Bicycle Network: Behaviour
Riding on the road
Know your rights and learn the right moves to ride confidently in traffic
Getting around by bike, you can see and hear much more, interact with the world, and enjoy the journey. Cultivating the following qualities helps make the ride more enjoyable.
Riders are legitimate road users. Know your rights and look like you know what you're doing. (You can find information on the road rules for drivers and cyclists at your state road authority website, such as www.vicroads.vic.gov.au.)
Sounds boring, but if you want cars to respect you, you have to follow the road rules and be clear about what you're doing. Using body language, including hand signals and eye contact, helps everyone to get where they're going without having to make a big deal about it.
3. Constructive paranoia
You have to be switched on to ride in traffic. Staying alert, and keeping your eyes and ears open helps you to ride defensively. That means looking ahead, knowing exactly what everyone is up to and taking action to avoid accidents when others seem to be asleep at the wheel.
Traps and tricks for new cyclists
- The old car-door uppercut Ride a metre out from parked cars and ring your bell to let car door openers know you're there.
- Miraculous vanishing bike lanes You've still got every right to be there, so move right and claim your space before you get cut off by cars coming up from behind you. When you're entering a roundabout, ride in the middle of the lane so that cars won't squeeze past.
- Carnivorous tram tracks Cross them at right angles and stay off your brakes or they will eat your bike.
- Sleepwalkers You're not allowed to run pedestrians over. Try waking them up with a ring on the bell or an urgent 'look out!'.
The golden rules for riding in traffic
Still feeling jittery about riding on the road? Cycling education guru Nicola Dunnicliff-Wells has some simple rules that will help you navigate traffic safely.
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 or bike paths. Get off and walk if you find yourself in a situation you're not comfortable with.
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 to check they've seen you and to check they'll give way.
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 it's safer 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).
Increasingly, intersections have painted green '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 safe 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 safest 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 (unlike cars making a hook turn, bikes shouldn't go on the orange).