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10 Secrets to Cycling with Traffic: Part 7 of 10

10 Secrets to Cycling with Traffic

Today we continue a series of 10 posts about cycling with car traffic. These are things we have learned from years of riding in downtown Toronto. Some of these tips you may have seen before in other places, and some will be new.

This is not meant to be a complete list… there are more secrets out there… but here are 10 that you’ll find very useful.

NOTE: These are geared towards downtown cycling, since that’s what I’m most familiar with. These all assume that you already know about proper lighting and safety (ie. helmets are useful, stopping at red lights is advised, etc.) precautions, and know that riding on sidewalks is one of the most unsafe things you can do, for both pedestrians and yourself.

Past tips are found at the bottom of this post.

7. Make Them THINK You’re Unpredictable

Make Them THINK You’re UnpredictableThis is a tip not many people know. If I’m in a stretch of road where drivers are passing too closely or I just want more room, I look over to my left or over my left shoulder. Sometimes I’ll be looking at a store, or someone on the sidewalk, or down a street, but most of the time I’m just looking left for the sake of looking left.

I’ve found that the simple act of looking over to the left is enough sometimes to give me more road space. Drivers, if they see you do this, seem to think that you’re thinking of moving to the left (even if you aren’t) and are checking to see if it’s clear.  They don’t want to hit you, so they become a little more cautious.

If they think you may be coming left, they’ll give you more room. They don’t know you’re responsible and predictable and would signal before doing anything.


Check out the full “10 Secrets to Cycling with Traffic” series:

  1. Drivers Don’t Want to Kill You
  2. Ride in a Straight Line
  3. Play by the Rules
  4. Avoid the “Stoplight Squeeze”
  5. Signal Sensibly
  6. Take That Lane
  7. Make Them THINK You’re Unpredictable
  8. Ride With Others
  9. Avoid the Right Hook
  10. Practice Your Route

Image Credits:

  • Damn! How do you know all my tricks!???!!!! lol

  • I use this one as well. There’s seemingly a lot of contradiction to safe city cycling, isn’t there?

    Like I posted on twitter today: you need to be assertive but assume that everyone else is distracted, blind, deaf, and drunk. You have to be predictable in most cases (like following traffic rules) but sometimes giving the impression that you’re unpredictable is useful as in this case. Sometimes you are a vehicular cyclist waiting to make a left with the light and then you see that nobody’s going to let you go no matter how long you wait so when the light turns red you get off the bike and walk through the crosswalk. (Last time I did this was turning from eastbound Danforth to Northbound Pape and a driver honked even as I followed all the rules. I think the honk was meant to say “HEY! That’s cheating! I can’t do that!!)

    I think this dichotomy, or as I prefer to think of it, adaptability, is something that bothers some drivers. Not from a safety standpoint but just from a “Why aren’t the rules always the same” and further “Why are their rules different from ours?” standpoint.

  • I find the look left thing works really well, but I always thought that it was because I was making eye-contact (well, kinda-sorta) and people “saw” me a bit more because of that. Oh, yeah, that’s a human I’m about to pass.
    I pull it out especially when I hear a big vehicle or someone coming too fast.

  • Derek Anderson

    The other night my girlfriend and I got caught riding home after dark in the rain without lights. We weren’t planning on it but there we were. So we took the quiet side streets and rode the wrong way up one ways just to be sure we wouldn’t have to deal with much traffic and when we did that we would be seen.

    As we were riding north (the wrong way) up Shaw between Harbord and Bloor, three times we had to face down cars coming towards us and not giving us much room. In these circumstances I always fake unpredictability – a slight swerve out into traffic while the car is still some ways off and woah, look at those cars dive for the other side of the road. Three cars, three swerves, three times the space. Worked every time.

  • I would not say that’s a very good behaviour.

    My practice, if I have to take a one way street the wrong way, is to yield to cars. They have the right of way on streets like that.

    If you’re going the proper way… then yes, you have the right to take the lane.

  • Adam H.

    I just wear a big sign that says “I Will Cut You”. And if you’re riding contra-flow (Derek), you NEVER have the right of way, and you shouldn’t be trying to assert it.


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