Road cycling etiquette: tips for beginners

Do you know the rules (official and non-official) that apply to cyclists in your region? Use this guide as a quick reminder of how to best share the road with others. 

Woman on her bike in the city

Cycling has never been so popular: since spring 2020, bicycle paths around the city have been welcoming waves of people discovering the joys of this sport, and others who are getting back into it after taking a break for a few years. This, of course, is great for active transportation! To enjoy a safe and pleasant ride, here are a few good practices to adopt when riding your bike in the city. 

* Important note: these recommendations may vary according to your location. Be sure to check the laws in place in your province and municipality.

Men on his bike in the city

Respect traffic regulations

The first point to consider is that cyclists must follow the same rules of the road as drivers do. You need to respect all traffic lights and road signage, unless otherwise indicated. Consult the traffic regulations in your province or territory to get up to speed on all the details.


Signal your intentions

You should use your arm to signal your intention to turn or move towards the left before passing someone. To turn right, lift your left hand up to create a right angle with your arm, or point towards the right with your right hand. These signals allow others to anticipate your movements. Before indicating your intention to change lanes or make a turn, take a quick look over your shoulder to make sure it is safe to do so: just as you would check your blind spot when driving a car. For better visibility, you can install a bike rearview mirror on your handlebars. You can also install a bike safety reflector on your frame for increased visibility and to remind motorists that are passing you to maintain a safe distance at all times.
When passing someone, avoid collisions by signaling your intention to pass by saying “cyclist on your left” or “on your left”. In some cities, it is preferable to use a bell to alert other cyclists. You decide which is best! Remember to announce your presence many metres in advance to give others some time to react. Even once you have called out your signal, remain vigilant, as others may not have heard you.

Ride in a straight line

To avoid collisions, try to move in a way that is predictable for others on the road. If the path is damaged, try to avoid doing zigzags and keep your trajectory as straight as possible. This allows other cyclists and motorists to anticipate your movements and avoid colliding with you. Ideally, you should keep to the right of the path to allow faster cyclists to pass you easily.

If you are a beginner cyclist and you have trouble riding in a straight line, practice in a safe area before heading out on busy streets. Try to minimize your upper body movements and be careful not to “pull” on the handlebars with each pedal stroke. Let your legs do the work!


Be careful at intersections

Approximately half of all serious accidents involving cyclists occur at intersections. You need to be extra cautious in areas where it is permissible to turn right on a red light. Always be sure to establish eye contact with motorists and signal your intentions to turn.

Too stressful? At busy intersections, you can always get off your bike and use the pedestrian walkway to safely cross the street. 

Watch out for buses and trucks

In the city, give vehicles the right of way: they are faster and much bigger (and heavier) than a bicycle. Be even more careful when riding near a bus or a truck, as these vehicles have huge blind spots and the drivers may not even be able to see you. At red lights, stay behind the bus (at a safe distance) and don’t try to pass it.

Also, did you know that cyclists (like motorists) need to stop at a 5-metre distance from school buses? This is the case when the red lights of the bus are on, or the “stop” sign on the side panel of the bus is out. The rule applies whether you are behind the bus or facing it in the other direction.


Do not ride on the sidewalks

Sidewalks are for pedestrians! Avoid riding on sidewalks unless there is specific signage to indicate that you should. In some cities, you are allowed to ride on the sidewalks if you are going very slowly, but in other cities you could get a fine. Even though sidewalks may seem like a safe option, they are actually more dangerous for cyclists. If you are trying to keep a safe distance between yourself and the cars on the road, you are better off sticking to the bike paths! 

man walking downtown next to his bike

Ride at a reasonable speed

If you live in a city with protected bike paths, remember they are shared by cyclists of all levels: children, beginners, intermediate cyclists and experts. A bike path is not the place to ride at your fastest speed. If you want to go much faster than other cyclists, you should ride on the road.

In addition to knowing the basic safety rules and ways to share the road with others, don’t forget to always wear a helmet. Happy riding! 

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