In which Fred learns about left turns.
Last time we talked about lane position - that is,
exactly where to ride on the road - but only when we were going
straight. This time let's see how to make a turn. Especially a left
Hey, I've been thinking about this one. I think I've
got it figured out.
Oh? What did you figure out, Fred?
I figure I'm not going to make any left turns!
They're too dangerous.
Hmmm. You'll have to pick your routes pretty
carefully. What if you need to make a left turn to get back home?
I'll just make three right turns! Heck, you
should've figured that one out.
Well, I guess that would work, if you...
You bet it'd work! Look, first you make a right
turn, then you make another right turn so you're going back the way
you came from, then...
I get it, Fred, I get it. But isn't everybody else
going to be way ahead of you by the time you ride around the block?
Hey, you wouldn't ride off and leave me, would you,
No, Fred, I wouldn't ride off and leave you. But
just the same, you do need to learn to make a good left turn. It's
not so hard, honest.
Well, maybe if no cars are coming...
OK, let's say no cars are coming. How would you turn
What do you mean? I'd turn left, that's all!
Well, you might be in trouble. Remember last month?
Where were we riding?
On the right side of the road. I remember.
So we can't just swoop over into a left turn. Think
about this: Your lane position should tell everybody what you're
going to do. If you're on the right, a driver or another cyclist
will expect you to go straight, or maybe turn right. If you zoom
over into a left turn, you're liable to get creamed!
So I should signal first, or what?
Yes, a signal is part of it, but you still don't
turn left from the right side of the road. Before you turn left, you
should move over toward the left.
You mean ride on the left side of the road? I
thought I wasn't supposed to do that.
Oh no! You're not supposed to do that!
Never! Instead, you need to get over close to the center line, but
still on the right side of the road. This will tell everybody that
you're getting ready to turn.
Yeah, if "everybody" doesn't run me over.
You sure this isn't dangerous?
Trust me. Of course, you don't do it if a car's
bearing down on you. Look, here it is, step by step: 1) Check for
cars behind you. 2) Signal a left turn. 3) When there's room, move
over next to the center line. Do all that before you turn, so you're
at the center line for - oh, maybe 20 or 30 yards. Then, 4) once
you're at the road, turn left. Assuming it's clear, that is.
Oh yeah, you make it sound easy. There could be cars
coming, you know.
That's true, Fred. OK, if cars are coming up behind
you, don't move left until there's room, and if cars are coming
toward you, you don't turn left until there's room.
Yeah, but say I moved left, and there I am in the
middle of the road, and cars are coming toward me, so I can't turn,
and here comes a car behind me. I'm going to get killed!
It sounds scary, but it's not so bad. Drivers will
see you. They'll either wait for you to turn, or go around on your
right. I do that all the time. It really works.
Now, if there's lots of traffic, it takes more
skill. For example, if you can't get a clear space to move left, you
may have to signal left while you look over your shoulder, till a
kind soul lets you merge left. Just start the whole process a bit
And if you're riding a four-lane, you've got to
merge left a lane at a time. Actually, first you merge to the left
side of your lane, then merge into the right side of the center
lane, then merge over close to the center line. It's another
step-by-step thing. Each time, make sure any cars behind you are
But most of the time, we ride on roads that don't
have quite so much traffic. And on those, it's as easy as one, two,
three ... four. Like I said, step by step.
Are you sure there isn't an easier way?
I don't want you to do anything you're not ready
for, Fred. There is an easier way, if you need it, and there
are times that all of us need it.
If there's too much traffic for you to make a left
turn, just ride straight through the intersection, and stop on the right,
at the far curb. Now you can turn your bike as you stand there, and
now you're part of the traffic on the cross street. When it's safe
and legal, you go on your way, riding on the right side of that
But most of the time, on most roads, you accept your
right to the road. You make a good left turn like any other vehicle
does. Remember, a bicycle is a vehicle. Just practice in light
traffic, and take it step by step.
I think the ability to make a good left turn is the
badge of a skilled cyclist. Especially once you can do it in
traffic. It's worth learning.
Let's see: Step one was to check for cars behind me,
step two was...
And remember to stay vertical, Fred.
- © Frank Krygowski