No, this isn’t a guide to finding the best trails for MTB enthusiasts. And it’s not for roadies either. This article is aimed at the casual cyclist or commuter, and anyone else that isn’t sure where to ride on their local streets. The following is some common sense cycling advice, which may help you to safely and legally get from point A to point B.
First, cyclists have a legal right to use most roadways, the same as motor vehicles. With the exception of most freeways, and any road that specifically states that bicycles are forbidden, you can operate a bicycle on most public roadways. Keep in mind two things though. First, we are subject to the same rules as motor vehicles. Some cyclist seem to forget that stop signs and red lights apply to them too. If you’re unsure about the rules of the road, stop by your local DMV, or look them up online. Seasoned veterans have been know to carry copies of the vehicle code that apply cyclists, should they encounter an uninformed police officer that thinks bicycles belong on the sidewalk, or can only ride in the bike lane. Second, don’t let your legal right to the road get in the way of common sense. There are way too many ignorant and inattentive drivers out there, all too willing to ruin your day without a second thought. So as you go about exercising your right of way, do so with caution. The sting of swallowing your pride and yielding to a motor vehicle is far less painful than an ambulance ride.
As far as where to physically ride, you should refer to local ordinances, but I’ll provide some general guidelines. The sidewalk is generally off limits to adults. The most interesting ordinance I saw stated that only children 13 and under could ride on the sidewalk, and it allowed adults on the sidewalk only when accompanied by a child. Should you choose to ride on the sidewalk, legally or not, it should be at a safe speed, and pedestrians should be treated with courtesy and respect. Extra care should be taken around seniors, children, women with strollers, people with dogs, and anyone with a phone to their ear. Also note that with the proliferation of portable MP3 players, a bell (or yell) may not be heard. Assume nothing, as 99.9% of the time a cyclist collides with a pedestrian, the cyclist will be found at fault.
Bike lanes are that solid white line painted a few feet from the edge of the roadway. This narrow strip of blacktop is meant for cyclists. More frequently, it’s a place for illegally parked cars, unsafe passing on the right, and a great source of broken bottles, used diapers, and plenty of trash. If you choose to ride in the bike lane, don’t hug the edge of the road. With all the garbage littering “our” part of the roadway, you’ll need to allow a bit of room to avoid the abundance of hazards found on a typical ride. In some cases, there is a bike lane painted to the left of a parking lane. So you’ll have vehicles parked at the curb, then a bike lane, then the roadway. This sort of bike lane is the worst, as the area to the left of parked cars is referred to as the “door zone”. If you ride here, expect a motorist to open their door into you without looking.
That leaves sharing the lanes with motorists. On most roads, this is not usually an issue, as long as you can maintain a reasonable pace or allow traffic to pass safely. Many municipalities are adopting laws requiring motorists to give cyclists three feet of room, but not all motorists are aware of this. On roads with more than two lanes in each direction, they’ll have no problem going around you. If there is only one lane of travel in each direction, the majority of motorists will simply pass you when safe to do so. Beware of the motorist (we could stereotype them as being in a truck, SUV, or luxury car) that honks at you, or yells at you to get off the road and onto the sidewalk. No one has successfully won a battle against ignorance. Special care should also be taken around motorists talking on cell phones. They are generally completely oblivious to cyclists. Most importantly, remember to always have your wits about you, use common sense, and obey the rules of the road. Ride safe.
For more info, check the Resources link on the League of American Bicyclists webpage – www.bikeleague.org