If you’ve started cycling to become a stronger runner, you’ve probably discovered the rules of the road are often confusing, misunderstood, and, sadly, ignored.
It isn’t out of spite — it’s usually just lack of knowledge. However, when cyclists don’t follow the laws, they don’t just put themselves at risk, they give a bad name to other cyclists.
You know how people are always bitchin’ about how cyclists think they own the road? This is what I’m talking about.
But most cyclists aren’t reckless asshats — and yet that stereotype about cyclists is prevalent in almost every community.
To help clear the air, I’ve invited Laura, badass triathlete from one of my favorite sites, Frayed Laces, to help me put together a primer on what you should know before you hit the road, whether on your own or in a group.
5 guidelines for safe cycling
Before you head out for your first ride, it’s important that you know some of the rules of the road. These rules aren’t here to limit you; they’re here to keep you safe. Yes, cycling on the road can be risky, but the majority of accidents happen from unsafe riding. Follow these five guidelines to keep yourself as safe as possible:
1. If you’re riding on the road, behave like a car.
Perhaps the main reason why there is so much animosity between drivers and cyclists is that many cyclists take liberties with their bicycle, ignoring traffic lights and switching between the road and crosswalks. This is dangerous and stupid.
Yes, cyclists have a right to the road, but most laws state that cyclists must follow all the rules that apply to cars. This means riding with the direction of traffic, stopping at all stop signs and lights, and yielding to pedestrians.
2. Know how to properly pass and be passed.
If you’re riding on a popular bike route, always stay as far to the right as safely possible. That way, faster cyclists have room to pass you. If you need to pass someone, pull up behind them and loudly state “on your left.” Wait for the cyclist to pull to the right to allow you to pass by them. And always, always, respond with a “thank you.” Despite what you may hear, most cyclists are nice people and appreciate a thanks.
3. Know how to ride when there’s no bike lane.
When first starting out, most cyclists prefer the safety of routes with a bike lane. But as you get more experienced, venture out onto the roadways and don’t be afraid to explore the beauty around you! Most states have laws that require motorists to give at least 3 feet width when passing. While on the road, maintain as straight a line as possible and avoid swerving around objects. Be predictable so cars know what to expect, and stay as far to the right as safely possible. If there’s a lot of debris or holes near the shoulder, don’t be afraid to ride inside the road, but again, just maintain a straight line.
Know your rights as a cyclist. You are entitled to claim an entire lane of traffic if necessary, and in some cases, it’s recommended. If you’re riding across a bridge, through a tunnel, or along a narrow road, claim the entire lane. It’s much safer for cars to wait behind you then to try to unsafely pass by you when there’s not enough width to the road. Accept the fact that you will get honked at several times on each ride. Resist the urge to return the favor with a one-finger salute.
4. Be visible.
Despite what you hear, cyclists do not wear loudly colored Spandex to make a fashion statement. We wear it because people notice it. When people (motorists) notice it, they notice us. Being more visible is the single most important thing all cyclists can do.
So rock those brightly colored jerseys with pride! If you’re riding any time close to sunrise or sunset, light your bike up like a Christmas tree. Not sure if you have enough lights on your bike? Add more. Once the neighbors complain, you know you have enough.
5. Always, always, perform safety checks on your bike.
Before every ride, perform a standard 2-minute safety check: check your quick releases (the skewers that hold your tires in place), your brakes, and your headset. Gently drop your bike vertically and listen for any loose parts. If you aren’t sure what to listen for, ask your local bike shop to show you. One safety check is all that separates a good ride from a ride ending with facial reconstructive surgery.
4 keys for riding with a group
A lot of new riders are intimidated by the thought of riding with a group. Don’t be! Yes, there are a few things you need to know before you jump into the peloton, but riding with a group is a great way to improve your knowledge, strength, endurance, and cycling skills.
Though riding in a group can increase visibility (and therefore safety), if a rider doesn’t know the group etiquette, it can yield disastrous results for everyone involved! Here are some tips to help you jump into your first group ride safely (and without making a fool of yourself).
1. Let the group know you’re a beginner.
If you admit you’re a newbie, the group will appreciate your honesty and instruct you on group rules. Listen to the experienced cyclists and take note of what they do in a ride. Don’t be intimidated: remember everyone was a beginner once!
2. If you’re not confident in your bike handling skills, stick to the back of the group.
Typically groups structure themselves according to skill and ability level, with the more advanced riders in the front. If you’re unsure of where you fall, start off at the back.
3. Draft as close as you’re comfortable.
In group rides, drafting, or tucking behind a rider to reduce air resistance, is common. Cyclists will ride close together and take turns “pulling,” or leading the pack, while the rest of the group drafts closely off each other’s wheels. Get only as close as you’re comfortable with: there is no pressure or expectation to get close to someone else’s wheel.
4. Know what to do when it’s time to pull.
In group rides, a paceline forms, where each cyclist will “pull” for a certain amount of time at the front of the pack, veer to the side and let the rest of the group go past, then rejoin the back of the pack (envision reverse leap-frogging). When it’s your turn to pull, resist the urge to surge. Keep the cadence and effort relatively the same so the group maintains the same speed. Stay at the front as long or as little as you’d like, then rejoin the group at the rear.
The most important rule of group riding: Communicate!
When in a group, it’s important to communicate as much as possible. Safety is always the first priority! The most important thing to communicate is road hazards such as obstacles, cars, road debris, etc. Most cyclists use a range of hand signals to communicate during group rides.
Below, Susan demonstrates the most common hand signals used in group rides. If you see a rider in front of you use one of these signals, copy him or her so the message is relayed down the line and all members of the group are aware.
Turn Left: The rider points left. (Always look behind you before turning left, especially if you are merging into traffic before turning!)
Turn Right: The rider points right. (Again, do a quick check behind you to make sure no one is on your wheel.)
Get on My Wheel: If the rider wants you to draft, he or she will pat her butt to indicate which side you should draft.
Road Hazard: If there is an obstacle you should avoid, like a pothole or a rock, the rider will point down on the side the hazard is located.
Loose Gravel: If a rider points his open hand, palm down, and shakes it, that means you are about to ride through loose gravel. Proceed carefully.
Move Over: Though cyclists are told to ride with traffic, runners are safest when they run against traffic if they must run on the road. If you encounter a runner, gesture to your fellow riders to move over so they can avoid colliding with the runner.
Hazard Above: If low-hanging tree branches are ahead, the rider will point to the sky to indicate you need to move or duck.
Railroad Tracks, Speed Bumps: For hazards that run the length of the road, like railroad tracks or speed bumps, the rider will point a finger downward and sweep his arm back and forth across the butt.
Stop: When the pack needs to slow down in anticipation of a stop, place your hand, palm turned out, on the small of your back.
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