Biking for newbies

In honor of Bike to Work week, we here at LADOT Bike Blog would like to give some of those newer riders out there a crash course in the do’s and don’ts of the road.  Think of this as a FAQ for someone who hasn’t taken their bike on the road in years.  We’ll continue to post up info throughout the week.  If you’ve got something you’d like us to cover, just drop it in comments and we’ll try to get to it in a day or two.  So far, LADOT Bike Blog has done a lot to cover bike safety when you’re parking your bike, but we haven’t spoken much about bike safety when you’re on the road.  It may be old hat for some of our more experienced readers, but let’s get back to basics.

What ARE the rules on the road, anyhow?

It’s hard to be safe when you don’t exactly know what the laws in LA say you can and cannot do.  A bicyclist equipped with knowledge of his or her full legal rights on the road is much more likely to have a safe ride.

Do I have to wear a helmet?

Don’t just wear a helmet, wear a helmet the right way
According to the California Vehicle Code, only riders under the age of eighteen are legally obligated to wear a helmet.  We recommend that all Angelinos wear a helmet when they go out on a ride, as it’s just good sense to protect your head when you go out for a spin.  Wearing a helmet, however, isn’t a safety magic bullet; Biking in LA has a great post up on bicycling safety and the efficacy of bike helmets.  While they can provide some head protection, helmets are only built to withstand low-speed crashes.  A helmet certainly isn’t an excuse to engage in risky riding that you wouldn’t otherwise try.  For more info on helmets, check out the wealth of information at

Can I ride opposite traffic?  It feels safer to me, since I can see the oncoming cars.

I wouldn’t recommend this…

No.Way.  Not only is riding against traffic illegal according to the California Vehicle Code, riding against traffic is also one of the most dangerous things you can do as a bicyclist.  You may able to see oncoming traffic better when you ride against the flow of cars, but those drivers certainly aren’t looking for you on the wrong side of the street.  It’s also simple physics.  When you’re moving in the same direction as traffic, the amount of stopping time and distance needed for a car is far less than a car coming head on.  It’s been calculated that a car traveling 30 mph will only need 46 feet of braking distance to avoid an accident when a bike is traveling in the same direction at 10 mph.  When that same 10 mph bike is traveling the wrong way, that braking distance needed to avoid an accident expands to 140 feet.  Yikes!  Wrong-way riding becomes even more dangerous at night, when drivers have lower visibility and will have less time and distance to react to a rider on the wrong side of the road.  You can read more about wrong-way riding here.

Check back tomorrow for more “Biking for newbies”!

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