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The Written and Unwritten Rules of Commuter Cycling Etiquette

Cities have seen a huge influx of bikers over the past year. With more people anxious about riding in close quarters on public transportation, bikes are a new wave suitable for many. This barebones form of commuting to work is only growing, which means more and more riders on the road.

Biking is a wonderful way of getting around for many reasons with tremendous health and environmental benefits. However, safety is often overlooked and is something we should all be aware of the next time we pedal in the city. Today, we cover the written and unwritten rules of biking in the city.

Protect Your Head

This is probably the most important unspoken rule, but it goes without saying (and with saying) that you should always wear a helmet when riding (even on the shortest trip).  Helmets are known to significantly reduce the risk of serious head injury. A few key things to remember: Make sure the helmet fits properly. It’s not going to do its job if it isn’t the right fit. Also, make sure you are wearing it correctly. We’ve seen the whole gamut - from riders wearing a helmet that isn’t buckled, to wearing it too far back on their head, to even wearing it backward!

Be Seen and Be Heard

Riding during the day is one thing, but you should always be prepared when riding at night and/or in limited visibility conditions. We don’t all have night vision, so making yourself visible to others (including cars) will help to keep you safe. Make sure you have active lighting attached to the front (white light) and back (red light) of your bike. Most states require a white light attached to the front of the bike, and a red rear light is typically recommended but not required by law. Pro tip: there are many new technologies using hi-visibility clothing and reflective stickers for your helmet.

Bells are also another way to make yourself predictable and heard. Riding through the city streets can be quite noisy at times, with horns beeping and sirens blaring. When interacting with other riders or cars, a bell is the universal signal to be heard. In fact, some states require cyclists to have a bell and lights, or else you’ll be ticketed.

Bike Bell

Riding With Pedestrians

Pedestrians will always come first! Even if you’re on a bike, you should always be mindful of the rules of the road. Even a beginner cyclist can reach a speed of 10 MPH with ease, which means that a collision at that speed with a pedestrian could cause serious injuries to both parties. Take it easy when you ride, and keep in mind that pedestrians aren’t always paying attention. When you ride through the city, keep pedestrians in mind at all times.

Be Predictable

Try your best to avoid sporadic behavior while riding your bike in the city. It’s a dense area with almost no room for error. Be predictable by maintaining steady speeds and turning with hand signals. Check all of your surroundings when turning and avoid sharp cuts. Gradually brake and accelerate rather than making jumpy movements, so people have time to adjust to your biking style. Anticipation between you and others in the city alone is an unwritten rule. We can’t possibly anticipate hundreds of people’s actions every second of riding, but try to make yourself predictable as much as possible.

Bike Lanes

Whenever you have the opportunity to use a bike lane, use it. Yes, sometimes bike lanes are blocked off by parked cars or bold pedestrians, but it’s still the intended lane for you to use. Bikers also have rightful access to the general travel lane. When there are obstructions in the bike lane, safely switch over to the general travel lane using predictable movements. When you shift back to the bike lane, stay close to the curb to keep your distance from moving vehicles.

Bike Lane

Red Light Etiquette

Biking with red light etiquette is similar to driving in a car. Make a full stop at red lights and wait until it turns green before you go again. In some states, you can treat the red light like a stop sign if no cars are around. However, make sure to check your local laws on the matter, but it’s always best to simply stop at red lights. Blowing through a red light during your commute is one of the most dangerous things you can do.

Car Doors

Car doors are an unwritten rule for both drivers and bikers in the city. It happens so much that the term “dooring” was coined. Realistically, people getting out of their car should definitely check both sides before opening their door. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen this way. Dooring could result in a nasty spill if you aren’t careful.

Effects of a dooring accident range from a damaged bike to serious injury or even death (it’s happened before). When you see parked cars, glance over and try to check if anyone is inside. Be even more cautious when you see a taxi, Uber, or Lyft where people are likely to jump out of the car. You should still always steer clear of the door zone just to be sure.

Turning Drivers

Getting hit by a turning driver can be even more dangerous than getting doored. As you ride up to an intersection, remember that drivers are nowhere near perfect when they turn! As you take a turn, stay alert of other drivers also taking turns in the same direction, especially those taking tighter turns. If you’re behind a car, watch for brake lights and turn signals. Additionally, check for those taxis and Ubers zipping around corners because their eyes might just be on sidewalks instead of on bikers.

Use Eye Contact

The power of eye contact doesn’t just apply to conversation skills. Eye contact confirms that you have the attention of other drivers and pedestrians around you. Look for eye contact before you make a turn or cross the street. It’s much easier to pick up a head nod or a hand signal indicating that another person is yielding. Eye contact is your friend and makes you that much more predictable on a bike to others.

Passing Other Riders

Of course, there will be other cyclists in the city going through similar city struggles as yourself. Before you pass another rider, use your voice while you’re behind them. A simple phrase such as, “On your left/right” before passing mitigates any surprises. Pass them decisively, and pass when it’s under safe circumstances. Find a time to pass where there aren’t any obstructions in the bike lane and during a straightaway. Most riders have no problem letting you go around them.

Bike Lane

Riding On The Sidewalk

Riding on the sidewalk is probably one of the most common rules of biking in the city. The sidewalk is only for pedestrians and not for bicycles. Riding on a sidewalk is dangerous for several reasons. It’s crowded with pedestrians walking, stopping, and turning. Not to mention, they aren’t always paying full attention. Pedestrians aren’t prepared for a bike flying by, and they typically aren’t checking behind them. 

Locking Your Bike

Don’t attach your bicycle to anything that isn’t secure. The tree over there that looks like the perfect parking spot? Too bad it’s not. The tree can easily be chopped to steal your bike, let alone it isn’t nice for the precious tree!  Road signs aren’t a bad place to lock up your bike if there aren't any racks around and you’re not obstructing the sign, but make sure you’re locking the bike on the side facing away from the road. Sometimes cars race to parking spots and may accidentally swipe into your bike.

Where Not To Park Your Bike

Are you blocking anything or anybody? These are a couple of questions you should ask yourself. Be mindful of handicap ramps with railings and avoid the main road for parking. If you find a bike rack, keep etiquette in mind. Are you taking up more than a single spot in the rack? Did you cram your bike in the rack and are now accidentally locked to another bike? Just a few questions that should cross your mind before parking.

It’s Not A Race

We know how hectic the city can be. Cities are unpredictable and often cause us to leave earlier for work than we all want to. There are all kinds of hazards such as potholes, debris, and car doors opening when you ride. Even if you’re running late on your commute, avoid the race mentality. Higher speeds mean less reaction time. Remember that during those chaotic commuting hours, everyone has somewhere to be. People and drivers are also rushing, so make sure to keep your safety bubble at all times. And most importantly, strap on your helmet and enjoy the ride!

Have Fun


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