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How to Ride Your Bike & Commute in the City - Urban Cycling Tips

Biking and commuting in the city is a fun form of exercise that doesn’t require going to the gym, plus you never get stuck in traffic and you can usually park right in front of your destination. Here are some hints to keep you and your bike rolling safely and comfortably!

Rules of the Road

  • Know the rules of the road (generally they are the same rules and rights as cars) and obey them, but don’t push your luck when it comes to “rights.” In any confrontation with a car, you will lose. Some rules are different for bikes, like being able to use the sidewalk in Washington State or not having to abide by stop signs in Idaho. Know your local traffic codes, but don’t assume that motorists know them.

  • Assume that drivers don’t see you or realize how fast you are going and will do the most dangerous possible thing, and you’ll be ahead of the game. Use bike trails and segregated bike lanes if at all possible.

Small Repairs

  • Be ready to handle small repairs if you range further from home than you’d care to walk.

  • Carry an extra tube or two with tire levers, a mini-pump or a CO2 inflator and a patch kit in case of flat tires.

  • Other things you might need include a first aid kit, energy bars/gels, and allen wrenches (3mm, 4mm, 5mm depending on your bike).

Helmets, Lights/Reflection, Locks and more

  • Wear a helmet and bright colors with reflective tape like Scotchbrite® if possible.

  • Make sure to have bright lights if you’re riding at night—you’ll want a headlight to see the road and flashing LED's (rear) so drivers can see you. Remember that if a driver is looking at you from the side, they may not see your front and rear lights - consider getting lights for your wheels or additional reflectors.

  • Bring a lock - U-locks are probably the safest, 2 locks (1 U-lock, 1 cable) can help slow down thieves in sketchy areas.

  • Don’t leave your lights or other accessories on your bike, they will get stolen.

  • Bring a change of clothing if needed.

Route Planning

  • Plan your route carefully, trying to stay away from heavy auto traffic if possible. The best route in your car may not be the best route on your bike. In many areas Google Maps has a “bicycling” app (here's Seattle's) that shows existing bike trails and will chart a route for cycling from point to point.

  • Test a new route on your day off and see how long it takes and how tired you get.

  • Local knowledge rules - ask other cyclists for tips on how to navigate tricky or dangerous urban areas.

  • Know where local bike shops are located along your route.

Riding Tips

  • Ride close enough to the curb to let cars pass when the lane is wide enough, but look well ahead for bumps, holes and storm drains. If you’re too close to the curb you run the risk of hitting it at an angle and falling into traffic.

  • Avoid riding on sidewalks unless no safe option exists – rules on this vary from state to state, in Washington it’s legal but you must yield to pedestrians.

  • Visually scan the line of cars ahead for drivers in the process of parking or exiting their car – it’s a good way to anticipate a door opening in your path.

  • Move over and occupy a middle space in the road if traffic is slow and/or the lane is narrow, it’s safer to ride in the lane and not have drivers attempt to pass you.

  • Be predictable and courteous – don’t dart between cars or weave in your lane.

  • There is no shame in walking your bike if you need to.

  • Be careful of cars turning on to one way streets—they are not looking for you.

  • Be careful of cars passing on your left and making a right turn directly in front of you.

  • Make sure you have any pertinent medical, insurance and emergency contact information with you when you ride, and don’t forget your cell phone.


  • Use hand signals and your voice to communicate your intentions to fellow cyclists and motorists; left and right turns, stopping/slowing, etc. Experienced cyclists often use hand signals to warn riders in back of them of upcoming hazards (For example, a sweeping movement with the right hand to indicate slow moving traffic on the right side or pointing at the ground to indicate an upcoming bump).


  • Certain surfaces are super slippery when wet, like painted lane lines, manhole covers, railroad tracks, and old wood. Be alert to these and don’t attempt to turn, lean or change speeds while navigating them. When crossing railroad tracks (wet or dry), ride at a perpendicular angle to the track if possible to avoid catching your wheels in the gaps.

  • Your brakes won’t work as well when wet; allow extra time to stop.

  • Consider getting a bike with disc brakes and fenders if you ride in place that receives a lot of precipitation.
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