Cycling as a method of transportation has unquestionably grown in both popularity and visibility at U of T. One great resource for cyclists is Bikechain, a shop at the International Student Centre that sells bike parts and accessories, in addition to coordinating a rental program. Bikechain’s coordinator, Toby Bowers, recently answered some questions for The Varsity about how cyclists can be prepared to best keep themselves safe on the road.

The Varsity: What are some of the challenges that cyclists just starting to cycle in downtown Toronto can expect to encounter?

Toby Bowers: I would say the biggest challenge encountered on the road is space. Not just space to ride, but space to feel safe in. This is especially true during rush hour, and on busier streets. Bike lanes help by creating a dedicated space for people on bikes, but the city’s network is patchy. While this is getting better year to year, it is still falling short of the city’s goals.

Most other challenges faced by new cyclists will relate to knowing both laws and etiquette. The most important cycling related laws can be found through a variety of sources. Etiquette can be harder to discern. Signaling turns and stops, letting people know you are about to pass them (especially in tight quarters) with a quick “on your left” or “passing left”, and shoulder checking before moving laterally to make sure you don’t run into objects are all good starters.
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TV: What are some important things to keep in mind when cycling on major streets?

TB: When on a major street, behave predictably. You should be doing this all of the time, but busy streets are where it will count the most. Move in as straight a line as is safe, obey traffic signals, and look out for cars turning off of intersecting roads. If you’re feeling more confident and able to move at roughly the speed of motor traffic, position yourself in the centre of the lane you are traveling in. This helps to reduce unsafe passing. If you aren’t going that fast, try to stay about 1-1.5m from the curb, as circumstances dictate.

TV: What are some steps cyclists can take to prepare themselves to cycle in downtown Toronto?

TB: To cycle downtown, you need to try and keep a cool head. Motorists don’t always look, don’t always know a bike could go that fast, or don’t want to yield road space to you. Don’t take it personally either. That’s a sure way to provoke a confrontation. If you are in heavier traffic, be ready on your brakes too. Sight lines are reduced; pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicles can come from almost anywhere, and you need to be looking.

Have a bell or horn, have lights at night, and act like you would want others on the road to act. Be predictable, communicate through (polite) gestures and eye contact, be visible, and be conscientious of other road users.

TV: What are some important things to keep in mind when interacting with other cyclists on the roads?

TB: When interacting with other cyclists, I think it is important to set a good example. Running a red light doesn’t get you that much farther ahead, especially if you’re riding a clunker. Looking before you swerve around a car in the bike lane means you’re less likely to hit a cyclist doing the same thing; better yet, make a confident, signaled lane change well before the obstacle in your lane, and make sure to leave room on either side for other cyclists doing the same.

Be friendly too. The nice thing about riding a bike is that you can interact with people much more directly than in a car. You can have a chat while pedaling along, or easily stop when you see a friend on the sidewalk.

TV: How should confrontations with angry drivers best be handled?

TB: If confronted by an angry driver, stay away. It’s not worth provoking someone with 4000lbs of metal at his or her disposal. If you can, stop and call the police and report a dangerous driver. Get the license plate and description of the car and what happened. I know it sounds uncool to do, but it makes a difference.

On the flipside, you’ll run into nice polite drivers too. If you drive, you know about “the wave”, a small hand gesture that acknowledges that someone let you into traffic, or is allowing you to make a turn, or other polite moves in traffic. If a driver lets you in, or blocks traffic to let you take a difficult left turn, give them a nod and a wave. Remember that every vehicle is being piloted by a fellow human.