Tips for City Biking

Atlanta is a tough city for cyclists. It's even been officially recognized as such by Bicycling Magazine. Unfortunately, we Atlantans have the dubious honor of having one of the worst cities in the country for biking. (Atlanta, Boston, and Houston seem to vie for the title each year.) Traffic is heavy, bike accommodations few. However, that doesnt mean you cant ride your bike here. You just have to know where to ride and how to negotiate the traffic when you're out there. Here are a few tips I hope will help.

But first a side note.

Im often asked whether its legal to ride your bike on the sidewalk. The answer is, technically, no (unless you're under thirteen). The dilemma here is that while riding in the street certainly has its dangers, so too does riding on the sidewalk. On the sidewalk, you not only have to negotiate curbs, root damage, and other sidewalk users, but youre also vulnerable to drivers entering and exiting side streets who are not expecting to see traffic (you) on the sidewalk. If you do choose to ride on the sidewalk, you must be aware of the inherent dangers there. Use your common sense on this one.

Now back to the tips.

Tip One: If you remember nothing else, remember this: Be visible. Be predictable.

Being visible is self-explanatory. Dress so drivers can see you. Wear yellow. Its the color most visible to the eye. Dont wear gray. Thats the color of the street. You'll be nearly invisible in gray, especially at dusk. At night, use lights and wear reflective gear. The more you light up at night, the better. Be visible.

Be predictable. Being predictable simply means that you follow the rules of the road. Bicycles are classified as vehicles. Thus, they are required to follow the same rules of the road as other vehicles. Ride on the right hand side of the road; obey the signs and signals; take the left lane when turning left, and signal your intentions to other drivers. We have only one set of rules for the road, so when everyone abides by them, everyone knows what everyone else is going to do.

Be visible. Be predictable.

Which leads me to a second side note. Cyclist always appreciate courtesies extented by drivers. However, courtesies should not include unexpected actions that might introduces confusion in any situation. For example, drivers in oncoming traffic will sometimes stop to allow a cyclists to make a left turn in front of them. However, the car behind that driver is not expecting them to stop. It's a good way for them to get rear-ended. So, although courtesies are appreciated by cyclist, don't extend them unexpectedly. As a rule, it's best for both drivers and cyclist to take the right of way when it is theirs. Everyone is expecting it.

Tip Two: Be aware of hazards that are specific to bicycles.

  • Watch for cars making left turns in front of you, and look for cars pulling out from side streets and driveways. Although these are obvious dangers, cyclists need to be particularly vigilant of them. Drivers often misjudge the speed at which bicycles travel and they do not perceive bicycles as a danger to them. Drivers will often pull out in front of a bicycle where they would never consider such a move if the oncoming traffic were a car or truck.

  • Watch for cars that pass you and then make a right turn in front of you. You prevent this situation by moving to the center of the lane before you get to the intersection.

  • Watch for sewer grates that have the bars turned parallel to the curb. Your front wheel can fall in and toss you over the handlebars. Knowing your route helps you avoid this hazard.

  • Be aware that railroad tracks and steel cover plates are extremely slippery, especially when wet. Cross them slowly in a perpendicular fashion.

  • Watch for sand in intersections that may cause you to slip and fall while turning. Avoid road debris that may cause flats.

  • Be aware that drivers cannot see the holes, debris, and other hazards that you have to negotiate. Signal drivers, if possible, before making any unexpected moves to avoid hazards.

Tip Three: Pick good routes.

You can find lots of neighborhood streets or more lightly traveled thoroughfares when you look for them. You can also ask other cyclists about good routes. You can always spot the bike riders at a gathering. Theyre the ones talking ad infinitum about what streets they use to get to such and such a place, how bad the hills are, and which traffic lights dont recognize their presence. Youll suddenly find this most boring of subjects to be of great interest when you start city biking. Youll see that a good route is not only safer because there is less traffic on it, but also safer because you'll know ahead of time where the hazards are.

Unfortunately, sometimes there are no good routes from point A to point B. Sooner or later you end up having to travel on a road that you feel is just too dangerous to ride on. In this instance, it may be that riding on the sidewalk is your best option. Again, use your common sense on this one.

But all in all, youll find that riding in Atlanta is quite doable. Yes, it gets stressful sometimes. Riding with cars is scary. That's a healthy fear. But if youll keep these three tips in mind: Be visible, be predictable; know the hazards specific to bicycles, and pick good routes, you'll be surprised how far you can go. Plus, you can brag about how hard-core you are for riding in one of the toughest cities in the country for biking.

Happy Trails


5 Comments so far...

I just Moved here from Minneapolis Mn and was horrified to find out that it is THE worst city in the country for riding. I still plan to commute with my roadie but I am excited for the Mountain biking up north. In MN we get a lot of snow in the winter so the streets have to be wide, here there is hardly any room from the right lane to the sidewalk. I have a helmet and lights and reflectors on my bag so lets hope I can post again sometime.

-Posted on Apr 9th, 2009 by Johnny Confident

And if you'd like, you can take a Confident City Cycling class from the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition.

-Posted on Apr 27th, 2009 by Mike from ABC

Bicycle Education of Atlanta offers Urban Cycling Education Series year round! It's a 3-part in depth program: #1 The Bicycle and You, #2 Lane Positioning and Sharing the Road, #3 Crash Avoidance & Emergency Maneuvers. Each module is 2.5 hours and PRIVATE CLASSES are also available! Check us out!

-Posted on Jun 29th, 2009 by Robyn Elliott

"Plus, you can brag about how hard-core you are for riding in one of the toughest cities in the country for biking." Ha! Well put, Mike. I grew up in Atlanta and have cycled here for 25 yrs. All these tips are second nature to me, but seeing them written out is great. Good tips all. If followed, they do make riding in ATL do-able.

-Posted on Aug 19th, 2009 by Jamie

I am from the Bay Area, California, but I also found this article very informative. I am about to start commuting 19 miles each day on low traffic nice, wide street roads but found the safety tips to be very useful.

-Posted on Oct 8th, 2009 by Sally