Bike riding etiquette: do you know the rules?

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Every time the debate surrounding bike riders and motorists sharing the same space comes up, I cringe and wait for the inevitable comments from drivers. We’ve all heard them. Cyclists don’t follow the road rules. They think they own the road. They go too fast. They put themselves in harm’s way.

And I’m here to tell you it’s all true. Some bike riders don’t follow the rules and some do cycle in a manner that could one day end with a thud on the front of a car. But I also know that, like dangerous drivers, they are the minority and there are a lot of bicyclists out there doing the right thing.

There is a big onus on drivers to obey the rules and look out for cyclists and rightly so because bike riders are far more vulnerable. And that’s exactly why we, as riders, should obey the road rules and ride sensibly. Not only are our lives at stake but, if all road users follow the rules and respect each other, we’ll all be safer. It has to start somewhere, right?

So, what are the basic rules and laws of etiquette that we should all practice? Here’s a few of the most important ones:

Slow down on cycle paths

Bike paths are not for racing. If you want to train or race, join a road bunch ride or enter a club event. Bike paths are for getting places, for leisurely riding and for slow recovery rides. Bike riders, especially commuters, will often “draft” another cyclist. Don’t turn this into a race. If you’re uncomfortable with someone sitting on your wheel, ease up and wave them through.

Watch for pedestrians

Many of the bike paths around Canberra are shared paths which means pedestrians use them too.  Watch for people walking and remember they are often distracted or talking to a friend and may stray into your path. Expect them to do the unexpected.

Let others know you are coming

This is a tough one. I get abused for using my bell or yelling a warning just as much as I get shouted at for not making any sound. Pedestrians and other cyclists going in the same direction as you are often startled by someone riding up behind and past them. Bell or no bell they sometimes even jump into my path! My best advice is to shout a warning or ring your bell repeatedly as you approach from at least 20m away. That way they will have plenty of warning.

Don’t buzz anyone

I’ve seen cyclists flying past pedestrians too close, almost taking an elbow with them in the process. It is not a race and you are not riding through chicanes. Give pedestrians a wide berth, just like you expect motorists to do on the road. Don’t underestimate the damage a moving bike can do when it collides with a pedestrian.

Follow the road rules

Wear a helmet, don’t ride through red lights, don’t ride on the wrong side of the road, try to obey the speed limits and signal your intention to turn left or right. Apply what you know as a motorist to what you do as a bike rider.

Be visible

Make sure all road users can see you. Remember, you’re smaller on a bike than all other vehicles on the road. Use lights at sunrise, dusk and at night.

Don’t ride between cars

If you’re riding in heavy moving traffic, please don’t be tempted to cycle between cars. Behave like a car and own the lane between the car in front and the car behind. That way, they will both have time to realise you’re there and travelling with them. Weaving in and out of heavy traffic that’s moving is a death trap.  But what about when the traffic is bumper-to-bumper and going nowhere?  As a cyclist we can avoid the traffic jams, this is one of the reasons I love to use my bike to get to work.  Look for alternative routes to avoid the traffic but, if you’re stuck, move up the inside with care while on the lookout for car doors, pedestrians and that motorist making a last minute decision to turn left!

Join a cycling club

It’s not all about racing. Most cycling clubs have great educational programs for bike riders of all levels plus you’ll meet others who enjoy riding a bike as much as you do.


AStuart Jones has been involved in bike racing for years, is President of the Canberra Cycling Club and regularly commutes by bike to work. He worries that many people who ride bikes don’t know the basics when it comes to rules and etiquette. He sees a lot of near misses on his daily commute.  Above all, he’d like to see more courtesy and common sense on the roads and bike paths.

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