Safe Cycling Tips

I’ve put together a simple, and I hope comprehensive, list of riding tips for better safety on the road.  This list is by no means complete, but it’s a pretty good start.  For more information, you can check out, the OBC website at In the OBC’s spring newsletters, they carry detailed group riding instructions. There also is access to laws as they relate to cyclists at .

Research shows a skilled rider significantly reduces his/her risks of an accident and injury.  A cyclist can improve their skills by joining a club and riding with skilled and experienced cyclists in group situations, for example the Ottawa Bicycle Club. People who are really new to cycling should consider taking a road skills training course as offered by Citizens for Safe Cycling and delivered by their certified instructors.

  • Obey the law.
  • Make sure your bike is in good working order.
  • Look where you are going and far enough up the road that you can anticipate obstacles (potholes, parked cars, turning vehicles, etc) BEFORE you have to take emergency action to avoid them.  A sudden swerve can force the rider behind you to hit the pothole, etc.
  • Be aware of the fact that if you turn your head to look at something, your bike will likely turn the same way, at least a little bit.
  • Signal your turns and stops.  You only need to get the point across—a quick point is fine, then get your hands back on the handlebars.
  • Ride in a straight line—don’t weave!   Sudden movements cause crashes.
  • Stay on your side of the road. You are legally entitled to be 1m of the edge of the road, so this should put you outside the sewers.
  • Speaking of sewers, make sure sewer grates are at right angles to your direction of travel.  Don’t get your wheel caught between the bars.
  • Passing a car any time is a very risky practice if you are not paying attention to the motorists’ actions.  Drivers don’t often think a cyclist will be edging by on their right and certainly not the left, thus car doors get opened in your path, as well as unanticipated, un-signaled right turns, etc.
  • keep your hands on the brake levers whenever there is a possibility you will have to stop.
  • Use your aero bars sparingly in the city, and never when going through intersections.
  • Use your aero bars only in groups where you know everyone’s ability.
  • use aerobars when you have long stretches of clear roadway, and generally not on bike paths.
  • When riding with parked cars on the road, look into the driver’s seat to make sure there is no one there.  If there is someone in the driver’s seat, they may be ready to get out of the car, so go wide enough to be safe.  If you are in a group, be sure to signal your intention to go wide.
  • Use standard gestures to warn of dangers. e.g. right hand sweeping left across back to warn of parked car or approaching pedestrian and your intent to go wide.
  • When there is a vehicle approaching from behind, and it could affect the safety of the group, the last riders should warn everyone else—the phrase is “car back!” Not everyone has to call this out.
  • Similarly, when approaching an intersection, the front riders are responsible to make sure the route is clear—if there is a vehicle approaching from any direction, the phrase is “car on the ____”
  • Previous point said, it is YOUR responsibility to pay attention at intersections to make sure they are safe for you and for others.
  • When approaching a set of lights, pay attention.  Cars may not!
  • The front people should point out significant holes, glass and obstacles to those following, who should also point them out. A quick point is all that is necessary if people are paying attention. However, the repeated stating of the obvious in group situations can drive experienced cyclists crazy –usually you only have to communicate those things which are not obvious or inconsequential.
  • If you the group is on a road full of potholes, pointing them out is equally unsafe-keep your hands on the bars and warn people verbally to pay attention.
  • When pointing out obstacles, point out things that you yourself would not want to hit—grit does not count.
  • Remember, if there is an obstacle, you only need to not hit it.  You do not need to miss it by much, so small movements may be all that are necessary to avoid hitting them.
  • If you don’t have time to avoid hitting something without weaving uncontrollably, you have two choices: take the hit, or, weave and take someone else down with you. The choice is yours.
  • If you look at a pothole, or bump, you will likely hit it.
  • Front people should be aware of what is happening to the back people, especially on hills and at stop lights and signs.
  • At stop signs, allow the riders at the back sufficient time to catch up before accelerating.  If not, the back people may be forced to burn the sign in order to keep up.
  • Behave predictably, so that others know what you are going to do
  • Do not take the lead from someone unless they ask you to.  Let them pull off.
  • Likewise, don’t stay at the front all day, or too long.  If you are slowing the group down, get off the front (unless that is the purpose).
  • Work as hard as you can to not get dropped, unless you want to—it can be lonely and miserable on the way back alone and well worth the effort to hang on.  If you do want to be dropped, tell someone that is what you are doing so the group does not worry about you.
  • Don’t be afraid to draft.
  • Don’t be afraid to not draft and pull a little.
  • If you do pull, do not exceed your comfort level—don’t compete with the speed others have set.  If it’s too hard for you, take a short pull and save your energy.
  • Make eye contact with motorists at intersections to determine whether they see you.
  • Be prepared to give up the right of way if a motorist makes a mistake that could hurt you, but…
  • Be assertive in taking your place on the road
  • Move to the left lane to make left turns.  Do this well before the turn.
  • When a car passes you going in the same direction, look at their turn signals and brake lights.  If they are on, expect a right turn and react accordingly.
  • When riding on two lane roads, watch oncoming traffic for a sign that cars may be coming up behind you—if the oncoming cars move over to their right, they may be giving cars behind you some extra space to pass.
  • Use your hearing for a clue cars may be approaching from behind.
  • Obey the rules of the road!
  • Stop at stop signs (I know this is a lost cause).
  • Stop at red lights if you don’t time them right.
  • When approaching a red light, slow down enough to allow the light to change before you get there.  Make sure to tell the other riders you are slowing.
  • The above also applies when approaching intersections or driveways where there are frequent right turns. In this case move away from the curb to indicate you aren’t turning right. This helps prevent “right hooks” by car drivers
  • Be courteous and respectful to others you meet on the road.
  • Don’t swarm motorists (or other cyclists) at stop signs and lights.
  • Help motorists pass in difficult spots.
  • Be aware of cars behind; don’t make it impossible for them to pass.
  • Don’t over-dress—if you sweat too much, you will chill and things will be worse than if you under-dress—you can always work harder to warm-up.
  • Don’t stop for too long to refuel—you’ll get cold.
  • Dress appropriately.

I hope this helps.

Written By Rick Hellard, Head Coach @ Zone3sports, an Ottawa based triathlon coaching service that has achieved amazing success at the long distance triathlon.



Posted Apr 15, 2014 | Categories: Cycling, Training

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