As bicyclists, we are responsible for following the rules of the road. Just as we stay abreast of the latest bike technologies and newest gear, we need to continually refresh our knowledge of riding on the road, practice our bike handling skills, and to always be courteous, even if we have been provoked. We hope this primer on the basics of riding safely and sharing the road will prove to be helpful and encourage you to learn more.
Check Your Behavior
Always be courteous, every time you ride. An arrogant and entitled attitude to their “right” to the road displayed by some cyclists is unacceptable, just as it is unacceptable for motorists. “Road rage” also has no place, even if you are provoked by a motorist, a pedestrian or another cyclist. First, you can’t win against a person in a motor vehicle. Second, you are an ambassador to motorists and pedestrians for the benefits of cycling—fun, fitness and a better environment. As cyclists, we have a shared responsibility to always be courteous while on and off our bicycles.
Check Your Bicycle and Your Equipment
Each time you ride, you should perform a check of your bike. Check the tire pressure and the brakes. Always dress appropriately and for safety by wearing clothes that makes you visible. Wear comfortable shoes that are securely fastened to your feet and wear eye protection. Always wear a helmet. A helmet won’t prevent a crash but it will help to minimize any head injuries. If you are not sure how to fit and wear a helmet, the staff at your local bike shop will be more than willing to assist you. Make sure you are feeling mentally and physically fit. Riding a bike, especially on the road, requires you to be fully engaged while constantly observing and anticipating the surroundings. From the moment you mount your bike until you complete your ride, you need to be alert and able to handle your bike confidently and competently.
Drive Your Bike Like a Car
New Jersey, like every other state, requires drivers of bicycles to ride on the road and follow the same rules as motorists. Since you probably drive a car, then you already know the rules. If you do not drive a car, then as a pedestrian, you too know the rules of the road.
The League of American Bicyclists has developed the “Smart Cycling” curriculum to train and re-fresh cyclists of all ages and abilities. (https://www.bikeleague.org/) The underlying premise of the “Smart Cycling” curriculum of the League is that safety and crash prevention begin with each rider understanding four principles. They are:
- Controlling the bicycle
- Following the rules of the road
- Understanding where to ride on the road, and
- Avoiding the mistakes of other drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians
Learning to Control a Bicycle
The basic skill for a cyclist is staying upright on the bike, not falling and not colliding with other cyclists, pedestrians, cars, buildings or objects. Collisions usually cause injuries – either to the rider or to others. The cyclist must be able to control a bicycle with skill and confidence. This includes smooth and effective stops and restarts, especially at intersections. Maintaining a straight line while riding and making turns properly are critical to staying upright. Group rides, whether recreational or categorized club rides, require close observance of the behavior of others. Changes in road conditions and weather demand the ability to react quickly and confidently while maintaining control over your bicycle.
Control of a bicycle also means having a working familiarity with its parts. Unlike a car, a bike is a piece of machinery that is easy to understand. The important parts are openly visible, problems are quickly apparent and adjustments are well within the skills of nearly everyone who rides a bike. Keeping your bike clean, learning to fix a flat tire, ensuring the brakes work properly – meaning they will stop the bike within an acceptable distance – all are within your control. More complex adjustments and repairs can be handled by a bike shop, and the costs are usually reasonable. Every rider should know the bike is in safe working condition before setting off on each ride.
Following the Rules of the Road–Obey the Law
Nate Berg, a staff writer with the on-line news service The Atlantic Cities wrote the following in his blog of December 02, 2011 “It’ll come as no surprise to cyclists—not to mention irritated drivers—that bike riders tend to have what we might kindly refer to as selective vision when it comes to stop signs and traffic signals. Cyclists regularly run stop signs and signaled intersections when the coast is clear. Momentum is key for the bike rider, and coming to a complete stop when nobody’s around is hard to justify. But even so, there’s an inherent risk in not obeying traffic laws.”
Approximately half of car-bike crashes are caused by cyclists not following the rules of the road as reported by the Federal Highway Administration. Errors include not obeying road signs, not stopping at red lights, not using hand signals, riding against traffic, and not being visible enough at night and in poor weather. Cyclists have the right to use the roads but they are equally responsible for obeying the law. The first rule is for cyclists to ride on the right side of the road as long as it is practicable, to ride in single file, and not impeding traffic. When necessary, a cyclist can control a lane by riding in the center in order to avoid debris, to move out of range of opening doors of parked cars, or because the lane is too narrow for a car and a bike. As soon as possible, cyclists should move to the right unless positioning themselves for a left hand turn.
As a good cyclist you should be constantly studying and observing automobile traffic patterns, especially on multi-lane roads. You should be able to effectively control your bike while giving hand signals so your actions will be predictable to motorists and pedestrians. We have all seen cyclists ride against traffic, ignore stop signs and lights, cut across traffic, or dart off and onto sidewalks and out of driveways. Such riders are unpredictable and are hazardous to themselves and others.
Understanding Where to Ride on the Road
Like many cyclists, you probably dream of riding quiet country roads with little traffic. Or you drive to club rides and community events, feeling there is safety in numbers. However, most cyclists eventually find themselves on multi-lane roads, busy highway overpasses, and challenging intersections. Choosing the correct lane and positioning yourself accordingly are critical to your safety. Being in the correct lane for the direction you are headed and in the correct position within a lane will make you conspicuous to drivers. Clearly indicating your movements can discourage drivers from attempting unsafe maneuvers. Perhaps more than anything else, being aware of exactly where to ride on a road is the most important knowledge, and often the least understood by cyclists.
Avoiding the Mistakes of Others
“Beware, Be Aware and Be Prepared” is a very good motto for bicyclists. When riding, cyclists need to be fully engaged, constantly observing, and anticipating what might happen. Because drivers have all learned the same rules of the road, they usually act predictably when behind the wheel of a car. Crashes do happen, usually because drivers, like cyclists, become distracted. Cyclists can anticipate crashes by carefully looking at drivers, catching their attention, observing oncoming traffic, listening for overtaking vehicles, and understanding how to behave when facing traffic at intersections. Whether riding short distances for errands and commuting or on long club and event rides, there are defensive maneuvers every cyclist should know and practice. These maneuvers include dodging road debris, stopping quickly without falling, and turning quickly to the right with a car that has unexpectedly turned in front of the cyclist. These crash avoidance techniques are skills that need to be practiced by every cyclist.
We all share the joy and exuberance of riding a bicycle. To ride safely, our riding should be grounded in knowledge the law, skill in handling a bike, and most importantly, being courteous to everyone on the road—pedestrians and motorists. Remember, responsibility for your behavior does not stop when you get on your bike to ride!
For questions or comments on this article, contact the authors Karen Jenkins (League Certified Instructor #3227) of the NJBWC or Marty Epstein bicycle advocate and owner of Mary’s Reliable Cycles.
Bike Education in New Jersey
The New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition (www.njbwc.org) offers the Smart Cycling curriculum of the League of American Bicyclists. For information about the schedule of classes, contact email@example.com.
NJ Bike Manual
The New Jersey Department of Transportation offers a bike manual that is based on the Smart Cycling curriculum of the League but with an emphasis on the rules of riding in the state. You can download the manual for no fee at: https://www.state.nj.us/transportation/commuter/bike/pdf/bicyclingmanual.pdf
NJ Bicycle and Pedestrian Resource Center (NJ BPRC)
Complete Book of Road Cycling Skills
Ed Pavelka and the Editors of Bicycling Magazine
Every Woman’s Guide to Cycling: Everything You Need to Know, From Buying Your First Bike to Winning Your First Race
Smart Cycling: Promoting Safety, Fun, Fitness, and the Environment
Andy Clark, editor
NJ ADVOCACY ORGANIZATIONS
New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition (NJBWC)
Jersey Off Road Bicycle Association (JORBA)