Bicycle riders frequently make some simple errors on the road. These are quite common and not really their fault as they have never been provided with the information that they need to understand these errors. Hopefully this blog helps!
In most cases people simply follow what they see other people doing. Up until 5 years ago when I took a Can-Bike course (and subsequently became an instructor) I made many of these errors too. Here are 7 errors that I see people on bicycles make all the time and how they can be corrected. (in no specific order)
1. Riding too close to the curb
This may be the most frequent error made. The Highway Traffic Act indicates that when you are riding a bike you are to be as close as “practicable” to the edge of the road, not as close as possible. Firstly riding in the gutter means that you need to either ride through or avoid all the debris, potholes, manhole covers etc that litter the edge of the road. In order to avoid these you need to shift your position to the left which means moving frequently and often unpredictably into the flow of traffic.
Instead what Can-Bike recommends is that you ride a minimum of 1 meter from the edge. Riding a meter away allows you to maintain a straight line while avoiding the vast majority of the hazards along the edge. If you do have to avoid a hazard there is a good chance you can move to your right, away from the adjacent traffic flow to avoid it. By taking a bit more space you also become more visible to other road users and encourage drivers to move over in order to pass by you.
In some cases riding a meter from the edge is not sufficient. Remember that a safe position on the road depends on traffic volume, speed, lane widths, weather, and even a cyclist’s skill level. Poor road conditions or big puddles can force you to move even further to the left. In some cases it is safer to move to the centre of the lane. Examples of situations where this is a safer choice would be construction zones, bridges/underpasses with no bike lane, or even very narrow lane widths.
2. Not shoulder checking
It is always a good idea to check over your shoulder to get a sense of traffic flow behind you, but it is absolutely essential before changing positions on the road. Before ever considering a change of position you should always shoulder check first. Many bicycle riders will weave out around parked cars without even checking because they assume that the zone adjacent to the parked car is safe. It isn’t! Riding too close to parked cars (in the door zone) is extremely dangerous as a suddenly opened door can not only cause serious injury, but can also knock you into the adjacent traffic flow. You should pass parked cars outside the door zone (1.5 meters) and to do this safely you need to shoulder check and signal so drivers behind you know what you are planning and that you need more space. Even if they don’t understand why you need the space, you do.
Always shoulder check first before signalling so you don’t get a nasty surprise like a car mirror hitting your outstretched hand. If the lane is clear you can signal and then before making your final position change, shoulder check one more time. Remember the mere action of shoulder checking will draw the attention of approaching drivers and often cause them to slow down.
3. Maintain a straight line
The previous item leads us to another common mistake, weaving in and out of traffic or parked cars. It is important to maintain a straight line as much as possible and remain in the motorist’s field of vision. If you wind your way in and out from between parked vehicles you will disappear and then reappear constantly. This is not only unpredictable behaviour, but makes you at times invisible to drivers.
The key is to remain in the drivers field of vision and to do this you must stay out where you can be seen at all times. If the distance between the parked vehicles seems overly large you can always move slightly to the right and allow traffic to flow past you and then renegotiate your position a bit further out as you approach the next parked vehicle. This way you are always visible and with appropriate shoulder checks and signals, you are predictable as well.
4. Communication (signal)
Very few people use appropriate hand signals and in some cases they are not even sure of the correct signals to use. Signalling is one of the most important things that you can do to ensure your safety. You will find that letting other road users know what you are doing and where you want to go will also glean you respect and cooperation.
The signals are simple, but there are a few things that you can do to enhance their effectiveness. Firstly make them clear! Don’t just put your arm part way out to signal a turn, extend it fully. If you are stopping don’t just hang your arm by your side, extend it and make a clear right angle with your elbow. Another thing that helps to enhance your communication is pointing your finger (be careful which one you use). This is especially useful when moving over in a lane or just to the next adjacent lane. Point your finger at exactly where you intend to move and you will make your intentions clear to drivers.
Remember when signalling to shoulder check first, then signal and then check one more time before you move over.
5. foot on the curb at intersections
If you put yourself in the position of being right next to the curb when stopped at an intersection you will now have to start up with tonnes of steel right beside you. Since we all wobble a bit when we start up and also considering that the car adjacent to you might just turn to the right in front of you at the intersection, it would seem wise to avoid this position.
As you approach the intersection, shoulder check to see the traffic situation behind you and if clear, signal and move to a position in the centre of the lane. This way you are more visible to both the car in front and behind you.
When the traffic begins to move you can start up without worry of those tonnes of steel beside you and when you are through the intersection you can return to your position “as close as practicable to the right.”
6. Passing on the right
It’s simple, passing is always done on the left! When you pass motorists on the right (unless you are in a bike lane) you are putting yourself in a dangerous position. You will also frustrate the drivers that just passed you and are now forced to pass you again. The last thing you need is a frustrated driver passing you!
As indicated above, when you are approaching an intersection always reposition yourself to the centre of the lane. If you arrive first, take the lane and hold it until you can continue. If you arrive after, take a position directly behind the vehicle in front of you. Don’t want to breath in exhaust, simple, stay further back. Long line of traffic to wait for, easy, pass on the left with the traffic that is moving quicker. You could also get off your bike and become a pedestrian for a short period or if you know this is part of your every day commute, find a better route.
In a bike lane you can pass on the right since you have your dedicated lane, however be cautious at intersections where motor vehicles might be crossing over into the bike lane to turn. While you are at it, watch carefully for parked cars pulling out or cars to your left moving into the bike lane to park.
7. Riding on sidewalk
When people understand the risks of sidewalk riding, they don’t do it. It is however a very common occurrence. Sidewalks are for walking, it is in the name. Riding on sidewalks is also illegal. They also represent the most dangerous place to ride, especially at intersections. Most car-bike accidents happen at intersection and the majority of these are a result of people riding on sidewalks. Let’s not forget that every back lane, driveway, etc represents an intersection and that these intersections are not controlled.
With no stop sign, and in many cases limited visibility, drivers will pull directly into the path of a fast moving bike before they have had a chance to even notice them. And it is really not always their fault as they do not expect something moving with speed on a sidewalk. The simple solution is not to ride on sidewalks, however it is clear that many cyclists still feel safer on the sidewalk. Consider that the statistics put you at more risk and if that is not enough to keep you from using the sidewalk, ride slow (at pedestrian speed) and take extra caution at all intersections.
These tips can keep you safer on the road, but you need to practice them.
Having done numerous cycling skills courses it has always amazed me how just giving people the information that they need does not change their habits. In order to change habits you have to consciously practice the new ones. If you can find a bicycle skills course, take it. You will find that it will help to build not only your knowledge, but also your confidence. Another option is to ride with an experienced friend, however keep in mind the tips provided above, as your friend may not know them either.