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Road Vogue

A Guide to Classy Bicycling

By Wayne Pein, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Riding a bicycle is a great way to get around, fabulous exercise, and flat out fun. Bicycling helps keep you young, or at least young at heart! You can save money, parking hassle, and sometimes even time by not driving. A bicycle is inexpensive to purchase and maintain, and is the environmentalist's dream machine. You might even have a world changing idea while pounding the pedals!

How are all the best bicyclists riding nowadays? Be chic by knowing these Spoke 'n' Words. It ain't rocket science!

A. Bicycles are Legal Vehicles.

20-4.01 (49) of the North Carolina traffic code states: "...for the purposes of this Chapter bicycles shall be deemed vehicles and every rider of a bicycle upon a highway shall be subject to the provisions of this Chapter applicable to the driver of a vehicle except those which by their nature can have no application."

The traffic codes of other states are similar. In every state, a bicycle is either classified as a vehicle or the operator is given "all the rights and responsibilities" (exact words vary) of an operator of a vehicle. See Bicycling Laws of the United States to find your state's code.

Same Roads. Same Rights. Same Rules. Bikes Belong, so ride like it. But, with rights come responsibilities. Obey all laws, signs, and signals. Two wheels or four, the law is the law. And it's a lot safer following traffic rules than not.

B. Go With the Flow. Ride Right with traffic, not facing traffic. Motorists often do not look for wrong way bicyclists, and correct riding bicyclists are put into danger by wrong way riders who are in the same path.
C. Skip the Sidewalk. Drivers typically pull out at driveways or intersections without first stopping prior to the sidewalk or crosswalk. Turning vehicles, pedestrians, visual and physical obstructions, and the narrowness of the sidewalk create other hazards. Don't ride on sidewalks, but if you do where not specifically illegal, ride slowly, alert pedestrians, and be prepared to yield at all junctions. There's a reason they are called "sideWALKS!"
D. Appealing Yielding. At intersections and driveways, yield to the traffic on the "bigger" road. Yield when changing lanes or before making any lateral move, shoulder checking (looking behind) until there is no close traffic. Communicate your intentions with hand signals.
E. Speed Sense. For ALL vehicles, slower traffic keeps to the right, but this does not mean bicycles should teeter on the edge. Hugging the edge of a narrow lane encourages motorists to try to squeeze by. Riding closer to motor traffic may seem counterintuitive, but it makes you more visible to drivers who are overtaking, oncoming, or pulling out of side streets and driveways. It helps prevent the "Left Cross" (see F. 1. ), the "Right Hook" (F. 2.), and gives you more room to maneuver. "Use the full lane" if you are moving near or at the speed limit, the lane is too narrow for safe overtaking, or if you are avoiding parked car doors or other road side hazards.
F. Intersection Intelligence. Approach intersections in the correct position for your destination. Turn left near the center line, right near the curb, and for straight thru in between these extremes. Follow lane markings; do not go straight in a right turn only lane. When turning, convey your intention with hand signals and proper positioning. When going straight, keep pedaling rather than coasting. It is not advisable to pass stopped motor vehicles on their right, but if you do, assume they will turn right even if not signaling.

1. Watch for the "Left Cross." Left turning motorists tend to look down the center of the lane for other motor vehicles, and are less likely to notice bicyclists who are close to the curb and smaller. Avoid this danger by being vigilant, and more visible by positioning yourself closer to, or even straight down, the middle of the lane. Keep from being visually screened by other motor vehicles.

2. Fend off the "Right Hook." Motorists sometimes overtake bicyclists only to wind up cutting them off when making a right turn. Guard against this type of danger by being further from the curb, forcing the driver to make a more sweeping turn. Expect the "right hook" to happen, and be able to "Instaturn" (G. 1.) if necessary.

3. Turning left. There are two ways to turn left: "vehicular" style and "2 Step" style. It should rarely be a necessity, but use a "2 Step" turn if traffic is too heavy for you to turn left like other vehicles. Go through the intersection, align yourself facing left, and proceed when clear or on the green if at a signal.

G. Know these Skills. Be able to ride a straight line, including while starting and stopping, riding very slowly, "shoulder checking" behind, and hand signaling. Though you should be able to avoid hazardous situations by planning ahead, learning how to "Instaturn," "Quick Dodge," and "Panic Stop" can provide emergency backup.

Instant.gif (1245 bytes)1. Instaturn. Use this to make an emergency right turn to avoid the "Left Cross," "Right Hook," or motorists not yielding when pulling out of driveways. To execute, briefly steer left first, which allows the bike to easily lean right, then enabling a sharp right turn.

2. Panic Stop. Emergency stop by shifting your weight back, straightening your arms, and using both brakes. If the rear skids, ease up on both brakes. Know the limits of your front wheel to avoid a dangerous front skid.

3. Quick Dodge. Watch out for road surface hazards: potholes, large rocks, gravel, bad drainage grates or other slots in the direction of travel, wet metal surfaces, and assorted debris. Avoid sudden unforeseen hazards such as potholes by turning left then right back quickly around the object. The rear wheel should also miss the threat. You may also "bunny hop" a hazard. If you must ride over something, rise off the saddle and use your legs like shock absorbers.

H. Be Smartly Outfitted. Injuries can occur because you and your bike are not properly equipped.

1. The Alright Bike. Ensure the bicycle is correctly fit for you, is in proper working order, and that you are competent with all operating controls.  Keep tires pumped to avoid "snake bite" flats, and carry a spare tube, pump, patch kit, tire levers, and a multi tool for the inevitable problem. It helps to have a basic knowledge of how to adjust brakes and gears. It's not quantum mechanics!

2. Be Visible at Night. Use front and rear lights and reflectors at night. Reflectors alone are not sufficient.  

North Carolina law 20-129. (e) states: "Every bicycle shall be equipped with a lighted lamp on the front thereof, visible under normal atmospheric conditions from a distance of at least 300 feet in front of such bicycle, and shall also be equipped with a reflex mirror or lamp on the rear, exhibiting a red light visible under like conditions from a distance of at least 200 feet to the rear of such bicycle, when used at night." All states require lights at night.  Most require white in front and red in back.

3. Be Seen During Daylight. Bright clothing catches people's attention during daylight. But the best way to be seen is to be in the scene, in drivers' line of sight. Ride as if you are HUGE.

4. Use Protective Clothing and Gear.  A helmet and glasses help protect irreparable parts of your body, and stiff-soled bicycling-specific footwear and padded shorts makes rides, especially longer ones, easier on your feet and bottom. Slathering sunscreen shields you from photons.

I. Help for Harassment. Should you find yourself the victim of other people's bitterness, ignorance, smallness or insecurities; remember, things could be worse. You could be them!

The best course of action when you're harassed is to first take a deep breath and calmly decide whether you were actually purposefully mistreated or whether your perceptions could have misled you.  Drivers may inadvertently do something that appears threatening and purposeful, but is simply a lack of awareness.

If indeed some braze-on dropout has derailleured you or otherwise been a pain in your bottom bracket, keep your headset, Quick Dodge your anger, memorize or write the offender's license plate number and as much detail about the situation, driver, and vehicle as possible, and file a report with the police.

You're doing other bicyclists a great service by reporting all incidents. The police look for trends. If license plate LUGNUT is reported by more than one bicyclist, the police will know.

J. Wheely Wise Words. Be cautious not timid; assertive not aggressive.  Don't ride in the gutter pan, near the extreme edge of the road, or on the sidewalk. Watch for road surface hazards such as potholes, sand and gravel, bad drainage grates or other slots in the direction of travel, wet metal and painted surfaces, and assorted debris and irregularities.  Inform your community's maintenance department. Ride confidently as a legal and lawful user of the roadways.

It is an important and legitimate technique for bicyclists to occasionally control overtaking motor vehicles by being farther out into or even taking the lane. It may seem dangerous or illegal to make a motorist slow for you, but it is not (provided, of course, the driver is given ample opportunity to react to your presence).

Getting passed by fast moving, large, and loud motor vehicles can be intimidating. However, getting hit from behind is NOT a likely collision, unless you ride at night with no rear lights and reflectors. Skilled bicyclists are almost never involved in an overtaking crash, or any other type crash for that matter. So don't fear a near non-existent problem or create new ones by fearful riding practices!



By Wayne Pein

Bicycle Laws of the United States

How to Ride in Boston Traffic



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