There are few greater joys for a cyclist than watching car commuters lurch along in bumper-to-bumper traffic while you're casually pedaling home from work. Instead of adding to life's aggravations, commuting by bike melts away workday stress. Rather than spending more time sitting on your butt, you are sitting on your bike's saddle and getting a workout. (If you're looking to get serious about exercise on your bike, consider picking up a copy of Jason's book.) And instead of contributing to the world's pollution problems, you are doing your part to make our planet a little greener and cleaner.

Need more motivation? Consider these eye-opening statistics from the cycling advocacy organization PeopleForBikes:

  • Using a bicycle to commute 4 days a week for 4 miles (one-way) saves about 54 gallons of gas a year.
  • The energy and resources needed to build one medium-size car could produce 100 bicycles.
  • Cars and SUVs account for 40 percent of daily oil consumption in the US.
  • Traffic congestion wastes 2 billion gallons of gas a year.

It costs about $50 to build and maintain one space in a bike rack and $500 for a bike locker, yet one car parking space in a parking structure costs about $8,500.

Despite those compelling statistics, many cyclists hate riding in traffic. Indeed, safety concerns while riding in traffic consistently rank as one of the top reasons people aren't commuting by bicycle more often. And frankly it's understandable. Traffic, especially in big cities, can be downright scary when you're on a bicycle. Motorists speed by in cars the size of tanks. Pedestrians blindly walk into your path. And all the while, you're trying to navigate roadways that are often littered with cracks, potholes, and who knows what.

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While you can't change any of these factors, you can alter your reaction to them by learning how to ride more safely and smoothly in even the worst rush-hour traffic. Here are some fundamental tips that will help you build your confidence and skills.

10 Key Skills

Practice makes better: Pedal between parked cars at malls or supermarkets to get used to having all that metal around you. This will help you feel comfortable when drivers simply pass normally. Save your adrenaline for true emergencies.

Look where you want to go: Don't spend too much time worrying about the traffic behind you. The majority of bike accidents involving cars happen when the driver and rider cross each other's path at intersections and driveways, especially when a driver turns in front of a rider.

Make eye contact: Never assume that a motorist sees you or that you have the right of way. And don't take a walk signal, a green traffic light, or a driver's awareness for granted. Instead, always make eye contact with drivers to ensure that they see you.

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Hold your line: To stay safe in traffic, you need to keep track of what's happening behind you, so it's a good idea to master the skill of looking behind you without swerving. Practice riding on the painted line of a quiet road or parking lot. Once you can do this, try maintaining your course while turning your head to the left. Slightly drop your left shoulder while keeping your right shoulder level. Don't rely on peripheral vision. You should be able to turn your head far enough to see clearly behind you.

If you're struggling, try sticking out your left arm straight behind you, then turn your head, shoulders, and neck as you look over your left shoulder. Sighting down your arm will help you keep riding straight. Eventually, you'll be able to do it without using your arm as a guide.

Get noticed: The majority of drivers don't actively ignore cyclists. They are just conditioned to be on the lookout for larger obstacles (or maybe they're looking at their smartphone). For this reason, don't be overly courteous and hug the gutter if there is no bike lane or shoulder to ride on. Instead, when sharing the road where there is no separate bike lane or shoulder, your first responsibility is to yourself and your own safety.

Your best bet is to ride in the lane's right wheel track so that you have 2 to 4 feet of space from the edge of the road. This makes you more visible to drivers, who typically will be looking for other vehicles in that area of the road. Plus, in this location you are less likely to blend in with the rocks along a hairpin turn or the foliage of an open space area. (Here are some more tricks to be the biggest distraction on the road.)

Light up: Outfit yourself and your bike so that you are easy to see. Bright-colored, high-visibility cycling gear is always a good idea, especially items such as shoe covers and gloves, which can catch a driver's attention because they are often in motion. Your helmet is another potential eye-catcher. Add some reflective tape in the rear or even affix a small blinky light. Indeed, lights in front and rear are essential, especially at dawn and dusk or whenever daylight is low.

         RELATED: Enlighten Yourself: Bike Lights and Traffic Laws

Follow the flow: When riding in a standard road lane, ride on the right, but not too far right. Yes, this puts you closer to the flow of traffic, but it's also safer because drivers will be less tempted to try to squeeze past you. Not hugging the gutter also reduces your risk of getting walloped when someone opens the door of a parked car. Claim the entire lane, if that's what you need to ensure safety. In fact, on some streets that feature special bike lane markings (known as sharrows) cyclists are supposed to take the entire lane. Taking the full lane is often the safest way to ride downhill sections where the speed limit is 30 miles per hour or less, because a bike can easily keep up with other vehicles. In this case it's better to just act like a car.

Here's how to safely handle a left turn while riding through traffic:

preview for How to Make a Safe Left Turn in Traffic

Stay in your lane: Even if there is space, don't move to the right at intersections or when a long string of spaces for parked cars is empty just to momentarily get out of the flow of traffic. You will have to move back into traffic at some point, perhaps popping out unexpectedly into a driver's view. Instead, hold your position and try to be as predictable as possible.

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Take up your position: Use your position within the lane to signal your intentions. If you are preparing to merge or turn left, move to the left part of the lane. Stay in the center when you are traveling straight and moving at the same speed as other traffic. Move right when you want to merge or turn in that direction, or to permit cars to pass.

Eye oncoming traffic: Always keep an eye out for cars coming from the opposite direction that are about to make a left turn (across your path). This often happens when you trail a string of cars through an intersection. The driver coming the other way may be looking out only for cars, and he could start turning after the last car comes through the intersection because he's not expecting one more set of wheels to come through. To help avoid this situation, try to stick close to the last car in the line. And of course be prepared to hit the brakes just in case.


Take a page from the world of car and motorcycle safety and utilize the SIPDE method, which stands for: search, identify, predict, decide, execute. Here's a breakdown of each.

  • SEARCH the street (and sidewalk) ahead
  • IDENTIFY potential hazards
  • PREDICT their movements
  • DECIDE on a course of action
  • EXECUTE the maneuver that takes you safely along your chosen line

Continuously split your attention among your immediate line through traffic, your escape route (an alternate line in case your path is blocked), side streets, and any traffic you have passed that might overtake you later. Don't get distracted by any vehicles, sounds, or events outside your line. Just note them and decide if they will enter your line later.

         RELATED: How to Avoid 8 Common Road Biking Hazards

Avoid getting squeezed: Drivers may sometimes try to sneak past you then cut you off when they turn right. One clue to watch for is when a car drifts toward the left side of the lane as it approaches the intersection, setting up for the quick turn to the right. Again, it's critical that you continuously scan and be ready to brake. For this reason, don't hug the side of road. This only encourages aggressive drivers to try to pass from behind when it's not safe.

Watch for blind spots: Drivers look for openings in traffic by nosing their cars out of driveways and side streets that have limited visibility. When you approach such spots, stand tall on the pedals and try to make eye contact with the driver. Take the center of the lane if you can, and check for escape space to the left just in case.