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Our 10 Rules for Using Bike Lanes Safely, Efficiently, and Enjoyably

By Megan Flottorp

Fuelled by the pandemic and the demand for greener modes of transportation, cities worldwide have been investing significant resources in cycling infrastructure. Around the world, policymakers have been approving more and more bike lanes to ensure that they can support the increase in two-wheeled travellers.

As such, the chances are better than ever before that you live somewhere where getting around by bike is a safe and viable option, which is fantastic! But it also means that you should familiarise yourself with how they work. Whether you’ve got conventional bike lanes, contra-flow lanes or the buffered variety, some rules apply. From passing correctly to watching your speed, let’s get into the rules you can follow to make the most of these welcome additions to our cities.

London Bike Lane
Whether you’re dealing with bike lanes that share the streets with cars, or fully protected separated lanes, there are several overt and unspoken rules to be aware of when enjoying this fairly new urban infrastructure. © Profimedia

1. Be a defensive cyclist

In a perfect world, everyone on the road will have read and memorised this list, and we’d have nothing to worry about. But, as you know, live in a perfect world we do not. The point is, even if you’re riding in a protected bike lane, you shouldn’t assume other cyclists and pedestrians don’t pose a potential hazard. It is necessary to pay attention and be prepared to brake if a dog or kid dashes into the lane or comes to an abrupt stop.

2. Keep a steady (and reasonable) pace

Unless you’re the only bike on the road, please, don’t plan on claiming any KOMs while riding in a bike lane. Cyclists of all varieties should feel safe and welcome on public lanes, so this isn’t the place to show off. Likewise, if you’re starting to feel exhausted or aren’t sure about getting up a hill, it’s best to carefully move aside and walk your bike on the sidewalk. Try to keep a similar pace to those around you, and you’ll be just fine.

3. Make sure your bike is in good working order

In the same way that you wouldn’t drive a car knowing it had mechanical problems—you have an obligation to ensure your bike is fit for the road before taking it out. Riding something with faulty brakes, flat tyres, or janky shifters is dangerous to both you and those around you.

4. Sport a lid and make everyone happy

Again, in the interest of protecting yourself and putting your fellow riders at ease—you should always wear a helmet when riding in a bike lane. Statistically, bike lanes are safer for cyclists than the open road—and that is why we love them. Nevertheless, accidents still happen, and it’s important to be safe.

5. Ensure you’re visible to those around you

In addition to sporting a securely fastened helmet, you should wear visible clothes and remember that bike lights are critical if you’re riding during dawn or dusk. Visibility is a must.

6. Never block traffic

If you suddenly need to answer a phone call, are inspired to take a picture or just otherwise need to get off your bike—pull off to the side, dismount and move to the sidewalk. This allows the flow of traffic to continue and helps keep everyone safe.

7. Always pass correctly

If you know how to behave in a car on the road, you can apply the same logic to bike lanes. If you’re a slower rider, stay to the right. If you’re planning on overtaking a cyclist, pass on the left. Before doing so, check the lane to see that no one is riding in your direction. Once you’ve passed the rider, move back into the right lane and repeat.

8. Follow the same traffic rules as usual

On top of the proper passing protocol, don’t forget that you’re subject to the other rules of the road too. When you’re on your bike, you should still obey all stoplights, traffic signs and pedestrians. Be aware that dashed lines in bike lanes mean turning is allowed but that you should watch out for motorists and other cyclists before making a move.

9. Tell your fellow riders what you’re planning to do

No one wants to be startled while riding their bike. It can be dangerous to whiz by another cyclist too quickly and catch them off guard. Ideally, you should have a bike bell or at the very least yell “on your left” as you pass a slower rider.

10. Remember that it is always important to be kind, folks

When more people ride bikes, we all win. At the same time, we all have off days, make mistakes, and are intimidated when trying something new. Try to encourage those around you and take a helpful and informative, rather than an aggressive or dismissive approach if you see someone who seems confused. If you have the skills to help a fellow cyclist out with a mechanical issue or share a tube or pump—do so. Your efforts will go a long way to ensuring bike lanes continue to become a more popular and accessible travel option for everyone.