How to cycle safely in a large city

(Based on my experiences riding in Toronto, Canada)

Wear a helmet. Falling to pavement from even a foot above the ground can cause a concussion or worse. Gravity is extremely powerful. A helmet protects the most vulnerable part of your body. Lose the vanity and wear a helmet; it could save your life! Ladies carry a hairbrush or comb to smooth out ‘helmet hair’.

Give adequate clearance to parked cars on your right. It’s called getting ‘doored’. A driver opens their car door without checking for cyclists. At best you get cuts and bruises; at worst you are flung under the wheels of an oncoming truck, game over, as happened recently to a man in Toronto. Stay clear of the parked cars even if the traffic on your left must move left to avoid you. At least they can see you. Slow down, ring your bell as you pass parked cars and keep your hands on your brakes.

Stay away from large vehicles, trucks and buses. They can’t see you. Whether moving along the road or stopping at a red light or stop sign, stay well behind larger vehicles; do not come up beside them. If they’re turning right you’ll get mangled, as happened to a Dutch University of Toronto professor in 2007.

Ride on dedicated bicycle routes. Toronto is adding dedicated bicycle lanes every year and produces a new map every year, available for free at most bicycle shops and at City Hall.

Obey the traffic signs. Stop at stop signs and lights. Too many cyclists ride like kids in a small town or in the country. You can’t do that in the city. We all share the roads. If we expect cars, trucks and buses to look out for us we must obey traffic rules.

Wear lights at dusk and in darkness, white on the front, red on the rear, flashing is best. Stick one on your helmet or knapsack.

Cross streetcar tracks at least at a 30 degree angle to avoid having your tire get stuck in the tracks.

Install wider ‘hybrid’ tires for city driving. Racing tires are not practical in urban areas.

Ride defensively and you’ll stay alive and out of the hospital.

See the Toronto Cycling Map Safety Tips