Safety Tips

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The Basics

Cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as the drivers of other vehicles using the road. These responsibilities are defined under the Highway Traffic Act. Cyclists who ride predictably, following the rules of the road and behaving like other vehicles, are likely to be treated like vehicles and are also more likely to be seen by other road users. Reducing conflicts among road users reduces the risk of collisions.

Additionally, children and adults must master basic bike handling skills such as riding in straight lines, stopping, shoulder checking and correct signalling, before venturing into traffic.

There are basic traffic principles that allow cyclists to ride safely in most traffic situations.

1) Positioning -- Ride on the right side of the roadway, not on the left or on the sidewalk. Cycling in the wrong direction is a major cause of car/bike collisions. Riders who drive facing traffic are vulnerable because motorists don't expect to meet traffic coming the wrong way.

Riding on the sidewalk is dangerous for similar reasons. Pedestrians don't expect to meet cyclists. As well, each driveway becomes a potential intersection. Local bylaws often set out the age limit or the size of bicycles allowed to drive on sidewalks.

According to the Ontario Highway Act, any vehicle moving more slowly than normal traffic must drive in the righthand lane, as close as practicable to the right edge of the road. The best position for a cyclist depends on the width of the lane and the bicycle's speed. Cyclists should ride far enough from the curb, to travel in a straight line and avoid sewer grates, potholes, debris and the doors of parked cars. If the lane is too narrow to share safely, it's legal to occupy the whole lane. Although courtesy should prevail, cyclists should not compromise their safety for the convenience of motorists. It may be safer to take a different route. Increasingly, bike lanes are providing a good alternative.

A left-turning vehicle may be passed on the right. A cyclist may pass on the left if the bicycle is the faster vehicle. Cyclists should never squeeze between moving cars and the curb.

2) Yielding to crossing traffic -- Cyclists and motorists must decide who has the right of way at an intersection. The two rules that govern intersection behaviour are a) the driver on the minor street yields to the driver on the major street. b) If arriving simultaneously, the driver'on the left yields to the driver on the right

3) Same direction yielding -- When travelling in the same direction as other traffic,drivers of all vehicles -- including bicycles -- must yield to traffic already in the lane. Before changing lanes, a rider must look behind to make sure conditions are safe, signal the lane change and negotiate with the driver behind to make sure the motorist sees the bike and agrees to let the bike in. Lane changes should be started early, with plenty of distance between vehicles.

4) Intersection positioning -- At simple intersections, begin left turns from near the centreline and right turns from near the curb. In multiple-lane intersections, choose the right-most lane that serves your destination. A rider should always signal and keep out of motorists' blind spots.

Because bicycles are smaller and more vulnerable than motor vehicles, cyclists must ensure that all moves can be made safely, even if the rider has the right of way. In collisions, cyclists are at greater risk.

Cyclists should drive defensively and anticipate that other road users may make errors or not see them. Sometimes, dismounting and crossing an intersection on foot is the safest solution.

Riding confidently in traffic takes practice and skill. Cyclists should wear approved helmets and light coloured clothing. Bikes should be properly maintained, equipped with working brakes, bells, white front lights and red rear reflectors for nighttime driving.

Consider taking a safe cycling course, such as the "Canbike II" course, available through the Canadian Cycling Association.


A three or five speed bike is sufficient for most in-town riding, though you may want more if you have a long trek or serious hills. Fat tires are good for getting over streetcar tracks and rough pavement. Upright handle bars are convenient for stop-and-go city riding. Consider an old "beater". It won't be as appealing to thieves and you won't mind a few bumps or scrapes while you're parking. But if you do this, it's worth the price of a tuneup before you start out. Be good to your bike. Give it a look-over every few days. Make sure the tire pressure is as high as it should be, and that nothing has gotten embedded in the rubber. Look at your brake pads. Listen for anything rubbing or rattling and fix it before it gets serious. Oil the chain whenever you've ridden in rain, otherwise every few weeks.


1. Helmet - There are two types, hard shell and foam. Look for big air vents if you're concerned with coolness. Your helmet should meet either ANSI (American National Standards Institute), Snell safety standards or Canadian Standard Association standards and it will be marked if it does.

2 Lock - There are new improved versions of the U-locks which make it harder for thieves to break them open. Otherwise, get a plumber's T from a hardware store and slip it over the end of an older U-lock. Cable locks are never as safe as U-locks, though they can be good in combination.

3. Tires - Kevlar belted tires cost a little extra but you'll risk less flats.

4. Rear view mirror - An important accessory for city riding. There are either handlbar mirrors or a small version which attaches directly to your helmet. If you're a nervous rider, they'll help you feel more assured in traffic. As with a car, though, they should never replace shoulder checks when you're changing lanes.

5. Lights - Front and rear lights are required under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act for night riding. Generator lights take a little extra Pedal Power and go off when you stop pedalling, but they're sturdy and dependable. Battery lights can run down, but they continue to shine when you're stopped at a Light. It's a good idea to have a back reflector and pedal reflectors as well. And instead of old fashioned pant clips you can get reflective bands with Velcro closures.

6. Fenders - They're great in the rain. Otherwise you can get a stripe of mud up the back of your clothes. They're also good for carrying extra reflective tape to make you even more visible at night.

7. Racks - A back-mounted rack will allow you to attach either folding baskets (great for carrying groceries) or easily detachable panniers which you can carry into the office.

8. Bungie cords - Those elastic cords with hooks on the end: Useful for securing wobbly bundles and can easily be stowed in a small under-the-saddle bag.

9. Bells and whistles - You can warn the pedestrian about to step off the curb without looking or the parked driver before he or she opens a car door in your path.

10. Gloves - Don't feel silly wearing padded cycling gloves in the city. If you do take a tumble, you'll save scraped hands.

11. A good idea - Pump, patch kit, tire irons for dealing with flats, as well as an adjustable wrench and a small screwdriver or set of Allen keys.

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