How to Use a Bike Lane (Pros and Cons of Using it)

by Mario Claramo

As a brand new cyclist, one of the most intimidating parts is riding on main roads, rather than in quiet areas, or on a sidewalk. Luckily there are often bike lanes provided to alleviate some of the stress that comes from riding with traffic.

A cyclist should use bike lanes when provided, riding with the flow of traffic. Understanding of and compliance with local traffic laws will increase personal safety. Bike lanes should be used with extreme caution, understanding many motorists are unaware of bicycle laws.

I enjoy using the bike lane when it is provided, it allows drivers around me to give me a little more space and it helps everyone share the road. Read on to learn some guidelines for using bike lanes.

General Bike Lane Use

Bike lanes are a great option for riding in busier and more dangerous roads. This doesn’t mean that bike lanes are completely safe, but they do add a little bit more protection for cyclists.

Educating yourself on local bike laws can protect you physically and legally. Bike laws do vary, so I will give some general guidelines but always look to local law for a more specific direction.

Since there are many drivers who are unaware of proper bike lane use, if you ever do have a run in with a vehicle, you will know who in the wrong.

Direction of travel

One of the very basics of a bike lane is knowing which way to ride on it. It might seem a little bit weird, but a bike lane is not a two-way lane. There is actually a specific direction you are supposed to ride on every lane.

You might ask, well how am I supposed to know which way to ride!? The answer is actually pretty simple.

A cyclist is supposed to ride with the flow of traffic. That is it. So whichever way the cars are moving, that is the way you are supposed to ride.

I remember when I first started riding probably about 6 years ago, I hated riding with traffic! I felt pretty vulnerable with cars racing up behind me and I would cringe each time one passed. I thought I was going to get a one-way ticket out of this world.

But over time I got used to it. It will start to feel a little more natural after a while, I promise.

Safety

Ok, safety is really the whole reason for bike lanes. There is nothing wrong with riding in the lane with cars. (in most places) But it can cause some traffic and safety problems for everyone. There are a few things that you’ll want to watch out for to keep yourself safe while you are riding.

Road debris

This is a big problem where I live. I ride my bike every day to work and for a portion of the ride, there is a bike lane. And while I’m happy about that, I get so annoyed when there are a bunch of rocks and stuff all over.

Different types of debris will cause different problems.

If you are riding a mountain bike, some smaller rocks and sticks won’t hurt you too much. You’ll just want to look out for glass and other things that could potentially damage your tires.

If you are on a road bike or a hybrid even, you will have to be so careful about what you ride over. Little rocks and be pretty dangerous.

Since road bike tires are inflated to such a high pressure, when they hit a little rock, there is no give in the tire. So if you hit that rock at the right time, especially on a corner, it can make your bike come right out from underneath you.

Out of my cycling years, I’ve never had this happen, but one of my friends was training for an Ironman and he was doing a ride and hit a rock and it laid him on his side into the road.

So be aware of rocks! Really the same goes for sticks and such. Of course, you’ll have to watch out for glass or other things that will puncture your tires.

I do have to say, I think i would rather get a flat tire than crash in the road.

Something else to watch out for are Storm Drains. For the most part, this won’t be a problem but I have been riding before and I came upon a storm drain that was in my path and I rode in between the bars, rather than across them.

Besides the pain it caused, I also ended up with a flat front tire. Luckily I was only a mile away from finishing my ride.

The other safety things are lumped into other topics so keep on reading! 🙂

Bike Lane at an Intersection

Riding down a long road using a bike lane is pretty easy, as long as you stay in the lane and you are riding the right direction, you will be fine.

The confusion comes when you get to an intersection. Sometimes the traffic patterns can be a little bit difficult for riders and motorists to understand.

From the Cyclist’s View

When you are approaching an intersection, you may notice that the bike lane leaves the curbside and travels into the intersection for you to ride straight on.

That is all well and good, but as you can imagine, there will be drivers who need to cross the bike lane to turn right.

This is where there are a lot of accidents. When the painted bike lane becomes broken up rather than a solid line, you know that motorists have the right to cross the bike lane.

Like the cyclist, you need to watch for any vehicles coming through your lane. The drivers should be watching for you, but they might not see you. So be careful!

As you use the dashed lane to go strait use caution, looking for any cars turning right. If you also need to turn right, then leave the bike lane and stay by the curb all the way around the corner until you find a new lane.

From the Motorist’s View

As you approach an intersection notice the bike lane crosses the turn lane in order for cyclists to continue straight.

If you need to cross the bike lane, check for riders, and then double check. After you see there are no riders in the bike lane, you are clear to cross.

If you do see a cyclist, slow down if you can and allow them to pass before you cross the bike lane. Always air on the side of safety. A few seconds are not worth someone’s life or a lawsuit.

Left Turns in a bike lane

If you are in the bike lane, approaching an intersection and you want to turn left, then there are two major options.

First, you can enter traffic, (safely) and then merge into the left turn lane with all of the other vehicles. This may seem uncomfortable at first but honestly, I like being in a position where the motorist behind me knows that I am right in front of them.

Do be careful when you are entering the traffic flow. Try and enter traffic early to give the drivers around you a heads up. Let them know your intentions by using hand signals.

If you are totally uncomfortable with this method then there is a beginners method you can use. To use this method you will want to stay in the bike lane like you will be going straight through. (Even though you want to turn left) Once the light is green, start across the intersection as if you will go straight.

Now look to your right and see the bike lane on the road you wish to turn on to. Quickly enter that bike lane. (which will be perpendicular to the lane you were just in.) Now adjust yourself to face the correct direction, and wait for that light to turn green, and head straight across.

So rather than using the turn lane, you made more of an “L” shape to make your way across the intersection.

Both will work.

Bike Lane Controversy

There is some amount of bike lane controversy. Many motorists do not like bike lanes because they add complexity to the roads. They claim that bike lanes increase congestion and danger

On the other side, sometimes using the bike lane will cause you to break other road laws.

They can also cause difficulty in cities where cars are parked along the road and there is a bike lane on the outside of the parked cars. Many cyclists are hit open car doors.

Common Bike Lane Laws

In most places, bike lanes are put there out of courtesy for riders. But in some places, bike lanes are mandatory

Mandatory bike lane use

In some countries, if you are riding a bike, you are required to ride in a bike lane. If you are found riding outside of a bike lane you will be fined.

Even in the USA there are some states that have strict bike lane policies.

When you are riding, always stay within the law. Good luck with your upcoming rides!!

You may also like