Cycling Road Rules and Manners

Cyclists in the Boys and Girls Club Cycling Challenge in Old Trail Sept. 15. (Photo courtesy 3 Cats Photo/Cherie Wright.)

By Beth Seliga and Erik Hultgren

When we moved to Crozet, we had no idea what to expect. We quickly learned that people here were kind, open, helpful and genuine. So, when we started riding bikes again in the Spring, we should not have been surprised to find how accommodating and considerate local drivers are. I have ridden my bike all over the U.S. and in parts of Europe, and I feel safer riding here than anywhere else.

Local professional racer Ben King of Leopard-Trek says it’s true, too. “I trained around 25,000 miles last season, and a lot of that was around Charlottesville and Crozet,” he said. “I haven’t had a problem with any drivers in the area. Most honks are encouraging and occasionally someone will hang out the window to shout how fast I’m going. Also, if you know the right roads, you won’t see a lot of cars. I counted three cars in the first two hours of my ride last week.”

More people are turning to cycling to stay in shape, which means more people sharing our beautiful, narrow winding roads. Here’s what everyone should know about bikes, bike lanes and keeping everyone safe.

Keep in mind is that we are all living, breathing people. Even if a cyclist is doing something wrong, still give him some room and do not drive too close. Car versus bike: the bike (and its rider) always lose. Cyclists, even if a driver is irritating you, hitting his car with your hand generally will not bring about good will. If you feel you are being threatened, a call to 911 will work best.

Virginia state law requires cyclists to obey all traffic control devices and use proper hand signals.

Bicyclists may make left turns as either motorists or pedestrians do. To make a left turn as a pedestrian would, the bicyclist should continue straight across the intersecting road, obey the traffic signals, turn left at the corner and proceed as usual. Bicyclists also may dismount and walk in the crosswalks of the intersecting roads.

It is not lawful to turn left on a red light just because the road looks clear. Cyclists must stop for red lights and at stop signs before turning right.

Drivers, if you see a cyclist indicating a turn, be prepared. Hopefully they are aware of you and will ride as expected. Treat them as you would another car.

Virginia law requires both cyclists and motorists to travel safely on the roads and pass appropriately.

Ben King (Photo courtesy 3 Cats Photo)
Ben King (Photo courtesy 3 Cats Photo)

Motorists must approach and pass a bicyclist at a distance of at least two feet and at a reasonable speed. While that is the law, two feet is surprisingly close. That is less than the distance most people can reach with one arm.

The law says, “Bicyclists may overtake and pass another vehicle only when it is safe to do so. Bicyclists may pass another vehicle on the right or left, and they may stay in the same lane, change lanes, or ride off the road if necessary for safe passing.” Passing motor vehicles on the right side may be extremely dangerous if the motorist does not see the bicyclist and attempts a right turn.

Bicyclists must not ride between two lanes of traffic moving in the same direction unless one lane is a separate or mandatory turn lane.

Bicyclists cannot ride more than two abreast on highways. When riding two abreast, bicyclists cannot impede the movement of traffic, and need to move into single file when being overtaken from the rear.

Some other tips:

Wear a helmet, wear visible clothing, and tie down or cuff those pant legs flapping in the wind. I almost became a widow a week before my first anniversary when a young driver turned left into my husband while he was riding. He tumbled through the air and shattered the back of his helmet on the road. Wear your helmet. Every time. It’s just not worth the risk. Also, Albemarle County requires helmets on all kids under 14.

Anticipate the actions of drivers and watch for road hazards.

Cyclists: Pros have long teased that crashing at 30 mph is like jumping out of a moving car in your underwear. If you listen to music while you ride, keep it at a volume where you can still be aware of traffic. Also, it is unlawful in Virginia to wear earphones in both ears while riding a bicycle.

Like drivers, most cyclists try to avoid rocks, gravel, mulch, and broken glass. Even the best bike handlers can fall when riding through debris. Many cyclists will swerve around trouble rather than risk punctures or crashes. Please make space for cyclists in the lane if you see road impediments.

Wear reflective clothing and use lights at night. Every bicycle ridden between sunset and sunrise must have a white light on its front with the light being visible at least 500 feet to the front. The bicycle must have a red reflector on the rear visible at least 300 feet. A red light visible for 500 feet to the rear may be used in place of or in addition to the red reflector.

Cyclists, remember that when you don’t obey the traffic laws, motorists will use that as an example of how poorly cyclists follow the rules.

Motorists, remember cyclists are all people like you: moms, dads, sons, daughters. All it takes is one too-close call for something tragic to happen.