How to Get Comfortable Biking Around Cars

One of the top concerns I hear from potential bike commuters is the fear of riding too close to cars. Don’t get me wrong, it can be hard to get comfortable biking around cars!  The sensation of cars whizzing past can definitely be nerve-wracking in the beginning; I definitely remember being a little nervous when I first started commuting via bike. 

However, with some time, practice, and the 5 easy tips below you will be feeling confident on your new bike commute in no time!


Tip 1: Get A Helmet

Unfortunately, biking infrastructure in the United States is sorely lacking. Our cities were not designed for bicycling as a primary means of transportation, and, because of that, bike commuters in the US are more susceptible to accidents and injuries.

And we aren’t just talking about car accidents, either; potholes, ill-maintained bike lanes, road-blocks, (even trolley tracks in some cities) etc. are all obstacles that can send a bicyclist flying off course and colliding with the pavement. 

You see where I’m going with this…wear a helmet, friends! 

Improving infrastructure is a key step – it’s better not to crash or fall at all – but if you do fall or crash, it is pretty easy to see how wearing a helmet will leave you in MUCH better shape.  A helmet is your extra layer of protection as you set out on your commute, comparable to a seat belt in your car. If you’re looking to feel more comfortable riding around cars, get a helmet! 

Convinced? Excellent! Read on for more tips, and also check out this post on how to pick a helmet that you’ll actually wear!


Tip 2: Communicate with Cars

Knowing how to communicate with cars on your bike is essential for your safety. NEVER assume a car can see you and ALWAYS communicate your intentions. Left turning, right turning, changing lanes – these are all important signals to know and utilize on your bike commute. 

I want to highlight 3 basic bike hand signals every bike commuter should know as they get comfortable biking around cars.

Signaling to cars should be easy and intuitive.

Bike hand signals for commuting should be intuitive so anyone behind a wheel (fellow bike commuter or not) can understand what you are communicating.”

However, if you were to google “bike hand signals”, some of the official signals you will find can be truly baffling.

For example:

  • Question: What does “moving your arm up and down like you’re patting a dog mean”?
    • Answer: That’s slowing down.
  • Question: What does “arm extended out and down in a right angle mean”?
    • Answer: That’s stopping.

Not the most intuitive bike signal, but an important one, nonetheless.

What I learned is that many of these hand signals were created by professional cyclists for group cycling and races. As an urban bike commuter, these signals are not the most useful for communicating with cars since most drivers are unfamiliar with them.

So when in doubt on your bike commute, for communicating with cars around you, simply utilize clear, intuitive signals! However, if you are interested in learning some advanced bike hand signals, check out information from professional or group cycling resources such as bicycling.com or usacycling.org


Tip 3: Learn the Rules of the Road

Every state has slightly different rules for bicyclists, but there is one basic sentiment that unites them all: follow the rules of the road just as you would if you were in a car! 

Don’t run lights, don’t cut people off, fully stop at stop signs, don’t make turns from the wrong lane, etc. – pretty straightforward and common sense.

Learning and following the rules will make you more comfortable riding around cars, because you’re riding in a way that is predictable and clear. The more predictable and clear your movements you are, the less likely it is you will experience an accident.

If you want specific details on bike laws for your state, check out this wonderful resource from the League of American Bicyclists that outlines bike laws for each state. It was last updated in 2012, but it is an excellent place to start for the basics.


Tip 4: Know the Horror Stories aka Be Prepared

Fact: There are many different ways to get hit by cars on a bike (I am not saying that to scare you, I promise!) 

Also a fact: if you know what those different ways are, you’ll know what to expect, what to look out for, and how to avoid them! 

I could sit here and write out all the different ways to get hit by a car, but this link from Bicycle Safe called “How to Not Get Hit By Cars: Important Lessons in Bicycle Safety” is just too good not to share! 

It is a blog post that I am sure every bike commuter has used in some form. It is informative, clear and the details just stick in your head. So check it out friends!


Tip 5: It’s not “just like riding a bike…”

If you haven’t ridden your bike in a long time but are considering a bike commute, (just like me when I first started bike commuting) do not take the expression “just like riding a bike” at face value!! 

Getting those legs moving on your bike will probably be easy to pick up again, but everything else that comes with bike commuting (signaling, turning, new routes) is not as intuitive!

It is important to practice beforehand and feel comfortable doing basic movements like braking, looking behind you while pedaling, signaling and others. In order to get comfortable biking around cars, start in empty parking lots, side streets or cul-de-sacs before moving to the big-leagues and you will feel ready for anything during your first ride to work!!


You Have Just Learned 5 Easy Tips for Getting Comfortable Riding Around Cars! Check out the other “How To” Posts for more tips and information to get you bike commuting in no time!

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