City Cycling Etiquette

One of my favourite ways to explore a city is on a bicycle. It gives me the street-level view that walking provides, but it's a whole lot faster. And even though I don't cycle regularly at home, it's important to me to know the rules of the road and follow them correctly. I've cycled enough to know that, one, people in cars can be total jerks to people on bikes and, two, a lot of motorists have a poor opinion of cyclists. Knowing the rules and sticking to them can help keep you safe on a bike. Your cycling etiquette not only affects the way you're treated on the road, but it can inform pedestrians' and motorists' opinion (and treatment) of other cyclists.

So if you're new to bikes, but want to explore a city on one, or cycle often and don't quite know the rules, here are some guidelines.

Be Confident and Drive Defensively
It can be scary to be on a bike in a city. You may feel vulnerable, especially at first, but don't be afraid to assert your rights on the road. Assume motorists will make mistakes, so give them a wide berth, make your moves with speed and confidence, and don't feel shy about riding in the middle of the lane if you don't feel safe next to a car. If you have to do this, save it for short stretches and peddle quickly. Don't let a rude motorist intimidate you. You're following the rules and have a right to be there.

Stick to the Road or Designated Bike Paths
The sidewalk is for pedestrians and it's actually illegal to ride your bike on it. If you don't feel safe on the road, hop on public transit (many buses have bike racks and most rail transit systems allow bikes) or walk your bicycle on the sidewalk for a stretch.

Pass politely
Just like driving (unless you live in Great Britain or select British colonies) you're expected to stay to the right. On the road, you'll pass cars on the right hand side, since you should be able to squeeze by them, but pass all pedestrians and other cyclists on the left. Before you pass, ring your bell politely, or cheerfully call out "On your left!" A little wave or a "Thank you!" after you've passed never hurts either.

Signal Your Intentions
An important part of bike safety is being clear about your intentions. You always use your left arm to signal, because this is the arm most readily visible to others on the road (since you're on their right). Holding your arm straight out toward the left means you're turning left or switching to the left lane. Holding your arm in an L shape - counterintuitively - means you're going right. If you panic and can't remember the signals, hold out your arm the way you want to go.

Stay in Single File
Like highway driving, the right lane is for riding and the left is for passing. To avoid frustrating motorists and other cyclists, bike behind your buddies and only pull out to the left to pass.

Follow the Rules of the Road
Wait at red lights, stop at stop signs and walk your bike across pedestrian crosswalks. There are enough cyclists out there breaking the rules and souring everyone's opinion of us; be the positive example.

Dress the Part
Although the spandex suit is optional, ;) be sure to wear bright clothing, especially at night. Put on a helmet. Do helmets look dorky? Yes, but brain damage - or death - is worse. I'm considering a BMX-style helmet: a slightly more fashionable option. 

Don't be THAT Person
Texting, talking on the phone or reading a book are not appropriate biking activities (and I've seriously seen all three of these). Just pull off to the side or save it for when you reach your destination.

If you choose to use a bike to explore a new city (or your hometown), awesome! It's a great way to see the world while being good to the environment and your body. If you have any further tips or cycling stories to tell, I'd love to hear your comments. Happy cycling!

(All photos were taken here in Winnipeg by my wonderfully talented friend Lindsey.)