Summer is here and the streets are filled with cyclists and cars alike—here’s how you can help make the roads less treacherous for everyone.
When you’re cruising around Toronto on two wheels, the roads can be treacherous and hectic, especially during rush hours. Night riding also presents the danger of reduced visibility, and surprise collisions can occur if you don’t keep your head up. But there are several steps you can take to make the roads safer for cyclists and drivers alike. Here are a few pointers—some of which may seem obvious, but can never be repeated too often.
1. Obey the rules of the road!
Bicycles are classified as vehicles under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act—which means riders are subject to the same rules of the road that drivers are. For one, this means stopping at red lights and stop lights.
“For absolute safety, you’ve got to obey the rules of the road,” says Michael Cranwell, general manager of Duke’s Cycle. “If you go blowing red lights, you’re gonna get hit—and it’ll be your fault. I think the most important thing is education, education, education.”
2. Light it up
If you want to ride your bike at night, the law requires you to have a white light on the front and a red light or reflector on the back. Lights should be bright enough to make you visible at a distance, have a wide angle to illuminate more of the road, and a decent battery life. But, of course, you have to pay for quality.
“Under $30, you’re getting something that will get the attention of cars and other cyclists, but you’re not going to get something that will light the road,” says Gillian Goertz, sales manager at Curbside Cycle. “Once you start to break the $30 mark, you get stuff where they actually rate how bright it is.” The total light emitted from a bulb is measured in lumens; more lumens mean brighter light.
“It seems a little trivial, but I think the light is one of the most important things, even in terms of just cyclist-to-cyclist safety,” says Goertz. “A lot of people will think that reflectors are enough, but two bikes that don’t have lights—even if both have reflectors—are still not seeing each other, so it’s important to illuminate your bike. Get a light on there!”
The law also requires cyclists to have bells. As with other accessories, there are a myriad of options on the market: some are large, some are small; some have moving parts, some just have a spring-loaded knocker. But no matter your aesthetic preference, brass is the material of choice.
“Brass has a very bright and resonant ring, so it tends to carry up through traffic and road noise better than the classic ch-ching ch-ching bell,” says Goertz.
4. Stay off the sidewalk
Few things are more obnoxious than a cyclist on the sidewalk dodging through the crowd, weaving around baby carriages and old grannies. By law, any bike with wheels greater than 24 inches in diameter must be on the road. Smaller bikes are allowed on the sidewalk to facilitate children who wish to ride, but the sidewalk is intended for pedestrians, so stay on the road where your wheels belong—lest you wish to incur the wrath of Gosling.
5. Protect your head in style
Anyone under the age of 18 is required by law to wear a helmet but, beyond that age, it’s voluntary. Still, it’s better to be safe than sorry. There are many brands of helmet available covering a range of styles, sizes, and price points, but all must pass the same CSA safety standards to make it onto the market. Of course, it’s also nice to have one that won’t make you look like a dork.
“The safest helmet is one you’ll actually wear,” says Goertz. “The difference is whether you like it or not. So often, people will buy the cheapest thing just so they can have it in their closet and their mom won’t hassle them anymore.”
If you wear a helmet, make sure it fits properly. There should be a two-finger wide space between your eyebrow and the front of the helmet, the straps should come down in a V around your ears, and there should be enough space for one finger under the chin strap.
6. Mirror, mirror
Sideview mirrors are an optional accessory that are particularly useful on mountain bikes and road bikes, where the rider is seated in a position that can make shoulder checks uncomfortable.
“It’s nice to get that extra vantage point without having to crank your neck around,” says Goertz. “If you’re bearing all your own weight on your arms and have to look over your shoulder, your own body can get in the way.”
7. Learn to signal
If you’re navigating the busy streets of downtown Toronto, it may be helpful to learn the proper turning hand signals. Communicating your next move to drivers and other cyclists can help make the road a safer place, but only if people know what they mean. The Toronto Cycling Map—which can be found at any bike store—features an explanation of hand signals, as does the Toronto Emergency Medical Services website.
8. Practise proper street riding
Some major pointers include: Ride with the flow of traffic (and, as such, avoid going the wrong direction down one-way streets), cross streetcar tracks at a 90-degree angle, maintain a 1-metre space between yourself and parked cars to avoid getting “the door prize,” and don’t try to squeeze by trucks—they have large blind spots and their drivers might not see you. And please, dismount and walk your bike at crosswalks.
9. If you get into an accident, report it
In the event of a collision, stay at the scene and report it to the police. If a vehicle is involved, get the driver’s name, licence-plate number, and insurance information. If you don’t have your own insurance, contact the Motor Vehicle Accident Claims Fund; they can also assist in finding a lawyer if needed.