Riding a bicycle around cars is scary, especially your first few times, especially in a city where there are a lot of cars. There's so much to pay attention to, so many things to look out for- if you think about it, it’s actually a lot like learning how to drive. I mean, remember that? Your senses being so overwhelmed that your instructor would say “ok, we'll make a right at the next street so use your turning signal” and you’d accidentally clean the windshield instead. But that didn’t stop you. You kept practicing on quiet streets and learned the rules of the road and pretty soon you were thirty five with a grown up job and your own car, wishing you didn’t have to drive so much. Just kidding. Well…
The good news is, we've got a whole list of safety tips and tools to get you comfy and cozy in your commuting adventure. After all, the more safety tools you have, the more you’ll get out there and the more you get out there, the more comfortable you'll feel and the less you'll have to think about.
1. BE VISIBLE
The most dangerous car is the one who doesn’t see you. So...
Bring a friend There’s safety in numbers. You can use all your pairs of eyes and ears to look out for unsafe conditions. A group is also easier to spot on the road and politely demands more space for cars to accommodate so they drive more consciously and you ride more carefully.
Dress to be seen No, this doesn't mean you have to wrap your body in safety cones, but be mindful of what will make you easier to see- light and bright clothing, reflective details, that sort of thing. And, hey, if all black everything all the time is your vibe, maybe consider stocking up on some Life Paint.
"Ride like you're invisible, dress not to be."
Light up Use lights and always have extra batteries or a full charge when leaving. Totally obvious but just as easy to forget. Don’t forget. Also, some tips for time of day- Always use lights at dusk. You might be able to see just fine, but you’re quickly becoming a blob in the background to a car. It sounds strange, but riding at night is actually sometimes safer. During the day you blend in to everything, but at night, you are a flashing light standing out to everyone on the road. Plus, for you, it’s much easier to see headlights coming around blind corners than a car in the daytime.
2. BE PREDICTABLE
Don't surprise drivers. Always assume they aren't paying attention to you.
Use signals Make them big and way ahead of time to let cars know what you're doing. This handy Metro Bike Guide illustrates the most common signals.
Ride in the direction of traffic Never ride against traffic. As our friends over at Handsome Cycles point out “It's disorientating to drivers coming the other way and the last thing you want is someone coming at you at 30mph in 3000 lbs of steel to be disoriented. We have the same rights as cars on the roads, that means we have the same responsibilities as well. Cars don’t get to go against traffic, probably not a good idea for you to either.”
Ride in a straight line Don't weave or ride unpredictably. For instance, if you’re riding on a street with cars parked on the side, your instinct will be to use the side when you can and then get back out into traffic when there are cars parked and there’s not enough room for you. It feels courteous but it's actually really dangerous because, as far as drivers are concerned, all you're doing is darting in and out from behind parked cars.
"We have the same rights as cars on the roads, that means we have the same responsibilities as well."
Don't use traffic lights to get ahead Unless everyone is stopped, don't try to pass cars at a light. Intersections are where drivers are the most distracted. There are lots of ways to handle pulling up to a traffic light but here's ours. If everyone is stopped at the red light, pull up to the front where everyone can see you and knows they need to account for you ahead. If you don't get to the front before the light turns green, wherever you are in line is where you become part of traffic. You've already passed the cars behind you; they know you're there so you stay in front and visible.
When making left turns, if the traffic allows and isn't going too fast, signal and then move over to the left turn lane. If there isn’t a turn lane or traffic is too full or too fast, go straight through the light then pull over and loop around to get into the traffic going straight in the direction you need to go.
Take the lane When it is unsafe for a car to pass you safely on the side, ride in the middle of the lane. It's called “taking the lane” and it is one hundred percent legal and recommended. Annoyed traffic that sees you is safer than traffic that doesn't see you.
We'll leave you today with some final words of wisdom you’ve probably heard sung at the top of every child’s lungs since that fateful day in 2013 when Disney introduced Queen Elsa: Let it go. We all have to share the road. Some drivers are less enthusiastic about that. Sometimes they’re careless and even aggressive about it. That’s not ok. But also, you weigh a couple hundred pounds, bike and all. A car weighs thousands. You lose that fight every single time. Keep a safe amount of space away from them and remember- they're angry because they're stuck in a car and in traffic while you're on a delightful bike ride.
A special thank you to Chase Spenst, our co-author for today's post.