What’s Your Advice on City Cycling?

With the influx of riders taking to the streets this spring (oh how I’ve dreamed of using the word influx in a post), I thought I’d feature the advice BikeDC peeps have shared about cycling in the city.

The BikeDC Speaks interview series featured eight D.C.-area cyclists– six women and two men– and their perspectives on various commuting topics. I’ve since taken the interviews and divided them into topics, like the one discussed today.

Cycling in the city has its ups and downs. It’s more up than down most days, but it’s still much different than a meander on a quiet country road.

If you read this blog, it’s quite likely you are an urban cyclist too, so please chime in with your own thoughts.

What advice do you have about cycling in the city?

1. Be cautious, but don’t be afraid. If you’re afraid to ride, you won’t, but if you pay attention, every ride is an experience.

2. Cycling is very safe, but assume no one knows you’re there.

3. Seek out other cyclists. Although cycling is something most of us learn at a young age, riding in the city comes with a fairly specific set of “rules” and best practices that aren’t readily apparent, but can be learned quickly from others with more experience.

In the long run, this will make for better and more consistent cyclist behavior, which will go a long way toward making cycling a “normal” mode of transportation from the drivers’ perspective.

Marc M.

Always be aware of your surroundings.
Look ahead for any unexpected happenings.

Know the rules of the road.
Be courteous to pedestrians and other bicyclists.


Stay alert. Be predictable. Make moves as much in advance as possible.

Take the lane when it is a better thing to do.

Stay in the flow of traffic as much as possible, and wave thank you when a driver does something nice or respectful.

I use a rearview mirror; I’ve had one since the early 70’s. I believe it gives me a much better– wider and further back– field of vision behind me than turning my neck quickly.


Appreciate every moment and be grateful for your ability to get where you are going on two wheels. Notice the birds, the sunshine, the feel of the wind on your skin.

And if a driver yells at you, try to resist yelling back; ironically, I’ve found it only results in making myself more aggravated. Note: I’m not always successful at this.


Be aware of your surroundings. Don’t be afraid.

Start on side streets with bike lanes and slowly work your way into bigger roads.

Or if you’re like me, just dive head-first into it and enjoy the ride. It helps to reach out to the community if you are unsure, and those of us on the #bikedc hashtag on Twitter are always willing to lend a hand!


Don’t be intimidated. I’m actually an instructor, certified by the League of American Bicyclists, to teach about vehicular cycling.

One of the most discussed pieces of advice they give out is “Take the lane.”

Now, at first, it’s really intimidating to actually get out 1/3 of the way in a lane of potentially fast-moving traffic and ride there. Sometimes cars beep at you. But they beep AS THEY GO AROUND YOU, waiting until the lane to their left is clear, since they can’t get past you otherwise.

It’s annoying, but believe me, not half as frightening as being buzzed within an inch by a car who zoomed past you without slowing down, since you were in the shoulder, or worse, in the right-most portion of the travel lane.


Be patient. It can be easy to get frustrated with motorists and pedestrians every time you hop on your bike, and this frustration will wear on you to the point where you won’t be happy riding anymore. It’s happened to me plenty of times over the years, but now I do my best to enjoy my time riding and relax.

One peculiar tip that I can pass along: If you have a U-lock, when locking up to something, put the cross bar against your frame (as opposed to the thing you’re locking to).

If a thief is going to pry the lock, he/she will want leverage and using the frame to produce that leverage will likely result in a damaged or bent frame which is no good to the would-be thief (except for parts maybe). It’s not much of a deterrent, but it might help now and then.


It’s fun and safer than you might think.


What about you? What advice would you give someone who wants to start riding in the city?


  1. Excellent tips. I would also add that if you live in the Washington, DC area, you can sign up for a Confident City Cycling class with the Washington Area Bicyclists Association. It’s a great class for cyclists of all abilities and good preparation for riding on the streets. I’m sure other cities offer similar classes; look at the websites for your local advocacy organizations.


  2. Helmet. Lights. Hand signals.
    RELAX and ride straight lines.
    Be courteous to drivers and remember they’re going someplace too.
    Don’t do things that would bother you if you were driving- i.e.. use the necessary amount of space: stay to the line unless you can’t, signal intentions. Be predictable and courteous..
    Look people in the eyes if you can, and thank them by waving when they treat you well. Be considerate and engage people- it’s possible to make someones day by not being a jerk, and it can save your life.
    Remember that cars aren’t the enemy- they’re just sharing the road too.
    Watch out for idiots of the auto OR bike variety. There’s plenty of both– don’t be one of them.


  3. Lights at night. Lights at night. Lights at night.

    Cars cannot see you if you do not have lights at night. Reflectors alone will not cut it since they only reflect light straight back to the source.

    Also, don’t be a jerk. (This advice also applies to many situations other than biking.)


  4. It may seem obvious, but pay attention. Don’t daydream or use headphones. Ride w your head up and at least half a block ahead, so you can choose the best way to be seen, avoid road hazards, and predict what drivers will do. Not only will you be safer, you can actually go faster than if you’re always reacting to immediate hazards. Also, you’ll find that, if you make an effort to communicate, drivers will pay attention and respect you. Signal turns, wave a thank you, smile at a driver stopped next to you at a light. It becomes a dance rather than a sparring match. And that’s way more fun.


  5. Plan for extra time, the street lights in the city likes to make you late sometimes! Do not ride through red lights, this is a must. Like someone wrote earlier, lights, lights, lights on your bike and have plenty of reflective stuff too! Once you have figured out the route and really want to do this for a very long time, build up a nice commuter (nice means not expensive but have parts and components/wheels that are bomb-proof). Let go of being aero and worried about the light weight stuff, you’ll enjoy the ride more. Start bag shopping for your bike, it’s a lot of fun, I think the bike likes it too!


  6. I have been commuting by bike in DC for three years now and I am seriously considering giving it up entirely because of safety concerns.

    Two years ago, a driver that saw me (I know because that’s what she told the police afterward) conducted a right hook of death directly in front of me. My bike t-boned the car, my helmet cracked in two places, and I fractured my wrist. That incident alone did not cause me to reconsider bike commuting, though it certainly made me very, very cautious when entering an intersection.

    Two weeks ago, a driver turning left from oncoming traffic misjudged the speed at which I was travelling and had to accelerate through the intersection to avoid me. The SUV behind him did not even look at oncoming traffic. Fortunately, she did glance in my direction before flattening me. When her car stopped, my forearm was resting in the grill of the front of her car. Her reaction? I should just “go on” because I did not get hit and she didn’t have time for me being upset.

    This morning, while traveling in a bike lane, a driver opened his door in front of me without looking. I was going slow enough that nothing unfortunate happened. However, the car traveling next to me was a bus. Had he opened his car door a few seconds later, or had I been traveling a bit faster, I could very well be in the hospital right now.

    My two cents: take the lane, observe traffic signals, wear a helmet and lights. For me, however, I am still not sure the risks are worth the reward (and I really love riding my bike). Seriously considering walking instead.


  7. 1. Don’t start out by riding during rush hour. Instead, ride on a Saturday or Sunday morning to get comfortable with riding on city streets. Pick routes that involve mostly bike lanes and quiet streets. Eventually you can work your way up to busier streets.

    2. Don’t weave in and out of parked cars. Many people FEEL safest riding as close to the curb as possible. It can actually be quite dangerous. If cars are parked intermittently, however, the worst thing you can do is ride next to the curb and then move out into the roadway every time a parked car is in your way. Instead ride in a perfectly straight line, always in the car lane. Weaving in and out of parked cars is the best way to get hit by a car.


  8. Let the jerks honk. And my favorite rando advice, “ride your ride.”

    My epiphany today occurred when going around an 18 wheeler which was all messed up across 2 lanes of traffic and the bike lane. I guess sometimes you’re just in the wrong spot at the wrong time. Fortunately for me today, I slept in for a few extra minutes.


  9. Any bike can get you there, wherever there is. Allow a little extra time. Bring a lock. Keeping it simple, initially, will get you out the door, a few blocks at a time, to the market, the park, or to your workplace. Ride where you feel safe. The rest will fall into place.


  10. Be confident. You don’t need the most expensive bike in the shop. Fixies might be in fashion but it’s ok to use gears and brakes. Take the lane when you need to. Don’t ride on the footpath (sidewalk). And, finally, get out there and ride … it’s awesome fun 🙂


  11. Always be super courteous to drivers who treat you well, it is an exercise in PR that we have to do every time we go out. Follow the road rules and stick to quiet streets as much as possible. Don’t be afraid to take the lane where the traffic is moving slowly, it’s much safer out there than in the car door lane.


  12. Several have mentioned lights at night. I think visibility during the day is important, too. No, it doesn’t have to be spandex! But a good eye-catching outerlayer should be part of your commuting equipment. For ladies, I recommend you look at http://www.georgiaindublin.com stuff – very chic but also weather wise and visible.

    I’m out in the burbs and I think a bell is also really useful, especially on designated trails like the W&OD. I don’t think anyone would hear it in time in the city though.


  13. Thanks to everybody for their extremely thoughtful comments. I plan to update this post in the next week by moving the comments people made directly into the post, and will credit each commenter. Thanks again, all!


  14. Pretend you are driving a car and follow all of the rules. Red lights are there to let you know you need to stop. Half the people around me at any given light assume it’s a great time to get a head start on cars and cyclists who might be faster than them.


  15. Arlington allows you to ride in the sidewalk. When the traffic is aggressive (example, North Glebe), take the sidewalk. Always yield to pedestrians and keep an eye out for cars that are not looking for cyclists at crossroads. Be firm with your hand signals and make eye contact with drivers, nod and look for that return acknowledgment from the driver, I repeatedly point in the direction I am going to turn, I will not continue if the driver does not acknowledge me…this has saved me countless times. As others have posted, don’t be in a rush. There are times when cars and pedestrians are going to clog your route. I smile, wish them a great day and always thank them when I pass even if they give me the death stare. And for those drivers in cars that shout at me to get off the road…my taxes pay for those roads too, I choose to ride a bike, and I see your scowling faces as traffic is stopped or crawling and I spin by you on my two wheels burning off that decadent cookie I ate. Come join me, I say!


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