Bicycle Network: Skill Up
Riding in traffic
Feeling jittery about riding on the road? Nicola Dunnicliff-Wells has some simple rules that will help you reduce risk when navigating in traffic
"I'd love to ride more, but I'm not confident about riding in traffic."
Sound familiar? Riding busy roads is scary if you've never ridden in traffic, but driving busy roads without experience is too.
Learning to ride in traffic is very much like learning to drive. Knowing a few simple techniques can make things a whole lot easier - and the more you do it, the more skilled and confident you become.
Take it at your own pace: if you don't feel ready to tackle the main road yet, stick to quiet streets. Get off and walk if you find yourself in a situation you're not comfortable with.
The golden rules
I call the following simple techniques the 'golden rules' for riding in traffic:
Ride a metre out from the kerb or parked cars. You're more visible than if you're hugging the kerb, and you avoid the broken glass and debris that's swept to the edge of the road. Riding a metre out from parked cars means you avoid one of the most common cycling accidents: getting hit by a car door. Always stay clear of the 'door zone' - and don't weave in and out of parked cars.
Ride consistently. Road users who behave inconsistently make other road users nervous. Ride consistently (and within the rules) and you're more likely to be respected.
Make your intentions clear. Signal your intentions. Use eye contact to negotiate with other road users (eg to check they've seen you; to check they'll give way when you're signalling to merge in front of them).
Claim your space. Bikes are vehicles and have a legal right to be on the road. If you ride consistently and make your intentions clear, you're more likely to be treated like a vehicle. Make it clear that you plan to use your portion of the road - whether it's your metre from the kerb, or an entire lane (e.g. on a roundabout). Sometimes the best way to reduce risk is to claim an entire lane to stop another vehicle from squeezing past in a space that is really too narrow.
Be aware of your surrounds. Know what's going on ahead of, beside and behind you. Read the traffic - try to anticipate what's likely to happen - and scan behind regularly. Watch for signs of cars pulling out or looking for a park (which means they probably aren't looking for you).
Some intersections now have painted 'stand-up boxes', which provide space for bikes to wait ahead of motor traffic. But where do you stand when there are no bike facilities marked?
I still try to stand ahead of the traffic. Here, I'm clearly visible, I'm away from exhaust fumes, and cars can't squeeze past and cut me off. Avoid standing in front of left-turning traffic in a left-turn-only lane or one with a green arrow (unless you're turning left). Instead, stand to the left of the middle/right lane.
There may not always be room to get to the front. Experienced riders sometimes ride between lanes of stationary traffic (if there's space); otherwise, the only option is to wait further back (or get off and walk).
Going straight through
I like to move off smartly on the green light, to avoid holding up traffic. The key to accelerating quickly is to change to a low gear before you stop.
Merge left as you ride through the intersection, so you move back to the one-metre-out position on the other side. But don't move so far left that motorists invade your space; if parked cars on the other side mean you need to stay in the middle of the lane, claim that space until it's OK to let motorists go past.
According to the Victorian road rules, bikes may make a hook turn at any intersection, unless signs specifically prohibit it. A hook turn - turning right from the left lane - is often the easiest way to turn right.
To make a hook turn, ride part way across and stop ahead of traffic waiting to cross in the other direction. Stand behind the line if possible and wait for the green light.
The same road rules apply to bikes as to cars - with some small differences. For more, click here, or visit the VicRoads website.
A keen commuter cyclist, Nicola Dunnicliff-Wells teaches riding skills workshops (including riding in traffic), basic maintenance and beginner lessons at Jika Jika Community Centre in Northcote, ph (03) 9482 5100.