I’ve been riding a bike for years. Recently, I got rid of my car, and plan to purchase an electric bike as my daily commuter. I also work in a bike shop, and my apprehension about doing maintenance on bikes is gone.
To bike safely and fearlessly comes from riding confidently and making yourself visible to your 2-ton commuter counterparts. Often times, I see cyclist cower to the right side of the lane, or graze along parked cars hoping not to get clipped by the speedier drivers coming from behind. I think this is the first mistake in trying to be safe.
I believe, that the number one priority is to make yourself visible and be confident in what you are doing. Hold your lane and be visible. It’s when the driver thinks they can pass you by squeezing-by that moments of panic and chaos arise. If it’s clear, and they are very impatient, they will go around you. Also, wear the appropriate gear. Have lights in front, as well as the back. It is very helpful if your back red light flashes. I prefer flashing light because they attract attention. You don’t want to be a stealth rider. Wear a reflective jacket if you can.
The second priority is to make yourself predictable. I believe that many accidents or close calls arise from the driver not knowing your next move. Think about it, car drivers follow the rules of the road, and so should you. You are no longer a pedestrian. That’s why hand signals are crucial. I’m right-handed, but these signals are universal. You never want to signal with your right arm. Hold that arm tight on the handlebars. It will help you hold your balance. Also, if you are leaning to the right of the lane, your left-hand gestures will be more visible. The easiest and most common is to extend your left arm out as if you are pointing to something far off to the left of you, to tell people that you intend to turn or veer left. If you want to go right, point upwards, breaking your elbow at a 90-degree angle. It’s like shorthand for pointing to the right, with your left arm if you follow a circular and upward motion (like doing jumping jacks). Similarly, if you point down, like your doing the robot, with a 90-degree arm, and pointing your palm back, you are motioning to stop.
Talking about stopping, stop at red lights. I know you just built up all that speed and momentum, but those are the rules of the road. Avoid riding against traffic. Avoid riding in the opposite direction of a one-way road. Respect drivers and eventually they will respect you. If you come to an empty pocket of parked cars, pull in briefly to let the traffic behind you pass. After all, you’re just a “car” going half or less the speed limit. Don’t be annoying. You don’t want to be break-checked or smashed by road-ragers.
Finally, wear a helmet, and proper shoes. Bring a bottle of water for hydration. And most importantly, have fun.