Culture Factory #3: How to ride a bike

Welcome to the culture factory! Every two weeks I will bring an local cultural issue to the table, one that deserves to be explored, and ask you, the benevolent reader, to help me give it fair treatment. I’m looking for personal stories, source suggestions and photographs, anything related to the issue that you want to see addressed as I prepare an article for The Uniter. You can even suggest another issue you’d like to see addressed. Please either leave a comment below or send me an email at to have your say.

This week I spoke to Dave Elmore, Safety and Education Director at Bike to the Future, for my article on cycling technique and safety. In our email conversation Dave said many interesting things that simply would not fit into the article.

Since I think much of what he said holds importance for cyclists, I’ve collected many of the most interesting responses here for your reading pleasure.

On cyclists, stop signs and red lights:

“Stop! If there is one common complaint that I hear and that I read in newspaper articles all over the world is that cyclists don’t respect the law. Does that justify drivers not respecting cyclists? No, but it gives them ammunition. There are clearly cases where cyclists take a significant risk when running a light or stop sign, but I suspect that most of the time they are taking a calculated risk and have assessed whether there is danger in taking that chance. That said, they build on the often serious conflict that exists between drivers and cyclists. They essentially give all cyclists a bad name, something that we cannot afford.  Do I think that cyclists have to come to a full stop at red lights, yes. At stop signs, no, but they should slow significantly, the same as cars do before proceeding.”

“The bottom line is that if you want to be treated as traffic you need to act like it. Following the rules can be a huge step in changing the culture and how cyclists are viewed by drivers.”

On the issue of cyclists using sidewalks:

“It is not only illegal to ride on sidewalks, it is more dangerous. The fact is that drivers are not looking for fast moving vehicles (bikes) coming off the sidewalk at intersections. They are looking at the traffic on the street. When cyclists are riding on the sidewalk opposite to the traffic flow, this issue is even more dangerous. Intersections also include uncontrolled intersections like back lanes and access/egress to things such as strip malls. Drivers do not stop at these sidewalks and in fact are not really required to unless there is a pedestrian there. Bikes move far too fast to be seen in these situations.”

On the topic of cyclists’ lane position:

“Cyclist need to always stay out of the door zone. What I recommend is a minimum of one and a half metres away from those parked cars. In general, I recommend a minimum of one metre from the edge of any road or curb, however cars doors offer a significant danger for cyclists that require more space. The recent death of a cyclist, who after hitting a door fell into adjacent traffic and was killed, should be a message for cyclists to stay away.”

“There is nothing in the HTA that requires drivers to take responsibility for making sure that there is no cyclists in the door zone before opening their door, so ultimately it is really up to the cyclist to make sure that they stay out of that zone.”

“One of the things that I see all the time lately is cyclists that weave in and out between parked cars, which in itself is a significant problem, but many cyclists make these maneuvers without so much as a shoulder check. And many of these cyclists do this because they do not clear the door zone, so they put themselves at risk both by swerving into traffic without checking or signaling, but also they ride right into the door zone.”

“As far as the required distance that motor vehicles need to give cyclists when passing, like so many other clauses in the Highway Traffic Act, is not very specific. It requires drivers to provide a reasonable or safe distance. What Bike to the Future would like to see is a specific distance. In many US states and in Nova Scotia the law requires drivers to provide one metre or three feet.”

On the outcomes and effects of following the rules and using proper technique:

“Aside from the obvious safety issues, if you don’t follow the rules, you can’t get respect from drivers. Sure, they break the rules too, but they use this argument all the time.”

“Conversely, my experience is that by following the rules I get more respect on the road. This is never more true than when I make drivers aware of my intentions by signaling. Even shoulder checks are a form of communication and it is unbelievable how often drivers will let me in when I let them know well in advance what I want and or need to do. Does it always work? No, but it makes a significant difference. Using a stop signal and of course stopping makes a huge impact as I am quite sure that a lot of drivers expect us to sail right through and when you signal and actually stop you have cars behind you slow down significantly instead of running up close behind you.”