City cycling tips from Wellness Revolution, plus a bonus tip for incident-free cycling anywhere
The skills to ride safely in an urban setting are an important part of what we teach in our Wellness Revolution program, run in conjunction with Blue Cross Blue Shield VT. They are essential for gaining (or regaining) confidence on a bike, and that’s a key to actually enjoying the ride.
These tips for safer city cycling are adapted from our urban cycling workshop session, led by program partners Local Motion. We hope they will help many more new cyclists ride safely and happily around traffic, and give experienced riders a few valuable reminders.
1. Respect the Law
It’s a good idea to find out what laws and ordinances apply to cyclists in your area. For example, here in Burlington, Vermont, it’s illegal to ride on the sidewalk in much of the city, but it’s permitted in other places. Ordinances allowing cyclists to perform “rolling stops” at stop signs are becoming more common in some parts of the U.S., but that’s illegal in most places.
In any case, follow the rules you would if you were driving. Cyclists who ignore the rules of the road place themselves and others at risk, and give drivers more reasons to think of all cyclists as a nuisance.
- Your safety and the perception of cyclists depend on you.
- You have the same rights and duties as drivers.
- Obey traffic signals and stop signs.
- Ride with traffic and use the rightmost lane headed in the direction you are going.
2. Be Predictable
This means riding so that other road users have a good idea of what you are going to do before you do it, and don’t have to react to sudden, unexpected moves. No surprises for others means safer cycling for you.
- Make your intentions clear to everyone on the road – give clear signals.
- Ride in a straight line and don’t swerve between parked cars.
- Signal turns, checking behind you well before making a turn or changing lanes.
3. Be Conspicuous
Your safety on the road depends on drivers being able to see you from a distance – lights and brights are the keys.
Confirm for yourself that other road users have seen you: check for eye contact, slowing down or giving you space, etc. If you can’t be sure, adjust for your own safety. For example if that car is not slowing down even though you have the right of way, get ready to avoid it yourself since you’re the vulnerable one.
- Ride where people can see you and wear bright clothing.
- Use a front white light, rear red light, and reflectors – lights are optional but strongly recommended in the daytime, but don’t even think of riding without lights after dusk.
- Make eye contact with other road users and don’t ride on sidewalks.
4. Think Ahead
Avoid having to react to surprises yourself, by paying attention to what other road users around you are doing. Paying attention to road conditions ahead also allows you to follow tip number 2 – Be Predictable.
- Anticipate what drivers, pedestrians, and other people on bikes will do next.
- Watch for turning vehicles and ride outside the door zone (The space where a
motorist can open their door) of parked cars.
- Look out for debris, potholes, and other road hazards ahead, so you can plan your path around them in advance, allowing for other vehicles.
- Cross railroad tracks at right angles, so your wheel doesn’t get caught by the rails.
- Watch out for grates and access covers in the road, especially when roads are wet or icy.
If you use clip in pedals or toe clips, anticipate ahead of time when you might need to release a foot so you can stop safely. [Editor’s note: If I had a dollar for every time I’ve toppled over at a stop because I didn’t work my foot loose soon enough, I’d have enough for a welding mask to hide my embarrassment.]
5. Ride Ready
Take a few moments to prepare yourself and your bike before the ride, so you don’t have to spend any time beside the road dealing with unexpected problems.
- Before you ride, do your ABC Quick Check – tip 6.
- Make sure any bags or load you are carrying are closed and attached securely.
- Carry tools and supplies that are appropriate for your ride.
- Adjust or secure any clothing that could get entangled with any part of the bike – scarf, loose pant leg or skirt.
- Wear a properly adjusted helmet!
6. ABC Quick Check
Performing this basic bike check before you ride will ensure your bike is in good condition and safe to ride. Timely bike maintenance can prevent crashes.
To test the air, push on the tires to see if they give. If you can push the tire in more than about 1/4 of an inch with your thumb, it needs to be refilled. Most bike pumps have an air pressure gauge on them. Pump until the number on the gauge is a few pounds under the pounds per square inch (PSI) number written on the side of the tire. Check out this post by Georgena about the best tire pressure for speed and comfort. While checking the pressure, take a moment to look for damage on the sidewalls or tread of the tire. If you can see loose threads, the tire should be replaced.
Look to see that the brake pads are not worn thinner than 1/8 of an inch. When you squeeze the brake levers firmly, there should be a thumb width’s gap between the lever and the handlebar. If this gap is too small, the brakes need to be adjusted. When the lever is released it should snap back into position. Also, squeeze the brakes to make certain that, when applied, the pads are parallel and aligned with the rim.
C (Chain, Cranks, Cassette)
When checking the chain, turn the pedals backward and look to see that it’s clean and does not squeak. The chain should not have any rust. To check the cranks, wiggle both the left and right crank arms away from the bike frame. There should be no lateral movement. If they’re loose, Tighten the bolts. Look to see that the cassette, which holds the gears in the rear wheel, is clean and moves freely.
Your bike may have quick release levers used to secure the seat post, wheels, and/or brakes to the bike. Check to make sure that all quick releases are securely closed. If the quick release is loose, hold the open lever with one hand while gradually tightening the adjusting nut in a clockwise direction with the other hand. Try closing the lever to test it. Tighten the nut until you feel slight resistance to the lever and then use the palm of your hand to close it fully. It should close firmly and securely, but loosen the nut a little if it is hard to close the lever – it should not be over tight.
Before you set out, take a brief, slow ride to check that your bike is working properly and feels right.