One secret I didn't include is the most important one:
While these 8 things will help you deal with car traffic in a city, you'll learn them with experience, so the most important thing you can do to make yourself comfortable on the roads is to bike a lot. You'll become more and more comfortable the more experience you have out there.
For instance, I have a 7 km route to work, and I know through lots of repetition of this route where cars tend to slow down and speed up... where I have to be extra-vigilant and careful due to drivers thinking they can pass me safely when they can't. This isn't learned through 8 tips on a website, but with experience.
These tips though, these tips will help you become more comfortable faster, as you have now essentially pulled out all the information I've learned over the past 2 years biking Toronto.
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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) precautions, and know that riding on sidewalks is one of the most unsafe things you can do, for both pedestrians and yourself.
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1. Drivers Don't Want to Kill You
It's hard to believe sometimes, because drivers can often do some pretty thoughtless things out there, and despite all the evidence to the contrary, it's true.
They may not like you... they may think you are in their way, that you are too slow, that you don't belong on the road, and that your tight cycling butt looks way better than their flabby one stuck in their car, but most of them are not homicidal.
This is mainly because they are seeing things from a drivers' perspective, and often have not given much thought to how vulnerable cyclists are. The vast majority of drivers don't want to kill you... they just don't understand you.
I bet any cyclist you know with a drivers license can tell you that knowing things from a cyclists' perspective has made them a much better driver.
Knowing this one thing will give you a lot of confidence.
2. Ride In A Straight Line
Don't ride in the gutters and then swing out into the road to avoid the drains. This throws drivers off-guard because they aren't thinking about the drains and aren't expecting you to do this. There's a very good chance you'll get honked at if you do this, because nothing scares a driver more than a cyclist swerving in front of their car.
Instead, imagine that the entire length of the road is lined with gutters. Ride at least that far away from the curb. It's hard at first, because you may be afraid of those cars driving beside you, but most drivers will pass you at a safe distance the further you ride out from the curb.
3. Play By The Rules
You and your bike constitute "a vehicle" according to the Highway Traffic Act. This means that you have to abide to the same rules that drivers do. This means stopping at red lights, stopping for people at crosswalks, and not passing open streetcar doors.
This is really important because if drivers see you respecting the laws, they are more likely to respect you. On the other hand, if they're stopped at a red light and you blow right through it because (hopefully) the way is clear, they are going to be mad at you.
Why should they treat you like a vehicle with a right to the road if you don't behave like one?
4. Avoid The "Stoplight Squeeze"
The next time you get to a red light before cars do, DON'T put your right foot down on the curb. I know it's tempting as it's a handy little footrest, but if you're right beside the curb, any drivers that come up behind you will drive up beside you (often too close) and you'll be "squeezed" when the light turns green, having to wait for that car to go before you can.
Instead, when you get to the red before cars, swing out a little to the left (I usually stop about 1/3 of the way between the curb and the next lane), and lean over to the left, putting your left foot down. This forces drivers to stop behind you, and gives you "first dibs" when the light turns green.
5. Signal Sensibly
Drivers are trained to look for signals. Stoplights, stop signs, turn signals, brake lights... all of these things catch the attention of a driver. It's what they look for to make sure they don't hit anyone. Letting them know that you're planning on turning, or coming out into the road more to pass a parked car is just courteous (see #3 above).
Biking hand-signals are traditionally confusing... pointing up means turning right? Pointing left means you're going straight? That's confusing - especially for drivers who don't know about cycling.
Apparently, it's now acceptable to point in the direction you're going (it makes sense), so point where you're going. It keeps everyone on the same page. Do it well ahead of any turns, so that drivers know that you're planning to turn, and they can act accordingly to avoid you.
6. Take That Lane
This is just what it sounds like. Taking your place in the middle of a lane because it's unsafe at the edge of it.
This is mostly done on streets where the curb lane is filled with parked cars. You can't ride in the curb lane right beside the cars because of the possibility of getting "doored" (also called "winning the door-prize") by someone getting out of their car.
Therefore, you ride in the other lane. Most of the time (especially downtown), you'll be moving at the same speed (or faster) than vehicular traffic, so you'll fit right in to traffic.
If you're moving slower than traffic, remember that you're a vehicle and have a right to be there if you're abiding by the laws, and move out of the lane whenever you get a chance.
7. Make Them Think You're Unpredictable
This is something that I've learned only recently. 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.
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.
8. Ride With Others
I don't get a chance to do this often (especially lately because it's been winter) but the biggest factor when riding with cars is having a presence. It's easiest to do this if there is more than just you biking.
Cars are more likely to see 2 bikes than one, 4 bikes than 2, 10 bikes than 4, and so on. The more bikes, the more chances that one of the people riding them will do something unpredictable, so drivers give groups of bikes (even those riding single-file) much more space than single riders.
You don't have to know everyone you're riding with either... when the weather is warm, there are lots of bikes out on the street, and often you'll find yourself riding with other people out there on the road. Notice that you'll hardly ever have a close call with a car passing you too closely if there's atleast 2 of you riding along. Not to say it never happens... it just seems to happen less.
The main thing to do is get out on your bike as much as you can... the more people see you out there having a good time, going faster than traffic in a fun, cheap, and pollution-free way, the more likely they are to try it too. The numbers of cyclists on the road has the potential to grow exponentially this way.... the more cyclists people see out there, the more people are curious to try it. Imagine if you saw groups of cyclists riding by you all day every day... you'd want to know what all the fuss was about!
This is also the concept behind Critical Mass ... it's easy for a driver in a car to bully one cyclist off the road, but stick a few (or more) cyclists on the road, and they take on the presence of a car... perhaps more than one car. There is strength in numbers.