My cycling commute is often my favourite part of the day. It’s a great way to get a little sunshine into my day when I spend so much of it inside tied to my desk. But it can also be stressful, and frustrating, and often even scary. I know lots of people that are too nervous to ride their bikes in the city, especially during rush hour, and I honestly can’t blame them. Toronto isn’t the most bike-friendly city, and even though about 50% of my commute includes bike paths, they hardly seem to offer any additional safety.
So I’ve compiled my tips for riding safely in the city based on the issues I see most often on my commute!
6 Safe Cycling Tips
1) Slow down. I see so many cyclists that zoom through traffic, but the faster you ride, the faster you’re going to be slamming into that car, door or pedestrian. Slow down to give car drivers, pedestrians and other cyclists a chance to see you. Slow down to give yourself a chance to spot obstacles like streetcar tracks, pot holes and people or pets running out into traffic. I’ll admit I ride my bike really fast on my commute, but once I hit the downtown core, I slow waaay down. There’s so much going on, you really have to watch it!
2) Avoid right-turning vehicles. Wait patiently or carefully pass on the left. Passing on the right of a right-turning vehicle is the #1 stupid thing I see cyclists doing frequently. I’d say the only exception is if you can cross along with a whole group of pedestrians, but even then proceed with caution.
3) You are invisible. Drivers generally aren’t looking for cyclists when they’re looking to make a maneuver like crossing through an intersection or turning into traffic from a side-road, and even though you’re right there in front of them they honestly might just not even register your presence, since they’re looking for other cars (remember that basketball-gorilla experiment?). If possible, try to make eye contact. Even then, don’t assume. This one got me into trouble once. I was waiting to make a left turn onto a main road. A driver slowed way down, and I assumed he was letting me in. Nope. Just as I crossed through, he started to accelerate. I only got tapped, but it was definitely not a good situation. I think he’d actually slowed looking for a street sign and hadn’t seen me at all.
4) Use your bell. I think some cyclists get shy about using their bell, but just use it! Use it when passing parked cars where the driver might pull out, or someone might open their door. Use it when passing pedestrians that look like they might cluelessly step into the road. Use it when passing other cyclists. I learned my lesson the hard way. I was passing a slow cyclist, riding along on his phone (oh, yeah don’t use your phone while cycling either!), with a good 2 feet between us, just as he lost control and swerved right into me, pushing me into traffic and into the side of an SUV. Plus, I never get annoyed when I cyclist rings their bell before passing me, but it drives me absolutely nuts when a cyclist zooms by within inches of me with no notice.
5) Don’t jump the light. Ok, you want to get your 2-second head start on that green light, but that might just put you right in the middle of the road as that car flies through trying to make it through at the last second. Plus, it goes against tip #6.
6) Respect the rules and other people. Drivers get annoyed when they see cyclists roll through stop signs and red lights. They don’t care if it’s perfectly safe. They get annoyed. And annoyed drivers don’t give cyclists proper respect and space on the road. Just follow the road rules. It keeps you safer and other people won’t think you’re a jerk.
Do you cycle in the city? Have any tips for safe cycling?