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City Biking 101: Road Tips for a Safe Ride

Learn expert techniques and the safest and best strategies for navigating city roads.

This post is in partnership with the CLIF Bar 2-Mile Challenge

We start on tricycles, graduate to training wheels, then the fateful day when we're off on two wheels. But remember, cycling is a constantly evolving learning process. Keep fine-tuning technique and safety measures and that first moment of exhilaration can be a constant.

Be Aware of Bike Laws

Take time to learn local bike laws before hitting the road. Kurt Snyder discovered this firsthand when cycling in his Burke, Virginia neighborhood. “I was pulled over by a police officer with a radar gun,” he says. “At 15 miles per hour, I was apparently riding over the speed limit.”

Cycling laws aren’t one size fits all. “Knowing the codes, regulations and laws, as well as your rights and responsibilities is key,” says Allison Mannos, urban strategy director at the Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition. “Your state’s Department of Transportation’s website should be able to point you in the right direction.” Robyn Cooper learned California’s laws through her workplace. “My company’s commuter program filled us in on local laws,” she says. “Because of that I learned where it’s legal to ride in Burbank.”

Not sure about a law? Santa Monica-based cycling and fitness coach, Riley McAlpine suggests thinking like a driver, particularly when it comes to stop signs and stoplights. “A major reason cyclists get hit is due to running stoplights,” she says. “And if you’re not injured, you’re still eligible for a traffic violation on your driver’s license and a hefty fee.”

Be Alert to Surroundings

As a safety measure, New York resident Thom Payne plans out his route before heading out on a ride. “It’s easier to navigate the streets and a lot safer if you discover those that have bike paths,” he says.

In a time when the world is full of distractions like texting, cyclists should keep their senses highly attuned. “Never take your concentration off your surroundings,” says McAlpine. “Don’t just look in one direction. Constantly look around you, scanning the road in all directions.”

Cooper found out cars weren’t the only things to keep an eye on during one of her daily work commutes. “Walkers rarely pay attention to what’s coming up behind them,” she says. “A woman walking a dog made an unanticipated move and my front tire grazed her leg.”

Cyclists are urged never to assume a car is going to do what’s anticipated. Like many riders, Los Angeles-based Margaret McGlynn has a developed a system for avoiding potential hazards during her daily 20-mile, round-trip commutes. “Drivers aren’t looking for cyclists, they’re looking for other cars and pulling moves like changing lanes or turn without signaling,” she says. “I wave, make eye contact, look, and ask permission. I also use arm signals. Sure, people have cursed at me, but I’ve found the nicer cyclists are, the safer we are.”

Turn Up the Volume… and the Lights

Making others aware of your presence with sound like a bell. Vocals are effective, too, especially when cycling in a group. “Always announce what you’re going to do,” says Mannos. “When passing other cyclists, call out if you’re coming up on the left or right. Even announce a stop.”

Another way cyclists can ensure pedestrians and drivers notice them is by gearing up with lights (see more about gear here). Missing Link customers get the following advice from Cummings, “Have at least one white light on the front of your bike and one red on back,” she says. “Flashing ones are more visible, but most lights will do both. There are lights that go on the front and back of helmets, too.” Though she usually commutes by bike, Cummings got a dose of reality when recently driving a car. “I started noticing who was visible and who was invisible,” she says. “I came straight into work and bought a bright yellow, reflective jacket.”

Avoid Car Doors

Keeping an eye out for people exiting their driveways is a given for cyclists. Another rule of thumb – “Cycle three feet away from parked cars,” says Mannos. Why? It’s very easy to get “doored.” “If a car door opens when you’re driving past, that’s a painful situation,” says McAlpine. “Be on the lookout for brake lights. The driver has their foot on the brake and has either just parked or is about to pull out.”

Road Hazards

Cars don’t like them and neither do bicycles: potholes, wet roads and railroad tracks. “If crossing railroad tracks or a lip in road, never hit it straight on, go at an angle,” says McAlpine. And if there’s something in the road? “Look where you want to go rather than at something you don’t want to hit,” she advises. “Slowly and calmly move away without making a jerky motion.”

Another tip from McAlpine is remembering when roads are wet, avoid paint lines. Especially the white ones. “Those get very slick in rain,” she says. “And if you should happen to hit one and start skidding, never brake on water.”

Right Turn Lane

Extra care should be taken in right turn lanes, whether cyclists are continuing straight or turning. “When approaching a place where a right turn only is authorized, cyclists should not be in the right-turn only lane, or on the right edge of a dual-destination right or straight lane,” says McAlpine. “If intending to go straight, avoid riding in a lane that must turn or diverge to the right rather stay to the far right of the straight lane allowing the right turn only traffic to pass on your right.”

The Golden Rule

To experience a fantastic ride, it all comes down to this, says McAlpine. “Cyclists, drivers and pedestrians have to work together to make it a happy relationship.”

Read more about urban biking in our GOOD Guide to Biking for the Planet.

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