Riding trails and empty roads endlessly on bikes is every riders dream but not all of us have that luxury. We may have to ride in traffic on commutes, to get to the good roads or trails, or roads that have traffic are all that are available to ride close by. Knowing the rules, knowing the techniques and practice will help save your life but will also allow you to be more relaxed and not despise any part of your ride.
Rules of the Road for Cyclists
Cyclists are under the same laws as motor vehicles so riding the same as you would drive a car is, in general, how you should ride. This means that you ride on the same side of the road as traffic, stop at traffic lights and stop signs, and signal your turns. Past this however, knowing what to do in every situation will keep you safe and perhaps save you from getting yelled at by motorists, although that still may happen.
Traffic lights are a pain for motorists as well as cyclists. Even though running them may seem more doable on a bike, don’t. You can still get a ticket but more importantly if you get hit it is more life threatening as you are the soft item that gets damaged not a fender. If there is enough room to pass stopped vehicles already waiting for the red light, continuing on the shoulder or bike lane is advisable as long as you make sure no cars are potentially turning right into your lane.
Making a left hand turn at a traffic light can be difficult particularly if there is a lot of traffic. Before you arrive at the intersection, make sure there are no cars immediately behind you, put your left arm out signalling your intention to move left, take the lane (riding down the middle of it), and then proceed to the left to the turning lane if there is one. If there is not one, stay to the left but not so far as to be in the way of oncoming traffic, but far enough that cars behind you can still pass you safely on your right. Once it’s clear and/or the light is green, make your turn to the left.
Riding With Two or More Riders
Take extra caution when riding in a group and use common sense. There are many different theories on how to ride safely in a group. Suggestions vary from riding single file, to two a breast or even taking the whole lane. Each situation warrants a different style for instance: highway riding stay single file or at a minimum stay to the right of the white line. Riding on a country road ride two a breast to be more visible as a group, then depending on how large the group is go back to single file to allow the car to pass safely. If you are in a very large group it may be wise to continue to take up the lane and make the car pass along a straight stretch when no one is coming the other way. If you are riding in town, it may be easier to keep up with the stop and go traffic and it may be wise to take the lane. The most important thing to do is use common sense to stay as safe as possible.
Tips & Techniques
The biggest thing to riding in traffic is to make sure motorists see you and that you don’t make any sudden moves that they are not anticipating. Most motorists are not going to hit you as long as they see you and know where you are and where you are going. A good way to ensure that motorists see you, is to establish your position early. For instance, if there is an obstacle coming up like a narrow bridge or large potholes, you should shoulder check and move in to the lane well before you get to the obstacle, basically stating to the motorists that it is not safe for you to pass here. Once across the bridge you will move back onto the shoulder and allow cars to pass.
This leads to the next point of being able to turn your head and actually look behind you while still riding in a straight line. This is something that every rider must learn to do. Some people use mirrors but they should only be used in addition to turning your head, not as a substitution. This should be learned and practiced on an empty road without potholes or anything that could cause you to crash. A good drill is to ride on the white line and turn your head briefly and then back and make sure you are still on the line. Gradually work up to a longer and longer time that your head is turned. You should be able to do it over your left and right shoulder.
Another technique to use while riding, particularly when it is around twilight and even dark, is to ride like you are invisible. Pretend that no one can see you. You have to make sure that each and every car is not going to hit you. This becomes particularly important at intersections where cars are pulling out in front of you. The majority of the time they are not looking for cyclists. You should always error on the side of caution.
Practice and Becoming Comfortable
As with anything, practicing and being in a situation more and more will make you better at that situation as well as more comfortable. Don’t seek out busy dangerous roads to ride but rather take these notes into consideration when you are on the road with traffic.
When you are in these situations, ride with hyperawareness and pay attention to everything and everyone. Once you become more comfortable with navigating traffic you will naturally begin to relax since you will be more used to it and know what to do. Of course the best way to not worry about traffic is to avoid roads with traffic but that’s not always possible. Try and seek out a route of back roads, bike paths, wide shoulder roads or anything that puts more distance between you and traffic. You can’t afford to take a fender bender like a vehicle. It has the potential to kill you. Take it seriously and be in control of your situation. You will navigate the hectic roads like a champ and arrive at your destination or sweet roads or trails more relaxed and ready to enjoy.