Four Articles that will help you prepare for commuting on bike


Skip to....Choosing a Route  -  Saddle up and Ride  -  Predictability

Tips for Riding in Traffic

Understanding traffic movement, where and why accidents occur, is the key to handling traffic on a bicycle If all road users obeyed all traffic laws, and developed better common sense, there would be fewer accidents.

However, we are not born with common sense, it must be developed. There are five principles of traffic movement which will develop your road (common) sense:

  1. Drive on the right hand side of the road
  2. Yield to traffic on greater roads.
  3. Yield to new lane traffic.
  4. Position yourself on the road, by planning for your destination.
  5. Position yourself by your speed. (take the lane when you are going as fast as traffic, move to the right when you are slower than traffic.)

To avoid accidents, cyclists must be alert to the ever changing conditions of the roadway. Cyclists must be aware of the effect that their actions may have on other road users. To minimize the risks of cycling in traffic, cyclists should understand where most accidents occur, and what they can do to prevent them.

Most accidents, with cars, occur at intersections. If cyclists follow what is outlined above, they will probably not cause a bike/car accident. The following are the three most common motorist caused accidents. The key to minimizing risks is to understand what they are.

  1. Motorist, traveling in an opposite direction, turns left in front of cyclist.
  2. Motorist pulls out from a side street.
  3. Motorist overtakes cyclist and turns right, immediately in front of cyclist.

Why do motorists do this? Most say" I didn't see the cyclist." Maybe that's true!

To prevent the first two types of accidents, cyclists need to be more visible.

Tips: Wear bright colors. White is still the best.

  • Use illumination. Since most accidents occur in front of the cycle, the brighter the light, the better.
  • Ride further out from the curb.
  • If you have been riding on the right hand side of the shoulder line, move to the left hand side, when safe well before intersections.
  • When traffic is moving do not overtake on the right.
  • Wait for intersections to clear before entering.

To prevent the third accident type, (overtaking right hand turning car),in addition to the above:

Tips: Shoulder check to determine location and speed of traffic behind you.

  • Use reflective materials and reflectors.
  • Learn to recognize, and therefore avoid situations which may cause you to swerve into traffic. A parked car driver's door opening, and road debris are two common causes.
  • Other ways to Ride Better in Traffic and reduce the risk of accidents. Keep your head up.
  • Inflate your tires to the rated maximum to prevent flats, lessen rolling resistance, and maximize handling.
  • In narrow lanes or roads, 'take the lane' and force motorists to pass you in another lane. Hugging the curb encourages motorists to make poor decisions about how much room is available to pass. Shoulder check frequently to let the motorist know you have seen them. If traffic builds up, and the narrow road continues for some length, pull off, and let motorists pass safely.
  • Don't do track stands at stop lights. The unsteady weaving makes other road users nervous.
  • At controlled intersections, don't jump queue to front of the line, then hold up traffic when it begins moving. Instead, stay back from the intersection, when the lights change, merge safely with traffic as the third or forth vehicle.
  • How far you ride to the right should be determined by you. On most Vancouver streets, if you can put your foot on the curb, you're probably riding too far to the right. This encourages right turning motorists to cut you off.
  • Don't ride through puddles. They hide debris and pot holes
  • Pull over to let emergency vehicles pass and then be on guard for road users who are watching the red flashing lights instead of where they're going.
  • Although it has been mentioned that cyclists should ride lawfully, it is important to stress:
  • do not ride on sidewalks, and do not ride on the wrong side of the road.
  • Ride predictably, do not weave in and out of traffic.
  • Make sure your bike is well maintained, everything properly adjusted, and safe to ride. It should not creak, rattle or groan, and should stop faster than a car. Remember, your bicycle is not a toy, it is a vehicle.
  • Avoid cyclists who exhibit erratic and bad behavior(i.e. curb jumpers, block roads, etc.)
  • Remember, if this is your daily commute, the same people are on the roadway with you everyday. Use this to help build mutual respect and tolerance.

How to become a better Cyclist

  • Ride with an experienced rider. Canbike graduates have had training in detection, avoidance, and emergency maneuvers. Take a Canbike course. These are adult oriented bicycling skills courses developed by the CCA and available through Cycling BC.
  • Read 'Effective Cycling' by John Forester, (MIT Press). Available from libraries, or book stores.
  • Join a bike club. Ride lots. The more you ride, the better you will become.


Choosing a Route

When choosing a route to commute to work there are plenty of variables to CONSIDER: Your skills, your body and your bike Traffic Speed and Volume; Available light; Road Conditions; Weather; Neighbourhood and Emergency Plans.

You may choose to have a repertoire of routes to match your different types of days. Get a street map and check with your City Hall to see if there is a Bike Route Map for your area. Pre-ride a few routes on the weekend. Time yourself and check the surroundings while you consider the following:

Your skills can always be improved. When you ride lots, ride with better cyclists or take a CANBIKE course, you’ll gain the skills and confidence to ride the busiest of roads.

Who hasn’t had a bad day at work, strained mentally or physically? Perhaps a nice quiet route away from traffic noise is just the thing to unwind. Don’t ride if you are too stressed or tired. Your body, how you feel, mentally and physically, can change daily. Remember, no matter what your route, you still have to concentrate on your riding. Treat your body right with good food.

If you keep your bike in good well maintained, it will perform consistently from day to day. It is always, slowly, wearing out though, so you have to take care of it by renewing and adjusting parts that wear. You may wish to choose your route by how reliable your bike is.

Road bikes have a distinct advantage when you have far to go and the route is all paved. Mountain bikes and Hybrids (which are a part Road and part Mountain bike) have been a boon to cycle commuting. Now you can choose a route which cuts through urban forests and paths.

If you leave the house at about the same time every work day, traffic speed or volume won’t change much. Get to know the areas where motorists perform their most risky driving. (usually at intersections)

If you ride only during day light, your route may always be the same. However, during low light conditions, you may wish to find a route that has better sight lines for you and motorists. Front and rear lights, required by law, and a good dose of reflective material, can make your ride a pleasant and safe one.

Road conditions change with the weather and road maintenance schedules. Puddles of rain can hide rough roads. When the rain goes away, slippery sand can remain in corners. Be careful around road maintenance projects too, there are often multiple levels of pavement which can redirect your front wheel.

You have to admit, during heavy rain it is tough to see out of a car window. Consider driver visibility when you are planning your rainy day route. You can find shelter from wind on roads with big trees or buildings.

Perhaps the most direct route to work passes through a disreputable area or through an area far from help if you need it. If you can’t avoid the area, you may wish to carry a cell phone or ride with a buddy.

Keep these all in mind. Good Luck Planning.


Saddle up and ride

You weren’t born with a bike saddle between your legs but that doesn’t mean it has to feel un-natural. You weren’t born with shoes on either. Saddles, like shoes get better with use and your butt, like your feet, gets used to having something there. Saddles have to fit your body or else you don’t sit a chance of getting used to it. I like the shoe/saddle analogy because the same types of materials are used for the same reasons. The many designs of saddles can lead to sensory overload. When buying a bike, or when wondering why you are not comfortable on your current bike, consider the saddle as an option, not standard equipment. Use your knowledge of shoe purchases the same way you would for saddles. Leather takes a while to break in but, when it is broken in, can become your best friend. Do you need extra padding or will a Spartan design suit you. If you have tried orthotics you know the benefit of anatomically correct products. There are many saddles designed to relieve common sore spots. It shouldn’t be news to you that men and woman are different. Many manufacturers design with this in mind. It also shouldn’t be a surprise that the human shape has a seemingly infinite amount of variety between manly man and womanly woman. Some woman prefer the hard narrow saddles which were designed without one thought towards a woman's comfort. Some men prefer the softer, wider saddles, with pressure relieving cutouts at the front, which were designed for woman. I suppose I should mention bicycle seats are also available. Bike seats are made to be sat on, with your back straight up. They are broad at the back, usually short in length and spring loaded. Saddles, on the other hand, are made to be straddled, they do not offer a lot of cushioning, support or shock absorption. The intent of a saddle is to make it easy to pedal when your body is tilted forward. Shock absorption is meant to be handled by the knees which means, over rough terrain, you lift your butt up or, at least, ease the pressure on your saddle. To take full advantage of a bike saddle it must be positioned properly for your body. There are three adjustments to position a saddle properly. Saddle height. The most common error of novice cyclists is to have their saddle to low. Position the saddle to get full use of your leg muscles but not so high that there is no bend at the knee. Your hips shouldn’t rock either. Fore and Aft. The rails underneath your seat allow it slide about two inches, forward or backward. This adjustment is used to position your knees. Don’t overlook this adjustment, knee pain can be the result. Position your foot on the pedal so the knuckle, of your foot, is over the spindle of the pedal. Now rotate the pedal so your foot is half way between the highest and lowest point of the pedal stroke. You will now have one foot in front of the other. The back of the knee, or roughly, the dimple at the side of the knee cap, on the forward foot, should be directly above your foot knuckle. The last adjustment is tilt. Up and Down. Start with your saddle level. If, after a ride, you are experiencing numbness, tilt the saddle down. If this adjustment leads to numb hands, you’ve tilted to far down (assuming your handle bars are in the right place). Saddle adjustments are too difficult to do properly by yourself. Its hard to tell if your hips are rocking or how extended your leg is or where your knee is in relation to your pedals. Have a knowledgeable friend help or go to your trusty local bike store. You can save yourself a lot of mental and physical aggravation by building a trusting relationship with your local bike shop.

Experiments you can try at home to understand saddle adjustments:

  1. Fore and Aft. (Knee Position) Sitting on the couch, or a chair, position the dimple of your knee over the knuckle of your foot. Try to stand straight up without rocking forward. Now move your foot one inch further away. Try again. That extra effort was required because you weren’t regarding the physical nature of your knee and its optimum place for strength. Your knees will thank you.

  2. Saddle height. To simulate the nature of a bike saddle, sit on a rolling pin. Slowly stand up until you no longer feel the rolling pin. This is a low saddle. Add a couple of phone books to your chair, again place the rolling pin on top and sit on it. This time, when you raise your self up, less effort is required to reach the moment when you don’t feel the rolling pin. A proper saddle height allows you to raise your butt off the saddle, at a moments notice, without much effort. Your butt will thank you.

  3. Sorry, I couldn’t think of a non life threatening experiment to illustrate how to avoid genital numbness. Please take my word for it, saddle tilt is important.


Predictability - Traffic Assumptions and Assessing Risks

There are 3 mental skills needed to get through traffic safely: 1) being predictable; 2) making the correct traffic assumptions and; 3) assessing risks. 1) Be predictable by obeying traffic principles, laws and signage. Communication between road users is a necessity of coexistence and being predictable is an abstract form of communication. By being predictable you are communicating to other road user users, if they have observed you, that they can make assumptions about your intended line of travel. Open communication by making it easy for road users to see you. Other road users must, first, be able to detect you, second, recognize what you are, and third, take appropriate action. To ensure the criteria of the first two are met, wear bright colours, use lights and reflectors, use road positions that aid visibility. The third, appropriate action, will be based on traffic assumptions. 2) Traffic assumptions are based on observation, knowledge and experience. Observe traffic patterns in every direction, near and far. Knowing the five principles of traffic movement (see below), and knowing where accidents occur most often, will lead to a better understanding of traffic. Experiences, good or bad, can heavily influence our traffic assumptions. Turn bad experiences into learning experiences to make good traffic assumptions and help in assessing risks. 3) Assessing risks is a personal value system for deciding if action, or no action, is required. The deciding point balances safety, confidence of traffic assumptions and available options. If your personal safety is not at risk, you may wish to assess if anyone’s’ safety is at risk. In traffic, courtesy options may present themselves which allow you let others merge, diverge or cross traffic safely. Exercising these options wisely is how we all manage to get from one place to the next. All the above considered, traffic flow becomes a matter of considering safety and courtesy based on knowledge and experience. It is easy to see how valuable predictability is in this decision making process. Build knowledge and experience by riding lots and reading ‘Effective Cycling’ by John Forester, take a CANBIKE course and visit the Education page on the Cycling BC website.

The 5 traffic principles: Ride on the right; Yield to traffic on greater roads; Yield to traffic in the lane you want to go to; Position yourself in the lane according to your destination; Position yourself according to your speed, slower traffic on the right.

Causes of accidents: Most bike accidents do not involve cars; car/bike collisions are mostly caused by cyclists ignoring laws, signs and the five traffic principles, acting unpredictably; most collisions happen at intersections, driveways are intersections; most motorist caused accidents are in front of the cyclist and caused by: 1) motorist approaching from opposite direction, turns in front of cyclist. 2) motorist at cross street restarts from stop. 3) motorist overtakes and cuts off cyclist. Strategies to deal with these types of accidents deal mostly with enhancing visibility.


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