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  1. #1
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    Ground Rules for Riding In Traffic

    Okay, i've been riding to work for about a year now (2 miles each way). I've been riding on the sidewalks most of the time. I got a new bike, and i want to start riding on the roads. The problem is, i feel really apprehensive about riding- one newbie mistake could cost me my life! I live in the suburbs, though the path i take is hilly, windy and heavily traversed by cars.

    I'd like to draw from this enormous pool of experience and ask: what are some basic rules to road-driving? How should i signal a turn? What are some lessons you've learned through your mistakes? This has probably been asked before, so feel free to direct me towards any good resources. Thanks!

  2. #2
    Senior Member vincenzosi's Avatar
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    RULE #0: WEAR A HELMET!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Okay, now on to the less important ones:

    Rule #1: Stop riding on the sidewalks! (sorry, had to!)

    Rule #2: Pay attention to cars all around, including parked ones. You never know when someone will fling a door open or dart into the lane without looking.

    Rule #3: Wear a blinkie and reflective / bright clothing. Try to be as visible as possible.

    Rule #4: Hold your line as much as possible. Don't swerve wide or you may get clipped.

    Rule #5: Signalling: Right turn: Right hand extended to the right. Left turn: Right hand pointing that way (I know that isn't the "proper" way, but you know what? Most motorists probably don't know what the proper signal means anyway), and stop, hold your hand down, bent 90 degrees at the elbow.

    Rule #6: Be wary of cars crossing from the lane next to you to make a right turn. I've almost gotten clipped twice by cabs turning right from the center lane.

    Rule #7: Be confident. If you're nervous and twitchy, your bike-handling will suffer. Don't be afraid to take a lane if you need it.

    Rule #8: Don't compete with cars. Let them go. If you're not comfortable with the guy next to you, let him go. Cars will always win in an accident.

    That pretty much covers my experience. Good luck, and ride safe!
    Currently Riding:
    2005 Raleigh C30

  3. #3
    The Land of Living Skies
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    The rules I play by are as follows.

    1. Do everything possible to ensure you are seen. I wear a reflective vest and reflective wrist bands (for turns in the dark primarily). I also where a bright yellow jacket and have two blinkies on my helmet and 2 on my bike. I want to look as big as a house coming down the road.

    2. Follow the rules of the road. The only rule I sometimes break is lane-splitting if the cars are stopped. Assume you are the only one that will follow those rules or knows about them.

    3. Watch the wheels and drivers of stopped vehicles. It will give you an idea of what they are intending to do next and whether they see you.

    4. Always have an alternate if the worst case scenario happens.

    5. Take the lane; don't try to give motorist room. You will get doored. Stick to the right when it is safe.


    Those are the main ones I can think of. The only time I have felt my life or wellbeing was in danger was when traffic comming from the opposite direction thought they could either turn left before I got to the intersection or didn't see me. I am not sure which.

    Good Luck.

    P.S. When I first started, I though motorists would be a lot more difficult to get along with than they really are. 99% are very patient and just want to get to where they are going safely.

  4. #4
    Still Newbie way124's Avatar
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    Yeah, you just need to cycle more so you can get used to it. Now I don't feel a thing cycling side by side with 18 wheelers, although they might not see you and clip you under their trailer.

    Enjoying the ride is important too. So treat your commute as a game. The goal is to score as many points as you can. Score one if you expected a driver to do something stupid and harmful to you (increment your score only after you avoid the catastrophe). Remember to keep both your hands on both brakes, and practise braking so your reaction time is 100ms, and you can come to a stop from 20mph (32kph) in 2 seconds. Avoid skids. Apply just enough pressure.

    Also practise swerves. Braking only helps so much. I avoided a left hand turn collision with a swerve. But also get a mirror. One time a girl popped out of nowhere. I kept myself updated with the traffic behind me, so I figured I could not swerve. I went from 20mph to 0mph in 2 seconds, just a few inches/cm away from her, shocked dead stop in front of me. I didn't say a thing, because I was in awe with my bicycle's braking power

  5. #5
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    Be seen, be predictable.

    If drivers see you and can see where you're going to be, they are less likely to try and occupy the same space as you.

  6. #6
    cab horn
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    Most newb mistakes I see while riding down streets.

    1) Riding within door range, I take the rest of the lane when parked cars occupy the other half. Simply isn't enough room for me to be outside door range and for a car to pass while another is parked on the right

    2) Never ever ever, ride on the sidewalk. Accident statistics from the Toronto website should scare the crap out of you. (I was guilty of this until I started commuting hardcore).

    Signalling:
    If you need to turn left, shoulder check and if the car is far enough that they will slowdown for you. Signal left by raising your left arm and pump point in the direction and look at them. Wait for reaction and go/don't go.

    Right turns don't need to be signalled as much (if ever) even though you're supposed to. That is unless some motorist decides to tailgate you and you have to slowdown to turn right.

    Lessons i've learned:

    People honk at you, better to just ignore it. They try to hurt you, have the local police on speed dial. I've had shouting matches with motorists before, not worth the expenditure in effort and time. Just look at them as you whizz by at 30kph and they're stuck in traffic for the next 234 hours.

    Never be in a rush to get anywhere, two last times i've had a spill I was rushing to get somewhere.

    Quote Originally Posted by Saskcyclist
    P.S. When I first started, I though motorists would be a lot more difficult to get along with than they really are. 99% are very patient and just want to get to where they are going safely.
    Haha sorry i'll have to disagree, motorists are very impatient ANYWHERE, especially if they've already been stuck in any sort of traffic. The "f#($* you a$$hole" to "sexy ass" comment ratio is about 9999999:1.

    Some know that bikes are vehicles, most don't know we are allowed to ride a whole lane if we need to. Almost everyone thinks we shouldn't be on the road.

    I was like avocadoaddict once before very scared of riding in traffic, until I realized that I didn't need to care about people coming from behind. They'll see me, they'll get out of the way. I also realized that I had to get somewhere too, just like people in cars. Once you get over the riding on sidewalk thing, you'll realize how incredibly dangerous it was to do so.

  7. #7
    genec genec's Avatar
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    Been commuting for over 20 years... on and off.

    Everything said before is correct, but let me add something. No matter how many blinkies and how much bright clothing you wear, no matter how much you look into their eyes and see the driver... always remember... YOU are INVISIBLE.

    Drivers may look right at you, but they will not see you. You may think you have the right of way, but in fact that 1 ton vehicle coming right at you will always win.

    Now I do not say this to frighten you, but to give you a sense of reality. Quite frankly you can ride in traffic and have a good time, but NEVER assume that you have been seen and/or that you have the ROW. In fact, (and others may just hate this) you can exploit your invisibility from time to time and slip down that sidewalk or between those cars or past that stopsign... as long as remember that you are INVISIBLE. Cars will not look for you and will not see you even when the drivers are looking right at you.

    Old bike joke to go along with this:

    Man on a bike robs a bank.
    The police are questioning the witnesses... they ask which way the robber went.
    Reply: "don't know... he was on a bike... "

  8. #8
    Walmart bike rider gpsblake's Avatar
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    I would add when approaching a red light if you are going straight or making a left turn, take the entire lane in line with the cars. That will prevent cars from squeezing you on the right. If you take the entire lane, the car in front of you can't right turn into you.

    Cheers and Happy Miles,
    BLake

  9. #9
    genec genec's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by super-douper
    Be seen, be predictable.

    If drivers see you and can see where you're going to be, they are less likely to try and occupy the same space as you.
    Notice the above statement comes with a big "IF." Drivers looking right at you will NOT see you. Keep that in mind.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by operator
    Right turns don't need to be signalled as much (if ever) even though you're supposed to. That is unless some motorist decides to tailgate you and you have to slowdown to turn right.
    I signal right turns if there's a car up ahead waiting for me to cross the intersection. I signal a right turn so the car doesn't have to wait to find out that I'm not going straight through.

    One thing I do to "Be predictable" is when approaching a 4 way stop, I stop pedaling well before the white line, then pedal backwards so the other motorists know that I'm not going to blow the stop sign. Then we all take turns crossing the intersection normally.

    Also, if you're ever in doubt about what to do; do what the law says a car should do (but only if it's safe!).

  11. #11
    Senior Member TuckertonRR's Avatar
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    I was thinking of a way to be visible:
    - has anyone thought of using/installing auto headlights on their handlebars, or on a piece of wood across the bike? I was thinking of doing a similar thing (auto taillights) in the back.

    at the very least, it would make cagers think wtf is that??!!

    another thought I had is try to get a car horn to operate on the bike. Better yet, a foghorn/ship/train horn. THAT would blow peoples' minds!!!!!!

  12. #12
    cab horn
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    You can strap a 1000w headlight to your bike. Problem is where is the power coming from and how long are you intending to use it and how much do you want this sytem to weigh.

  13. #13
    Senior Member TuckertonRR's Avatar
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    good question:
    battery in a back pack
    on the rear rack
    make a special set up for it.

    Not sure how much power'd be needed for all that stuff though. Maybe I'll try it out on a rainy weekend when I've got nothing else to do....not much into electronics though.

  14. #14
    Rider in the Storm
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    Look here, some pretty high light wattage obtained by some of these folks:

    Total Geekiness

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by SaskCyclist
    5. Take the lane; don't try to give motorist room. You will get doored. Stick to the right when it is safe.

    Yo advacadoaddict, this rule is for riding with cars parked on the curb on your right. You shouldn't try to take a lane all to yourself in most circumstance. Most lanes are wide enough that you shouldn't have any trouble claiming the first 3 feet from the curb as your own. that being said, when there are cars parked in the curb lane there is room enough for you but not another vehicle, so it's all yours - stay far enough away from the parked cars that a suddenly opened door can't hit you or can be avoided.

  16. #16
    switching to guns ch0mb0's Avatar
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    what's your environment like? are we talking heavy city traffic or something lighter...?

    along with all the very good safety tips above,
    a) don't be scared, and
    b) don't get frustrated out there, it leads to stupid mistakes
    Fate is the Hunter
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    What are they doing? Why do they come here? Some kind of instinct. Memory, of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives.
    http://img63.imageshack.us/img63/8074/dodcm.jpg

  17. #17
    semifreddo amartuerer 'nother's Avatar
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    Here are my suggestions:

    * First and foremost: learn and follow the rules of the road for bicycles in your particular locality. Some of the above suggestions may not even be legal depending upon where you are riding.

    * Make sure your bike is equipped at least to the minimum requirements - more if you are riding at night or on busy streets.

    * Riding on sidewalks seems safe, doesn't it? But is probably more dangerous than riding on the road (particularly at driveways and intersections where cars aren't expecting to encounter bikes). Don't do it unless the law leaves you no choice.

    * Don't be afraid, but don't get cocky, either. Motorists can be idiots, but don't get all in somebody's face unnecessarily. Don't end up "right and dead".

  18. #18
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    Practice looking for traffic behind you on quiet residential streets. You need to be able to do it while pedalling and without swerving all over the road. Its easier to keep straight if you dont try and twist you head straight around, but bend your head forward as if you are going to kiss the tip of your shoulder.

    I love my third-eye mirror that attaches to my glasses, for keeping aware of the traffic behind me. However if a motorist approaching from behind sees you looking over your shoulder it is an immediate signal to him that you are about to make a lane change or left turn.

    I have received more discourtesy from motorists when I am driving a car than when I am on my bike. Enjoy it and waive to other cyclists that you see on your commute.

  19. #19
    Senior Member sggoodri's Avatar
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    Cycling on roadways with traffic, following the rules for drivers, is the most safe and efficient way to travel by bike. Road cyclists have far fewer car-bike collisions per mile than do sidewalk cyclists on the same road corridors, because cycling on the roadway according to vehicular rules makes the cyclist far more visible and predictable to drivers in those locations where collisions are most likely to happen: intersections and driveways.

    The most common car-bike collision type affecting roadway cyclists is caused by oncoming drivers turning left in front of them. The errant driver generally underestimates the speed of the cyclist or doesn't notice him as easily as larger vehicles. I've had a couple of close calls this way myself, requiring me to hit the brakes, but I've never had a car-bike crash in my 25 years of road cycling. I wear a bright jersey or jacket and use good lights at night to maximize my visibility, and I keep my eyes on drivers who might be getting ready to turn left in front of me. I look behind me before moving laterally on the roadway, and rarely any other time. Sometimes people honk at me because I'm going slower than other traffic in a narrow lane, and they have to change lanes to pass, but that's easy to ignore.

    I find that cycling on the roadways in this way makes me visible enough that the occasional chance of a driver not seeing me is far less of a risk than cycling in an alternative manner that would make me less visible and predictable to drivers, i.e. cycling on sidewalks and using unusual methods (for a driver) to cross traffic. The best way to avoid a collision is to be where other drivers are looking for traffic, that is, to act like traffic. Sure, you're slower than most of the cars most of the time, but coming from the same direction in the same place is the most important way to avoid trouble. The most certain way to be "invisible" is to ride on sidewalks, pass drivers on the right, ride in the door zone of parked cars, turn left from the right edge of the road, etc.

    A good discussion of vehicular bicycle driving can be found at
    http://www.humantransport.org/bicycledriving/

  20. #20
    cab horn
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    The 3 to 4 feet recommended by most websites including the above simply isn't enough. If you've actually seen how wide some of those doors swing out, you'll know it's more like 6-8 feet, you should be riding from the car.

  21. #21
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    I would echo the above sentiment. If there are parked cars around, stay out of the dooring zone. Taking the lane may feel awkward at first, but you will feel much more comfortable than being squeezed by cars while you are hugging the curb. I know on the road you feel vulnerable to traffic from the rear, but the data says that if you take the lane the chances of someone hitting you from behind are very, very small--unless, of course, you are riding at night with no lights. Check your state laws and know your rights. If people honk at you just wave, you have just as much right to be on the road as they do. Be nice, but be assertive. You will quickly get over your jitters. Enjoy.

  22. #22
    Pat
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    I would suggest that you get a copy of Forester's book "Effective Cycling". It is the best single book I have ever seen that deals with riding on the public roads.

    Most rookie cyclists have dangerous and erroneous assumptions.

    Rookie cyclists believe that they are in danger from an "overtaking" accident. That is being struck in the rear by a vehicle. Forester found that those are extremely rare. I think most of them happen at night and are riders who do not have lights.

    Many rookie cyclists ride on the left facing traffic because they think that in doing so they can see oncoming cars and avoid them. That is very dangerous. By not following the rules of the road, the "wrong way" cyclist sets up a situation where every driver who approaches has to make a decision of what to do to avoid them without guidance from the law. Eventually someone will guess wrong. Also motorists are generally not on the lookout for traffic going the wrong way and that is danerous too.

    Another "rookie" mistake is riding too far to the right. If you ride too close to the curb, you actually take yourself out of the motorists line of sight. You need to be out far enough so you are near the flow of traffic where motorist expect to see travelers. Also, you need to be far enough out for other reasons. Being out from the curb means that if you come up to a hazard like a pothole, you have several directions to move to avoid it. If you are riding next to the curb, you can either run off the road and crash, ride into the pothole and crash or possibly pull out into the path of an overtaking car and get smashed.

    Another rookie error is seeing vehicles as being your major danger on the road. Forester found that road hazards caused around 50% of the crashes. Vehicles caused only something like 12% of the crashes. Most of the vehicular crashes happen at intersections or from cars pulling out onto the road. One needs to be very alert to motorists turning in front of you either from the right or the left or from motorists pulling out in front of you (and this is often intentional, it happed to me 3 times yesterday and each time it was intentional, they saw me and figured I saw them and would just slow down). Remember, there is very little courtesy shown to cyclists by motorists.

    I have looked up fatality statistics on cyclists and vehicles cause about 80% of the fatalities. However, cyclists have only half the fatality rate per hour as motorists. It is safer to cycle! It does not FEEL safer, but it is. About half of the fatalities happen at night and I think these are cyclists without lights. I ride quite a bit at night and I think, with lights, I am safer. For some reasons, motorists treat me with more courtesy. Also the majority of other fatalities are not really cyclists, but "persons on bicycles" - you know, people who have no idea of how to ride a bicycle so they do dangerous things like *shudder* ride on the sidewalk. From my examination of the statistics, I think your average knowledgeable recreational cyclist has about one tenth of the risk of a driver per hour. That seems way too low doesn't it? But what kills motorists? Behaviors that kill motorists are: drunken driving, falling asleep at the wheel, being distracted (eating, cell phones, etc), driving way too fast, and aggressive driving. Cyclists don't do these things plus cyclists because of their obvious vulnerability tend to "drive defensively". Looked at that way, one would expect cyclists to be much safer then motorists.

  23. #23
    aka old dog greywolf's Avatar
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    All of the above & signal when moving left or right even if you think theres no traffic about ,there just might be ! + it will help making signals an automatic unthinking action while commuting through traffic ,Its not as complicated as it first seems ,once you get used to the traffic you actualy get a buzz cycling through busy traffic !
    :D
    dont worry be happy ????

  24. #24
    Ride the Road Daily Commute's Avatar
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    I agree about John Forester's book "Effective Cycling." The first part has more technical infgormation than you need, but he gives very good advice about riding with traffic. He also does a good job of dispelling the myths that most bike lanes and bike paths are safe. Forester also has a helpful web site.

    John Allen's Street Smarts is a good, short guide to riding in traffic.

    Finally, on a practical note, when motorists honk or are rude, don't give them the finger or (in the oposite direction) be intimidated. Smile at them and wave. It will disarm a lot of them, and it will stop the incident from ruining your ride.

  25. #25
    Just riding andygates's Avatar
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    I'm going to go against the grain here and say "just do it."

    Start on quiet roads and inside turns. Get your confidence up. Then moderately trafficked roads and cross-lane turns. Then maybe some beefier intersections and faster routes.

    All the theory in the world is great, but at the end of the day, you need time on the roads to develop skill on the roads. One newbie mistake will not kill you: roads are safer than sidewalks (you have better right of way and no dog-walkers!).

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