cyclist is usually compromised when drivers accelerate past you and then cut you off by braking directly in front of you as they make left and right turns where they could have waited patiently behind until you clear an intersection; by coming too close behind you; or by pulling out of a side street so far that you must change your course or ruin your hard earned momentum.
As your fitness improves you can use a combination of the courier way, taking the space and the cruising at your own pace approaches to road cycling. My own approach in Seoul is to ride as quickly as it is safe through busy urban areas or when cycling on a large road with fast aggressive buses and cars with the aim of safely arriving somewhere nicer to ride. Then I can cruise at my own pace.
I like to ride with approximately 2 metres of space between me and a kerb. In my hometown in Wellington where there are a lot of narrow roads this is impossible. You must either take the lane or be squeezed in vulnerably next to parked cars / the kerb.
Cycling in Asia is a different story however. That space between the bike and the kerb is vital. I’ve found cycling in China and Seoul similar in that there is a lot of activity going on near the kerb. The density of the population in large Asian cities means people requre this crucial space to function, but it is also an area where cyclists are trying to make their way through the traffic maelstrom too. Pedestrians, vendors, taxis, parked cars, scooters, motorbikes, and cars edging out into my space all flirt with danger and try to present danger to me on a platter in that area, and 2 meters is the space I need to make rapid adjustments when my safety is compromised. When possible on multi-lane roads I will dominate a lane at pace to gain the space I need.