Topic9FBimage1 When some adults get back on their bike after many years of not having ridden, many’s inclination is to ride on the sidewalk, as separated as they can be from car traffic. Please check with your municipality to see if riding on the sidewalk is even legal. Some cities like Buffalo prohibit adults from biking on the sidewalk within city limits. Others like Rochester allow sidewalk riding outside downtown. In general, we don’t advise biking on sidewalks for adults, primarily because you’re not as visible and predictable there. There are a fair amount of crashes that involve sidewalk riding cyclists. In his tome on safe and effective cycling, expert John Forester advises sidewalk riding “only in short-distance maneuvering, such as riding on the left sidewalk to reach a particular driveway a half-block away…” We never advise riding on the sidewalk from one neighborhood to another or from one part of the city to another. (Many municipalities require kids biking on their own to ride on the sidewalks. For more on this, see our first article).
Topic9FBimage4Topic9FBimage3Topic9FBimage2 So if you oughtn’t ride on the sidewalk, where should you be? In the road, where you are more visible and predictable since you have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists. As we’ve mentioned before, riding on the left side of the road against traffic is illegal and very dangerous. SO RIDE ON THE RIGHT, “near the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway or upon a usable right-hand shoulder in such a manner as to prevent undue interference with the flow of traffic” except when coming out for a turn or to avoid obstructions or hazardous conditions. This doesn’t mean riding with your tires an inch from the curb. Rather you should ride as far to the right as you can while remaining safe, giving yourself suitable room to maneuver. We recommend giving yourself three feet of clear space on each side of you. Ride three feet to the left of curbs and parked cars. And ride in such a way that passing cars on your left pass you with at least three feet of clearance. Wide traffic lanes often allow a cyclist and motorist to share the same lane safely. Lanes narrower than 12 feet are too narrow to share, so the law allows a cyclist to ride in the center of that lane (what we call “taking” or “controlling the lane”) to deter unsafe passing.
Topic9FBimage6Topic9FBimage6 It’s important to note that if you’re riding on a street with a dedicated bike facility (say a bike lane or cycletrack), it’s the law to use it unless it’s obstructed/unsafe or you’re coming out to prepare for a turn. Bike lanes can be unsafe for all sorts of reasons: flooding, road debris like glass, puddles, plowed snow, a grate that’ll tear up your tires, sticks or branches, parked cars, etc. The same goes for shoulders: If they’re clear, by all means ride there. Unlike a motorist, you have that right. What we don’t advise is constantly weaving in and out between parked cars in the shoulder. The goal is to maintain a straight, predictable line for as much of the time as you can. If you’re riding in the shoulder and a parked car is up ahead, the time to make your move out into traffic isn’t right when you’re up on the car’s bumper; come out earlier when a good opportunity allows so you’re already maintaining a straight line when passing that parked car with at least three feet of clearance.

We never advise riding along the painted stripe on the right of the road. That’s ambiguous road position: Are you in the shoulder or the traffic lane? As Forester states, “Occupying a lane is a discrete action; either you are occupying it or you are not, and you need to make that plain.” Being visible/predictable and making your position obvious goes a remarkable way towards keeping you safe. The first time you stop sidewalk-riding and start abiding by these road principles might be uncomfortable. We’d encourage you to look up your local bike advocacy organization and see if they offer regular bike classes, so you can get accustomed to these principles in a group setting with a certified instructor. With or without a class, you’ll find that “American motorists are remarkably consistent in their habits” and you can “take advantage of [that] to make cycling safest for you.”