Our roads are used by everyone, from the six year old walking to school to the road train driving to Alice Springs. For things to run smoothly and safely, every road user plays a part. With one of the most important relationships, between drivers and cyclists. In most Australian cities the interactions between the two are unavoidable, and unfortunately not always positive.

Here’s a few tips on how to ride a bike in the city and how drivers can look to share the road with cyclists.

ride a bike in the city

Speed

Cars and bikes travel at different speeds which can lead to conflict. Drivers and cyclists alike have a responsibility to be very conscious about the speed they travel around each other.

Speed tips for drivers

Don’t rush: Cyclists aren’t as protected as you, which is why you’re required to overtake safely. Speed isn’t the most important thing, so please be patient.

Never tailgate a cyclist: Even a small impact can cause serious harm. Drive three seconds behind to have plenty of time to react.

Speed tips for cyclists

Be realistic: You’re allowed to ride slower than cars, but riding too slow will only anger drivers and increase your risk. If you’re struggling to ride at half the signposted speed, try to find another route.

Ride slow near pedestrians: Cyclists who ride too fast on shared paths are a legitimate concern for pedestrians. Stay safe around pedestrians and you’ll earn some good will for all cyclists.

Overtaking

Lots of accidents between bicycles and cars occur when overtaking, especially when cars overtake. Pay special attention and observe the road rules to lower the risk.

Overtaking tips for drivers

Overtaking distance laws exist in every Australian state. These define how much space you must give cyclists when overtaking. While they vary slightly, the rules are generally:

  • You must allow at least 1 metre when travelling under 60km/h.
  • You must allow at least 1.5 metres when travelling over 60km/h.

A good rule of thumb is to overtake a cyclist as you would a car, by moving completely into the next lane.

Overtaking cyclists isn’t always necessary, especially in traffic. If you’re going to stop soon the cyclist will likely overtake you again, and you’ll just waste petrol.

Overtaking tips for cyclists

Be careful when weaving between stopped cars. Clipping wing mirrors will anger drivers and increase their angst towards cyclists. Ideally you shouldn’t have to be a proxy for all cyclists, but good will goes a long way.

A woman with her bike getting to ready to ride alongside cars through city streets

Lanes

A theme that intertwines throughout this guide is the respect of each other’s right to the road. Every road user is allowed a full lane, including cyclists, motorcyclists, and drivers.

Lane tips for drivers

Cyclists are allowed the full lane: Cyclists and motorcyclists sometimes need to swerve around ruts and potholes that don’t bother you. This is why they need space.

Don’t ‘share’ a lane with a cyclist: If a cyclist is riding on the left of a lane, it’s probably because they’re scared of a car clipping them. Put them at ease by letting them have the full lane. That means not driving beside them and only overtaking when there’s a gap in the next lane over.

Lane tips for cyclists

Don’t ride in the gutter: It’s tempting to keep left, staying out of the way of traffic, but it’s often safer to ride in the middle of the lane. When you ‘take the lane’ (which you are allowed to do) you force cars to wait for a gap in the next lane to overtake. Which gives them more space to give you more space. You hugging the left can tempt drivers to squeeze past, putting you in danger.

Turning

Even though the speeds are low, turning is when our vehicles change direction, so low visibility or a surprising decision can make collisions more likely.

Turning tips for drivers

Indicate clearly: This applies to everyone. When cyclists can see when you’re stopping and turning, they’ll have more time to react.

Check your mirrors as you turn: Take the time to check your mirrors and blind spots before making a turn, especially in slow moving city traffic. If you’re turning left on a street with a bike lane, be especially careful to check the lane is clear before moving.

Turning tips for cyclists

Indicate clearly: This applies to everyone. When drivers can see when you’re stopping and turning, they’ll have more time to react.

Don’t overtake when turning: It can be tempting to slip past a car as they’re waiting to turn. Don’t do this, as you’ll pass through the car’s blind spot while they’re focusing on their turn. A bike lane doesn’t prevent the need for this, as cars may turn over the lane without looking. Instead…

Turn from the middle of your lane: When you turn, pretend you’re a car, take the lane, and make your turn when it’s your turn to do so. This ensures you’re seen by everyone in the queue.

A man walking his bike along a bike path

Parking

Like turning, parking can be surprisingly dangerous. Because the speeds are lower, road users may not signal their intentions and surprises are more likely.

Parking tips for drivers

Look before you open your door: One of a cyclist’s worst fears is being slammed by a driver’s side door. This can cause a collision or force a cyclist into fast moving traffic. As a driver, you can save lives by looking for cyclists before you open your door, and train children to do the same. For extra points, watch this video on the ‘Dutch Reach’.

Look for cyclists when reverse parking: When you stop to reverse park, check for cyclists. While cyclists should stop for you, it’s best to check there aren’t any slipping past.

Don’t park in bike lanes: Good infrastructure should never allow parking in bike lanes, but some streets are built in such a way that it’s possible. You should never park in a bike lane, as it negates the purpose of the lane and forces cyclists into traffic.

Parking tips for cyclists

Be vigilant of doors: Try to ride outside of the ‘door zone’, a metre or so from parked cars. This can put you into the next lane, so take the lane if you need to.

Stop for drivers reverse parking: When a car stops to reverse park, don’t try and quickly slip by them. Both cars and cyclists are required to stop and let drivers reverse park.

Bonus thoughts

Finally, we came up with a few tips that didn’t fit into any of our categories.

Bonus thoughts for drivers

Bikes reduce congestion: If you’re ever annoyed at a cyclist, remember that they make your life better. Every bike is one less car on the road, directly reducing traffic and the demand for parking. They’re making your city a better place to live.

Go for a ride: The best way to learn to drive around cyclists is to become a cyclist! Riding is fairly safe and a great way to get around on the cheap. It’s also good for you, and a lot of fun.

Bonus thoughts for cyclists

Wear a helmet: This isn’t the place for a discussion on the merits of helmet laws, but while wearing a helmet is required by law, please do so. It increases the reputation of cyclists, and makes you a bit safer.

Don’t run red lights: As above. Some people feel there are justifications for creeping through a red light, but as long as the law says not to, please don’t do it.

Empathy is not a dirty word

We can all use the road together in safety. Mixed-use roads are great, reducing traffic and lowering our environmental impact, but we need to be courteous to everyone. Always remember, the road isn’t used by cars and bikes, it’s used by drivers and cyclists… real people, just like you.

About Tim Beau Bennett

Tim is an ex-journalist and radio presenter, and has been a professional writer for over a decade. He regularly writes about technology, lifestyle, and smart cities, and has written for news site including the ABC, SBS, and Australian Financial Review.