A dozen habits to adopt for surviving and thriving on a bike in the city.

This list is a fraction of what there is to know about urban cycling. My new book, The Urban Cycling Survival Guide, contains loads more information on everything you need to know about riding a bike in the city. The launch party takes place April 9th at the Gladstone Hotel, Melody Bar, from 7 to 10pm. It is now available online, or at your favourite bookseller – http://ecwpress.com/urbancycling


1. Respect the red

When you ride through a red light you break the social contract that keeps road chaos at bay. Doing so not only puts you and others at risk, unfortunately it also reinforces the widely held belief that cyclists can’t be trusted. Lack of trust leads to fear and anger – neither of these is useful on city streets.

2. Ride predictably and hold your ground

You’ve got a right to ride on the road – do so responsibly by riding in a straight and predictable line. Swerving in and out of the line of sight of fellow riders and drivers, or making sudden moves, makes you seem unpredictable. Hold your line and don’t be afraid to own your space – aim to ride 1m from the curb or parked cars when possible.

3. Embrace the light

Use them — white up front, red at the back, both on flash mode. Seriously, you’re just not visible enough to those around you without lights, and the law requires them. Make it a habit to put them on when you unlock your bike, and to avoid theft take them off when you lock it back up. Always bring lights along for the ride if there’s any chance you’ll be out after dark.

4. Communicate your intentions

Letting other road users know what you’re planning to do goes a long way to reducing your risk of collisions or close calls. Your best tools for this are hand signals, eye contact, your bell (legally required), voice, and body language. Be as clear as possible, and watch for the messages and cues others are sharing with you.

5. Take the scenic route

Side streets are generally less stressful and more enjoyable to ride on than main streets. With fewer cars, the air is also cleaner and you can stay cool by riding in the shade. Pay extra attention to driveways and intersections, and look for the sometimes obscured 3 white dots in the roadway (vertical ellipsis) – ride over and stop on it to help trigger a light change with your bike.

6. Lock it or lose it

Your lock (a good one is worth the money) should always go through your frame and ideally both your wheels. Trees, gas pipes, accessible ramps, and flimsy wooden fences should all be avoided. Consider getting a rear wheel lock for extra protection.

7. Be kind to your bits

Your sit bones, not your bits, are where most of your weight should be supported by your bike seat. Check your seat height and angle – adjust accordingly.

8. Stay focused and alert

If you’re attentive to what’s happening ahead and around you, you’ll be able to take evasive action and reduce risk. Shoulder check before entering the roadway and prior to making any moves.

9. Pass like a pro

Pass to the left of most right-turning motor vehicles. Alerting other riders before you pass, either with your bell, or by saying ‘passing on your left’, is better than passing unexpectedly – never pass other riders on the right.

10. Beware all car doors & large vehicles

Any of the doors of parked and stopped motor vehicles can swing open at any time so watch for signs of life and stay out of the doorzone. Trucks and buses have a wide turning radius and large blindspots – do not engage this enemy, stay back to stay safe!

11. Mind the gap

Yes, those streetcar tracks are trying to bite you. Cross them at enough of an angle that your wheels won’t get stuck in the gap, watch for cracks/holes in surrounding concrete, and be extra cautious when they’re wet because your wheels can slip out from under you on a turn. Same goes with all metal road surfaces like utility hole covers and metal plates covering construction sites.

12. Don’t be a jerk

Everyone loves almost being nailed by someone flying by on a bike when they’re getting on/off the streetcar, or crossing the street – not! Don’t be that jerk. Yield to pedestrians, anticipate the next transit stop, slow down or stop until people have cleared the road, and proceed on your merry way once the doors of the streetcar have closed. Remember to watch out for the stragglers.

Enjoy the ride!