Learning required cycling skills will greatly increase your safety, comfort and peace of mind when cycling in traffic. Here are some basic skills that all cyclists should learn and practice.
Using hand signals
Hand signals inform other road users of your intentions and allow them time to react. Always make hand signals well in advance of any turn, not just when you think they are needed. Since making a hand signal requires cycling with only one hand on the handlebars, practice doing that while maintaining a straight line.
Signal well in advance of intersections and put both hands back on the handlebars before you make a turn or change lanes. If you are waiting at an intersection for other vehicles to clear, signal again before starting up to make sure that any vehicles arriving after you originally signalled know your intentions.
Always make sure your signals are specific and clear. Extend your arm fully and point your finger in the direction you are going.
The stop signal is often overlooked but is just as important as your turning signals. Motorists approaching from behind are more likely to be cautious and stay further back when they are aware that you intend to stop.
Watch this video about tips on using hand signals while in traffic.
Moving within your lane
When you are moving over in the lane to position yourself for a turn, passing parked cars or taking the lane at an intersection, it is best to shoulder check then indicate exactly where you plan to go. Using the normal turn signal can be understood as meaning that you intend to change lanes or turn. By simply pointing over and down to the position you are planning to move to, you clearly indicate your intentions.
Leaving your lane
It is important to always shoulder check both before signalling and again before you actually change lanes.
The proper signalling sequence is:
- Shoulder check to make sure it is safe to put your hand out.
- Make your hand signal.
- Finally, before making your lane change, shoulder check one more time to make sure it is clear; and safe, to change lanes or make your turn.
Balance and signalling
Signalling while riding requires you to ride with just one hand on the handlebars while maintaining a straight line. Shoulder checks in particular can cause you to move in the direction that the head is turned, so keep them brief and be sure to practice this cycling skill.
In some situations, the need to keep both your hands on the handlebars can make shoulder checks and signalling difficult or even dangerous. By planning your changes early you will be able to communicate with drivers and avoid manoeuvres without signals.
Cycling in a straight line
Being able to ride in a straight line under varying conditions is one of the keys to riding safely in traffic. You can practice this skill in a parking lot or other quiet location by following a painted line as closely as possible at different speeds. You should also practice riding in a straight line while shoulder checking and signalling, both to the right and to the left. This is not easy at first but is a critically important skill to have when riding in traffic. (Please note that a mirror does not replace the need to shoulder check in any circumstances.)
When riding in traffic, always keep your head up and your eyes focused down the road. This will help you maintain a straight line and make you aware of the traffic conditions ahead of you.
On a bicycle with hand brakes, the front brake accounts for up to 80 per cent of the stopping power during abrupt braking because forward momentum puts most of your weight over the front wheel. For optimum stopping power, shift your weight toward the rear and try to keep your centre of gravity low. The weight shift will allow you to maximize your rear braking without skidding. At the same time, progressively increase the braking in the front, being careful not to shift your weight forward.
In a safe area, practice stopping as quickly as you can to get a feel for how much pressure you can apply to each brake. Start slowly at first and then try it at increased speeds.
Watch this video for tips on stopping techniques.
The basic rule is that low gears are for slow speeds and high gears are for fast speeds. Always shift into a low, easy gear before you stop and in advance of hills. On level ground, use a gear that gives you a fast, comfortable spin.
Pedalling in a gear that is too high can tire you more quickly, while pedalling in a gear that is too low can strain your knees and lower back.
Watch this video about tips on shifting gears.
By practicing and mastering these skills, you can build confidence and avoid potential conflicts on the road.