By Neil Bezdek
Originally published by Bicycling
While I’m no stranger to city riding (I was a full-time bike messenger in New York City before I started racing), returning to chaotic urban streets takes some getting used to. A unique set of rules—numerous and detailed enough to fill a doctoral dissertation—applies to urban cyclists. Here are my top five:
Avoid the door zone.
Car doors are the most insidious hazard facing the city rider. Opening doors swing directly into the space that bikes occupy, and they’re difficult to anticipate. The sound of car door opening is ominously similar to the cocking of a gun. The only way to avoid getting doored is to assume that every single door in your path will open. Always leave a door-sized space when passing any stopped car—not just parked ones. If you’re forced to squeeze through the door zone, slow down to walking speed and look for warning signs: brake lights, taxi cab vacancy lights, and the side-to-side rocking of passengers getting ready to scoot out. Style points for stiff-arming any door that opens next to you.
Beware of the right hook.
This is when a car passes a cyclist traveling the same direction, then immediately turns off the road and across the rider’s path. Make a habit of glancing over your left shoulder (if you’re on the right side of the road) in the approach to every intersection, exit ramp, or driveway. Merge early to straddle the line between turn lanes and through traffic. If cars ahead slow to make a turn, slide by on their outside, instead of ducking between them and the corner.
Pass behind pedestrians—not in front of them.
A pedestrian’s natural instinct is to jump forward and away from trouble, rather than stopping and retreating. Riding your bike through the space behind pedestrians leaves no question as to who is yielding, whereas a risky game of chicken ensues if you try to shoot by ahead of them.
Exaggerate body language and eye contact.
Hand signals are a minor form of communication with other street users. For example, when planning a lane change or turn, I’ll signal with my entire body—looking over my shoulder, stopping the pedals, and starting my drift in the direction of cars approaching from behind. If and how they react indicates whether they’ll make room, and I’ll put out a hand to signal only after I’ve decided it’s a safe time to move over. Likewise, when I see oncoming traffic preparing to turn in front of me, I’ll stand up and mock sprint in toward the intersection. Though I might not change speed, this flurry of motion attracts attention, and signals that I’m serious about going straight though. Avoid glasses with dark lenses: It’s easier to communicate your intentions to motorists and pedestrians through eye contact.
When in doubt, take the lane.
City streets appear dangerous compared to quiet rural roads, but the chaos ensures that everyone moves slowly and pays attention. Bikes mix better with cars in this environment, and the safest place on the road is often the middle of it. Where the street is narrow, ride in the center to deter aggressive drivers from trying to squeeze past where they shouldn’t. Also, remember that cars from behind pose less of a threat than opening car doors or pedestrians jumping out from the side of the street.