Cycling in traffic is something that seems dangerous, but can be quite safe as long as you obey the rules of the road and exercise alertness and common sense.
Wear a helmet. A helmet won’t prevent accidents and won’t offer you much protection if you are hit by another vehicle. It can and will save you from serious head injuries if you are in an accident. Don’t make the mistake of riding as though you are indestructible as you’re not and taking the advice on road sense below will probably go a long way to making your journey safer. The wearing of helmets is mandatory in some countries.
Wear comfortable clothing. Make sure you are wearing shoes, pants and tops that are comfortable and suit the bicycle. You will be uncomfortable trying to wear a clothing that gets caught in the wheels or reveals too much once you begin riding. The right shoes are flat shoes without slippery soles.
Make sure you are comfortable with your bike. This means reassuring yourself that you are capable of all the basic operations, such as accelerating, changing gear, braking, looking over your shoulder, and riding while giving a signal. Adjusting things like the seat-height and the brakes can make a big difference.
Start off on the easy streets. If you’re an inexperienced cyclist, it is not a good idea to throw yourself in the deep end by trying heavy traffic before you are used to traffic altogether. Start off on quiet back streets and get used to being around cars and other road traffic. Gradually build up your stamina on larger roads by practicing on them on quiet days or at quiet times. This will allow you to familiarise yourself with the streets and any obstacles. Finally, build up the density of traffic that you feel comfortable with.
Obey the rules of the road. Always ride with the traffic. Stay off sidewalks, stop for red lights, stop at stop signs, and obey all other traffic signs. Even if it seems like there’s no compelling reason for you to stop, motorists will give you more respect if they see you obeying the rules. DON’T run red lights no matter how many other cyclists you see doing it !
Carefully pass parked cars. Ideally, stay at least three to five feet from the edge of parked cars, even if this means riding in the driving lane. Avoid weaving back and forth from the curb around parked cars, as this creates many “merging” manuevers with traffic behind you. If you must pass a parked car at close clearance, look through the rear windows as you come up to the car, and if you see a driver, there is a good possibility that they might not see you and swing the door open straight into your path. Check for traffic beside and behind you, and move further out if necessary.
Avoid auditory distractions. If you need to talk on your cellphone, stop and pull over. Don’t listen to an mp3 player or radio. These will greatly impair your ability to hear cars coming up behind you, considering a bike doesn’t have mirrors, and you’re very likely to not check behind you often, this is best avoided no matter what. You should be able to judge the speed, relative location, and type of vehicle, as it approaches you from behind without looking. At night you should also look out for signs of a passing vehicles headlights to give you a early warning that a vehicle is approaching. Most rear engined vehicles and hybrid cars are very difficult to hear, so you need to pay careful attention to not get run over by a bus.
Obey right of way. NEVER go down the street the wrong way. It’s asking for trouble. The closing speed is greater between you and the other vehicle should you collide. Use a sidewalk if you can’t go around.
Exercise caution and be alert. As you ride, always keep alert for others on the road. Be aware that many drivers fail to see cyclists. As such, you should always be aware of them. Look over your shoulder, or better still, get a rear-view mirror to attach to your helmet or your handlebars. You have to be aware of your surroundings at all times.
Be assertive. Don’t ride too close to parked cars. Parked cars can present an obstacle to a rider if a person suddenly opens a door or pulls out quickly. Always keep a door’s length out no matter how much room you think motorists need to get past you. Your safety is more important than their time.
Pay extra attention at intersections. If cars are wanting to turn, watch their direction to avoid any potential for collision. Parked cars close the the corner curb may obscure a driver’s vision of your bicycle; be aware of this possibility and be prepared to give way. Don’t block the right turn line, and pay attention for any cars coming up behind you that will be turning. Making sure they known you’re there and that you’re out of their way. When crossing an intersection watch out for any vehicles that are making a left turn, as they are the most likely not to see you, and could T-Bone you.
- Use a blinking light front and back, day and night. Blinking lights are more noticeable in mirror than your silhouette. This could save you from being hit by a car, or running into a car door.
- Bicycles are better suited to roads with speed limits of 60 km/h or lower, and preferably in urban areas, where cars are at a bigger disadvantage. Here bicycles are far more maneuverable and have greater acceleration.
- Bicycles generally have a top speed of 60 km/h and a cruising speed of 30 km/h. You want to minimize the closing speed, giving vehicles behind you as much time as possible to notice you, and react accordingly. You should try to ride faster on roads with higher speed limits, to keep up with traffic as much as possible. Heavy traffic can be advantageous in that it forces vehicles to drive at or below the speed limit. But if traffic isn’t heavy enough, then it’s actually more dangerous because vehicles trying to avoid you will be forced to squeeze by you, rather than able to change lines like they would in light traffic.
- Bicycles are generally at a great disadvantage in areas where the speed limits are high, and the stops few and far between. This is typical of sub-urban thorough-fares, and areas used heavily by trucks, especially in heavy traffic. These are areas that should generally be avoided by bicycles.
- “Take” the lane when necessary — that is, occupy the center of the lane and force drivers to make a lane change to pass you. This action should be performed when the lane is too narrow for the vehicle behind you to pass safely or lawfully. Many US states and countries have a minimum of 3′ or 5′ passing distance. If there is room for the vehicle, you as a cyclist, a safe distance from the road edge, and the minimum lawful clearance, you should offer to share the lane. Typically, a lane should be 15′ or so side, somewhat common on minor suburban collectors and some older two-lane city streets.
- If the shoulder is sufficiently paved, it should be used, and in some jurisdictions, you may be required to ride on a paved shoulder or in a bike lane when provided.
- Watch out for sewer grates and manhole covers with slits that your wheel could get trapped in. Some sewer grates have large slits parallel to the road, and sufficiently large enough for a road bike wheel to fall through. Most also have a gap between the hole in the pavement for the sewer grate and the actual sewer grate, usually on the left side. Both of these can cause you to fly over the handle bars, should your wheel fall into them. Manhole covers, usually do not have any large openings, but can be in a recessed area that will be like a large pothole.
- Watch out for potholes. A lot of potholes are formed on the edge of the pavement adjacent to the curb.
- Watch out for cracks in the pavement. The tar used to fill the cracks gets soft on hot days, your wheel can then fall into the crack. On cooler days, you will loose traction.
- Watch out for edges in the pavement or sidewalk parallel to the wheel. Your wheel could get caught on them, and you could fall if the wheel isn’t able to go over them.
- Avoid shifting the front dérailleur in traffic. It generally is more fidgety, and will distract you from the road. You’re also more unstable as you are shifting, so avoid doing it in tight quarters in flowing traffic.
- Avoid standing on the pedals, especially while shifting. Standing on the pedals allows you to put more power into each stroke, but should the chain skip, there is a greater chance that you may lose your balance and crash. Don’t stand on the pedals if your chain skips. If you need to stand on the pedals, it usually means you’re using a gear that’s too high, and you’re just placing unnecessary strain on the gears and chain.
- Shift through gears while accelerating. Assuming you’re on a multi-speed bike with shifters. Don’t leave your bike in one gear, as it will cause you to accelerate more slowly, and put more strain on your bike, and your knees. Down shift through the cassette as you come to a stop, or as you slow. Up shift as you accelerate. Try to time your shifts, so that they occur as your pedals are coming towards the 12 and 6 o’clock position. So the chain is switching gears as you’re applying the least amount of force. You should also push more lightly on the pedals as you’re shifting, while the chain is still partially engaging, so as to stop it from skipping. As you’re accelerating, try to maintain a fairly fast yet still powerful pace, around 90-120 rpm, depends on your spinning abilities. Shift to the next gear, as you start spinning to fast to generate power. You want to spin fairly fast, but also maintain a high amount of torque spinning to fast. As you reach a cruising speed, start lowering your pace. Don’t shift too fast, try to keep a constant cadence(rotation speed of cranks), while shifting through the gears, until you reach your final speed, then put put the bike in a high gear and pedal normally. Similar to accelerating a car with a manual transmission under hard acceleration.
- Don’t come to a stop in a high gear. It will cause additional strain on the chain and gears. Should they skip from the pressure, you’ll wipe out. You’ll also be more unstable, for a longer period, and will be distracted from the road. You will also have a hard time avoiding traffic should you need to accelerate to get out of the way of turning vehicles.
- Take advantage of synchronized lights. Don’t rush to a red light, ride slower and wait for it to change, while watching the lights for perpendicular traffic.
- Watch out for pedestrians crossing or jaywalking. Especially where they might come out from behind a vehicle. When passing a large vehicle, like a parked bus, watch out for pedestrians.
- In suburban areas, main thoroughfares can be safe if lines are wide, and truck traffic non-existent.
- Traffic flows in waves thanks to traffic signals. Use breaks in the traffic to make difficult manoeuvres, such as left turns in a right-hand-side country or right turns in a left-hand-side country.
- Remember that left turns must be made from the left-most lane, or left turn lane. (Reverse for countries that drive on the left.) Do not attempt to make this turn from the curb.
- Try to keep up with the speed of traffic, if possible. This is a lot safer than riding at a different speed from everyone else on the road, and it makes it possible to make left turns (or right turns in a left-hand-drive country) like a motor vehicle.
- When making turns, look over your shoulder, give a clear signal, and only manoeuvre if you’re 100% sure it is safe. It’s important to plan ahead and get into position (i.e in the middle of the road for left turns or right turns in left-hand-side countries, or in the correct lane) Keep looking over your shoulder if you have to. If it doesn’t seem safe to move to the outside or make a turn across the road; it’s better to get on the sidewalk, wait, and cross on foot before continuing.
- Make eye contact with motorists who may be inattentive or look like they may be about to make a mistake. Try not to cross their path, until you’re sure what they’re going to do. If possible pass behind them.
- When at intersection, pay attention to vehicles in turn lanes. A driver may not see you and T-bone you.
- Don’t stop to the right of a vehicle turning right. If you are in front of the rear axle, they may push you into the curb. When stopping at an intersection, beside the curb, stay behind the curve in the corner of the curb, where the vehicle would go through when making a right turn. You can also move further forward and let turning traffic, pass behind you. Or block the lane, if the lane if the situation warrants it. Turning vehicles will usually not respect bicycle lane markings.
- If possible, when using the sidewalk or bike lane, cross when parallel traffic will block the path of turning vehicles, so they can’t inadvertently T-bone you.
- At night, look out for the light cast from the headlights of vehicles coming up behind you, on object ahead of you. If traffic has not caught up to you yet. This will let you know when traffic is catching up, before you can hear a vehicle.
- Be careful around streetcars (aka trams). Should you wipe out beside one, or a car door adjacent to you open (forcing you into the streetcar), you could fall under the wheels, and become an amputee. If streetcar is loading/unloading, wait for it to finish, before passing.
- Be careful crossing streetcar tracks. If crossing at less than a 30 degree angle, your wheel(s) may fall into the groves in the track, and you will loose your balance and fall, especially should the front wheel get caught. If possible, hop the front wheel, over the track, and ride in the central portion, or beside the track. You can also, make a quick swerve, to ride over the track, if there is no adjacent traffic.
- Be careful when passing parked taxis (aka cabs). Passengers may not look before opening their door. Look for passengers in the back seat, or the light on top of the vehicle. Be especially careful when passing on the right, when the vehicle is stopped and there is a passenger in the back. The door may suddenly open, so pass slowly.
- Don’t hide in blind spots. If possible, stay either behind or in front.
- Take advantage of parked vehicles, and lane markings. Vehicles cannot travel in certain areas around parked vehicles, as its too narrow.
- Ride in a predictable pattern. Drivers will usually expect you to overtake a parked delivery truck. But won’t expect you to make a sudden swerve to avoid debris in the curb they can’t see. Look ahead when avoid obstacles, and look over your shoulder before doing so.
- Use your peripheral vision. Use the central portion of your vision for analyzing your path and look out for obstacles. Use your peripheral vision for watching the flow of traffic around you.
- Don’t wear dark clothing at night. If possible wear a yellow, orange, or white shirt, or jacket, and light color pants. This will make you much more visible in traffic, as your silhouette will be more visible.
- Be careful on wet roads. Wet metal and paint(lane markers) can cause you to wipe out. Oil slicks can become like black ice. Avoid hard turns, trying to keep the bike as upright as possible. Use your rear brake more than usual. Give yourself more room to stop. Use your rear wheel to check if the road is slippery. If you lock up the front wheel while braking, you will very likely wipe out. Keep in mind that cars behind you may not be able to avoid you as they normally would, and they may slide into you should they try to stop too hard.Warnings
- If you fall off your bike a lot you should always wear a helmet whether riding in city traffic or on a deserted trail.
- Never carry loose bags dangling from your handlebars or any other part of your bike. Put your cargo in a backpack and securely fasten it to your back so that it doesn’t move. Alternatively, specially designed bike bags (such as pannier bags) can be mounted on the bike. This option provides better weight distribution and more comfortable ride than using a backpack.
- Use LEDs and lights if riding after dark. A bright light attached to your helmet can be very helpful since it’s easy to direct it.
- If a driver is intent on forcing their way past you, it’s best to let them through unless it’s more dangerous than to hold them up.
- Avoid any kind of dispute with other vehicles as they will have the ability to force you off the road, getting angry and stressed in the event of a near-collision will distract you from the road and potentially cause another accident.