Cyclists take to the streets to get to work, to get fit or purely because it feels great to ride a bike. But boy, do they cop a hiding from motorists. As a South Aussie-expat, this time of year is notorious for one thing: In the shadow of the Tour Down Under, cyclists take over the roads, footpath and cafes.
Here's a list of commandments you should be following if you want to avoid getting a filthy spray from an indignant motorist.
#1 You Shall Wear A Helmet, Dummy
Look, if there's a list of commandments for a cyclist, this is at the top. Not wearing a helmet is illegal but more than that, it's just stupid. If you're emulating your favourite cycling heroes, they all wore helmets. Wear the helmet.
#2 You Shall Not Ride Three Abreast
Most Australian roads are not wide enough for cyclists to accommodate cyclists riding right next to each other, especially if you are operating at three or more abreast. Yes, you can ride two abreast, but you must be within 1.5 metres of the other rider. Best practice would dictate that on tiny roads you try your best to ride in single file, if only out of courtesy - though this may not be the 'rule' it's just the best thing to do to ensure safety for yourself and for others using the road.
Plus, if you’re riding in a peloton of your own making, you're going to quickly anger motorists behind you.
#3 You Shall Always Use The Bike Lane
Sadly, the luxury of a bike lane doesn’t exist in many major cities, which does make this one harder to follow. But if there is a bike lane there, you need to use it - that's not just a commandment, that's actually the law. Councils and local governments need to do a better job providing spaces for cyclists to use, but there are more times than I wish to count where I've seen a cyclist ignore the bike lane in favour of riding on a footpath or street - for no good reason.
#4 You Shall Not Ride On The Footpath
Follows on from above. The footpath is not a place for cyclists in Victoria or New South Wales. However, if you're under 12 years of age, riding on a footpath is totally fine, but anyone over 12 years of age should not use the footpath when cycling unless they are accompanying a person under the age of 12. In other Australian states, you're free to ride on the footpath as you desire but if you're using a shared path, stick to the left as best you can.
Updated: Originally, this post did not distinguish between riding on the footpath in different Australian states. If you're anywhere but Victoria or New South Wales, the footpath is to be shared. A good tip for both cyclists and pedestrians.
#5 You Shall Ring Your Bell
It's true that cyclists get caught in this weird purgatory between the street and the footpath, which means that incur the wrath of both motorists and pedestrians. If you find yourself in breach of the above commandment, or if you're using a shared path, then you’re going to have to ring your bell to let people know you’re there. It's not always effective in this day and age (headphones have made sure of that), but it's courtesy and it is a requirement of owning a bike. Not ringing the bell is a dick move.
#6 You Shall Wear High Visibility Gear
Pertinent at night specifically, but one to keep in mind, wearing blacks and greys will see you disappear into the asphalt, making you near impossible to spot. Make sure you always have your flashing lights turned on at night and you'll prevent any unnecessary fracas with frustrated motorists.
#7 You Shall Not Run Red Lights
As a cyclist, you are considered a vehicle and, like a vehicle, have to obey the road rules. Running a red light is illegal. Don't do this. It's dangerous and stupid.
#8 You Shall Be Courteous On Public Transport
You're bringing in a vehicle as wide as you are tall. You're going to need to store that thing somewhere. When you get on a tram or a train, you are going to need to get in and out more than once so other commuters can get to their seats or get in the door. Bikes are big unwieldy things that, unfortunately, not a lot of public transport is designed to deal with. Get on last, get off first.
#9 You Shall Not Leave Share Bikes In A River
If you're looking for a share bike, the best place to look is generally in a large body of water or the upper branches of a tree. Share bikes are a great concept that seems to have completely backfired, with the rentable velocipedes turning up, discarded, all over Australian cities. Most cyclists would have their own ride, but for those that just jump from share bike to share bike, don't throw them in the river.
#10 You Shall Always Remember: Motorists Can Be Dicks
Yeah, motorists can be as bad – if not worse – than cyclists when it comes to sharing the road. Sadly, aggressive driving can be potentially fatal, but that doesn’t mean that motorists take it easy. Though they should always be giving a metre for cyclists, sometimes that distance can be a lot tighter. That's become illegal in several Australian states, but it doesn't mean that everybody follows the rules. So a word of warning, more than anything else: If you’re riding on the street, just remember that motorists aren’t always looking out for you.
And there’s no need to get your pitchforks out, cyclists. Put your guns down. I catch a train every day because the roads are terrifying and I am all for cyclists getting their fair share of the roads. Motorists need to relax a little, especially in Sydney. That’s why we’ve got another article in the works about the stuff motorists need to consider when sharing the road.