How to Bike with No Bike Lane

Even if you live in a city brimming with bike lanes and can easily construct a commute that is 100% bike lane dependent, it is important to know how to properly bike without one – you might be just one construction project away from having to learn how to do it. 

All state biking laws mandate that bicyclists ride as far to the right as possible; but what do you do when there’s no bike lane?? 

Read on for 3 tips that will teach you exactly what you need to know! 

To the Right, To The Right 

Riding to the right on a bicycle means two things. 1) Ride in the right lane and 2) ride closer to the curb or edge of the road. As a cyclist, riding in the right lane makes sense, because this lane is designated for slower moving vehicles. If you are riding in an area where there is no bike lane, stick to the right lane on the road – unless you need to make a left turn at an intersection. (Making a left turn on your bike can be a tricky process; read more on that in this post here.)

When it comes to riding closer to the curb or edge of the road, the key thing to remember is to do what is “practicable.” You will see this word all over state biking laws, and it means do what is safe.

The Smart Cyclist. A man with a helmet biking way too close to a car

This is NOT “practicable”

Some roads are simply not large enough to safely ride to the right and share with a vehicle. You need to have at minimum three feet of space in between you and the car. If that’s not the case and you cannot safely ride to the right, you should….

Take It (the lane),  or Leave It

The phrase “taking the lane” means riding in the middle of the road. It’s definitely the safest way – probably not a car driver’s favorite way though. 

It is extremely safe because there is no way an overtaking car driver will be able to edge or squeeze past you without having to properly pass from the other lane. On the other hand, riding far to the right on a road that cannot be shared is only asking for this trouble. 

It’s all or nothing. Take the lane and ride in the middle of the road or find a different route! 

Communication is Key

Communication is the key to many situations and that stands true for bike commuting as well. However, instead of our voices we use hand signals to communicate our intents and actions!

The main communications strategies you’ll use when taking the lane include signaling and scanning: 

  • Signaling: the most common signals you may need to use include signaling to get back into the bike lane, turning or changing lanes. 
How to Get Comfortable Biking Around Cars. An image of a cyclist wearing a white helmet and blue top performing the following bike hand signals: left turn, changing lanes and right turn
  • Scanning: Scanning on a bike is the process of looking behind you. Just like in a car, you need to look behind you for oncoming cars if you plan to change lanes. Scanning is also just a good way to indicate to a driver that you are about to do something

See these excellent videos from the League of American Bicyclists for both communication strategies:

If you’re looking for more tips on riding safely, also read about the door zone and tips for riding safe here!

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