The best way to learn to drive a bicycle is to take a course with a qualified instructor, just as this is the best way to learn to drive a motor vehicle. Bicycle driver courses are available in the United States as part of the League of American Bicyclists’ Ride Smart┬áprogram. In Canada, Can-Bike classes are offered by affiliates of the Canadian Cycling Association. In the UK, see the Bikeability┬áprogram.

A succinct presentation of bicycle driving is available in Bicycling Street Smarts, by John S. Allen. Longer treatments can be found in John Forester’s Effective Cycling and John Franklin’s Cyclecraft (unlike the other works mentioned, this one is written from the perspective of those who drive on the left). See also the chapters on traffic cycling in the books on bicycle commuting, touring, or fitness by John Schubert, John S. Allen, and Rob van der Plas, all currently out of print.

A basic bicycle driver training covers three types of topics:

1. Understanding the bicycle and its human motor
2. Bicycle handling skills
Cycling in traffic

The first part includes topics such as bicycle fit, cadence, mechanical safety check, nutrition, clothing, and safety equipment.

The basic handling skills include starting and stopping, using gears, pedaling technique and posture, and looking over both shoulders. The advanced handling skills include rock dodge, quick turn, and quick stop.

Making a Quick Turn photos by Paul Schimek
To make a quick turn to the right, the cyclist turns the wheel to the left, immediately flicks the wheel back to the right and leans with the bike, and is able to make a sharp turn, avoiding hazards such as a turning car.

The traffic cycling part is based on the five basic principles of traffic operation:

Principles of Bicycling in Traffic
1. Always travel on the right side of the roadway and not on the sidewalk or footpath. (In a country that drives on the left, read “left” for “right” and vice versa.)
2. When approaching a road that is larger than the one you are on, or carries more traffic, or faster traffic, or is protected by a stop or yield sign, you must yield to traffic on that roadway. Yielding means looking left and right until you see that no traffic is approaching so closely as to constitute a danger.
3. When intending to move your line of travel either left or right upon the roadway, you must yield to traffic in the new line of travel. Yielding means looking in front and behind until you see that both directions are clear, that there is no traffic approaching so closely as to constitute a danger.
4. When approaching an intersection, you must position yourself according to the direction in which you want to go. Right-turning drivers are at the right, left-turning drivers are at the left, close to the center of the roadway, and straight-through drivers are between them.
5. When cycling between intersections, you must position yourself according to your speed relative to other traffic. Parked vehicles are next to the curb, slow drivers are next to them, while fast drivers are to the left, next to the centerline.

These principles apply to all traffic. The cyclist who rides in this way will not cause car-bike collisions. As the result of learning how to ride in this way, the experienced cyclist learns what other drivers should be doing, and therefore learns how to detect those drivers who are starting to do something else, probably something dangerous. Then the cyclist can make the necessary move to avoid, or at least ameliorate, the collision. The traffic cycling portion of the course necessarily brings up topics of cycling policy. It becomes apparent to students that many types of bikeways can discourage proper cycling. We also discuss what we can do to preserve cyclists’ rights to use roads.

A longer, comprehensive version of the course includes more time in riding practice, hill climbing, advanced maintenance, and even time trials. Since acquiring confidence and competence in cycling in traffic requires both time and training (changing one’s basic opinions is rarely a sudden process), this course also teaches the enjoyment of cycling. Students learn how to maintain and improve their bicycles, plus the knowledge to enter and enjoy urban cycling, club cycling, short touring, long touring, the beginnings of racing, and cycling with spouses and with children. Even for the trips for which cycling is best suited, people won’t choose it unless they enjoy cycling as an activity.

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