Cycling Safety

Cycling can be enjoyed safely when you understand the rules of the road and practise proper safety and handling techniques.

This is your guide to cycling safety. Whether you're new to cycling or you are an experienced cyclist, this guide contains important information, tips and techniques to make you a safe, confident rider.
Cycling is a fun, healthy activity and an inexpensive way to get around.bicycle

  • be equipped
  • know the rules
  • watch for hazards
  • ride responsibly

Safety Check

Every cyclist needs to know how to tell when their bicycle is unsafe to ride and needs repair. This section includes a basic bicycle safety checklist.

Basic Bicycle Safety Checklist:

  • Bolts/Quick release levers
    Check that bolts and/or quick release levers on the seat, seat post, handlebar stem and axles are tight.
  • Headset
    Check that it turns freely and doesn't rattle.
  • Brakes
    Check that the nuts on the brakes are tight. Brake pads should not touch the rims unless you are squeezing the brakes. Brake levers should stop at least 2.5 centimetres from the handlebars when the brakes are fully applied.
  • Axles
    Check bearings for looseness by shaking the wheel side to side. Make sure quick release levers are clamped tight.
  • Shift Levers
    Derailleur levers should move easily only when shifting. A screw or butterfly nut or similar device lets you adjust the movement of some types of shifter levers.
  • Derailleur Movement
    On derailleur bikes, try shifting through all your gears and make sure your derailleur does not throw the chain off the sprockets.
  • Tires
    Inflate to the recommended tire pressure as shown on the tire.
  • Spokes
    Check for and replace loose, bent or broken spokes.
  • Wheels
    Make sure wheels are centred in the forks and not touching the brake blocks. Check the rim for side-to-side wobbles and up and down hops by watching the wheel spin past the brakes or frame. More than half a centimetre of wobble is cause for concern.
  • Coaster Brakes
    Check that the bolt holding the brake arm to the frame clip is tight.
  • Helmet
    An approved bicycle helmet can greatly reduce the risk of permanent injury or death in the event of a fall or collision. A helmet works by absorbing the forces of a crash, so if the helmet has been in a collision, it should be replaced even if there is no visible damage.

    The best helmet is one that fits properly, is worn correctly and has been manufactured to meet strict safety standards. Look for a safety standards sticker meeting the approval of safety organizations such as the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), Snell, ANSI, ASTM, BSI, CPSC and SAA.

    Helmets from other sports such as hockey, baseball, and football are not recommended for cycling. They are designed and tested for different types of impact.

    To provide maximum protection, the helmet should fit level and square on your head. It should fit snugly and not slip when you move your head.

    In Ontario, it is the law that every cyclist under the age of 18 must wear an approved bicycle helmet.
    To check a proper fit:
    • There should be two-finger widths between your eyebrows and the helmet. 
    • The straps should be flat against the face. 
    • The side straps should meet just below the ear making a V-shape under your ear lobe.
    • The chin strap should be fastened snugly with enough room to fit one finger between your chin and the strap. 
    • Use the sizing pads provided with the helmet to adjust the fit.  

Riding with children

Use care and caution when cycling with young children who are too young to ride themselves. Keep in mind that a bicycle child seat mounted behind the bicycle seat alters your centre of gravity while riding and may increase the risk of losing balance. Take extra caution when placing and removing the child from the carrier.

Never leave your bike unattended when a child is in the carrier.

An alternative way to carry children is to use a child bicycle trailer towed behind your bicycle. Bike trailers are stable and not prone to tipping. Most trailers are attached either directly to the bike frame or the seat post by means of a u-joint.

Children are required to wear an approved bicycle helmet when riding in a child carrier or a bicycle trailer.

Be seen and heard

Because bicycles are one of the smallest vehicles on the road, it is important for cyclists to be as visible as possible to other road users at all times.


By law your bicycle must have a white front light and a red rear light or reflector when you ride between one-half hour before sunset and one-half hour after sunrise. As well, the law requires white reflective strips on the front forks and red reflective strips on the rear stays.


Clothing can improve or reduce visibility. Yellow and white stand out best at night; dark colours are difficult to see. Pedal reflectors and reflective material on wrists, ankles, heels, clothing and helmets help others see you.

Dawn and dusk

When riding directly into or away from the sun at these times, leave extra room and be ready for sudden stops or swerves by traffic around you. Be particularly alert at intersections and scan carefully.

Be heard

Bicycles are very quiet vehicles, so it is important to warn other cyclists and pedestrians of your approach. By law, all bikes must have a working bell or horn to announce your approach. At times it is just as effective and more courteous to shout something like "passing on the left" when overtaking other cyclists and pedestrians.

Hand signals

Left turn signalright turn signal
Left Turn: left arm out                                                       Right Turn: left arm out, up


alternate right turn signalstop signal
Alternative Right Turn: Right arm out                           Stop: Left arm out, down, palm back


Riding in Traffic

The Ontario Highway Traffic Act (HTA) defines the bicycle as a vehicle that belongs on the road. Riding on the road means riding with other traffic. This is only safe when all traffic uses the same rules of the road.

When everyone follows the same rules, actions become more predictable. Drivers can anticipate your moves and plan accordingly. Likewise, you too can anticipate and deal safely with the actions of others.

Where do you ride?

Because bicycles usually travel at a lower speed, there are two rules of the road to which cyclists must pay special attention:

  1. slower traffic stays right
  2. slower traffic must give way to faster traffic when safe and practical

Accordingly, cyclists should ride one meter from the curb or close to the right hand edge of the road when there is no curb, unless they are turning left, going faster than other vehicles or if the lane is too narrow to share.

Changing lanes

When changing lanes, remember that the vehicles in the other lane have the right-of-way. The person moving into a new lane must always wait for an opening. Always should check, signal and shoulder check again before changing lanes.

Going through intersections

Intersections are where many collisions occur, so stay alert. Any point where the paths of two vehicles can cross is a potential intersection. Often residential areas contain many mini-intersections where driveways and alleys enter streets. Stay at least one metre from curbs in residential areas so that drivers about to enter the road can see you, and you can see them.

At intersections, it is usually better to take the lane before the intersection so that right-turning motorists stay behind you.


Right-of-way determines who goes through an intersection first. Before proceeding into an intersection, give way to pedestrians and vehicles already in the intersection or approaching the intersection so closely that it would be hazardous for you to proceed.

The following outlines the right-of-way at intersections with and without traffic controls.

Without traffic controls

When you approach an intersection without traffic control signals, stop signs or yield signs at the same time as another vehicle, you must yield the right-of-way to the vehicle approaching from the right.

All-way stop

At intersections with all-way stop signs, the first vehicle to come to a complete stop should have the right-of-way. If two vehicles arrive at an intersection and stop simultaneously, the vehicle on the right has the right-of-way. Putting your foot on the ground indicates you are stopping and yielding.

Moving through traffic signal intersections

There are two rules for safely crossing intersections:

  1. Watch for vehicles turning across your path and be prepared to avoid them.
  2. Always watch for traffic signal changes and be prepared to stop if you are not yet in the intersection.

Right turns

To make a right-hand turn, get to the right-most lane since you must turn from the right-hand curb side to the right-hand curb side. Shoulder check for overtaking traffic, then signal the turn. Scan the intersection for pedestrians, who have the right-of-way, and wait for them to clear your path. You must also stop for red traffic signals and stop signs before turning.

Keep in mind that cars may move into the bike lane or to the right side of your lane prior to making a right turn. Stay behind or pass on the left. Never pass a right-turning car on the right side.

Left turns

There are two basic ways to turn left at an intersection, depending on your cycling skills and the volume and speed of traffic.

  • Pedestrian turn
    Walk the bike across the pedestrian crosswalk.
  • Vehicular turn
    This is the most convenient way to turn left except where traffic is so congested that it is difficult to get into position before the turn. Vehicular style turns can be relatively simple on quiet residential streets but they require more cycling skill on multi-lane roads.

Multi-lane left turns

Two possibilities exist: moving to a dedicated left turn lane, and using multiple left turn lanes. Both require the cyclist to move over lane by lane to get to the appropriate turning position. These manoeuvres can be quite complex and require specific cycling skills.

A cyclist must be able to shoulder check without swerving, judge gaps in traffic, signal intentions to motorists, shoulder check and move decisively and quickly when safe to do so. You can develop these skills by practising on quiet streets first. As you gain confidence and skill you will find it easier to turn left on busier streets.

Dedicated turn lane

Move lane by lane to the dedicated turn lane using your lane-changing skills. Wait to turn at the centre of the left turn lane. Go when the oncoming traffic is clear and the traffic signal is green.

Multiple left turn lanes

When more than one left turn lane exists, use your lane-changing skills to move over lane by lane to get to the lane at the extreme left. Take the centre of the lane. If all traffic must turn left and the lane is wide, you may ride on the right side of the lane.

Completing a left turn

Always complete your turn into the equivalent of the lane you turned from. Once the turn is complete, use your lane-changing skills to move over lane by lane to the right, as close to the curb as is appropriate for the road conditions.

Signs and Traffic Signals

Key traffic signs and signals for cyclists.

bicycles are permitted signBicycles are permitted on this road.

bicycles are not permitted signNo bicycles permitted on this road.

stop signStop and wait until the way is clear before entering the intersection.

yield signYield to traffic in the intersection or close to it. Stop if necessary and go only when the way is clear.

roadwork signRoadwork ahead. The speed limit and lanes may be reduced.

railway crossing signRailway crossing ahead. The sign also shows the angle at which the railway tracks cross the road.

one way signOne-way road. Travel in direction of arrow.

diamond lane signdiamond lane sign 2These signs indicate lanes (Diamond Lanes) for specific types of vehicles, either all the time or during certain hours.

They can include buses, taxis, bicycles and vehicles with three or more people.

traffic signal caution lightFlashing yellow: Slow down and proceed with caution through intersections

traffic signal red lightFlashing red light: Stop and move through the intersection when it is safe to do so.

A flashing green light or left-pointing green arrow with a green light permits you to turn left, go straight ahead or turn right from the proper lane. Oncoming traffic still faces a red light.

Remember, during a power failure, intersection traffic lights will not work. Treat the intersection as an all-way stop. Yield the right-of-way and use caution.

Travelling in groups

There are a few safety tips to keep in mind when travelling in groups.

  • Ride in single file on two-lane roads or when traffic is heavy on multi-lane roads.
  • Keep at least one metre apart from other cyclists in the group and keep several lengths apart when going downhill at high speed.

If you are travelling in a large group, break up into smaller groups of about four to six. Keep about one kilometre between groups to allow traffic to pass.

Obstacles and road surfaces

Railway tracks

Railway tracks are very dangerous. Crossing at the wrong angle could cause you to fall or damage your bicycle wheels. Remember, tracks are slippery when wet.

Always cross the tracks at right angles. If the tracks are at an angle to the road, you may need a full lane. Use hand signals to slow traffic behind you and give you room to cross the tracks safely. Go slowly and stand on the pedals when crossing over particularly bumpy tracks.

If it is too difficult to cross the tracks safely, dismount and walk your bike across instead.
Where tracks run parallel to the direction of vehicle travel, lane changing and left turns become extremely hazardous. Wait for breaks in traffic and cross the tracks at right angles.

Surface hazards

Surface hazards exist on every street, but they are most common close to the curb, where much of your riding is done.

Cyclists must always watch for:

  • Holes and depressions or raised surfaces that can buckle wheels or throw the rider. Avoid them with gradual course changes and go through them slowly.
  • Loose or slippery surfaces that can cause you to lose control. Go over them slowly and corner carefully, keeping the bicycle as upright as possible.
  • Sharp objects that can cut or puncture tires, sometimes causing blowouts that result in spills or crashes. Watch for nails, tacks, glass, staples, wire, pins, sharp rocks and sharp pieces of metal. If you get a flat tire, slow down gently to a stop and walk your bike to avoid ruining the tires and rims.

Weather hazards

Wet weather makes roads slippery and cyclists need to take extra caution when riding in wet conditions.


Most bicycle brakes work poorly in the rain. If you have steel rims, ride slowly and allow extra time for braking. Brake hard only after your brakes start to grab. Aluminum and alloy rims provide the best wet weather braking.


You have less traction on wet roads, so corner slowly with little leaning.


Avoid puddles if possible, or go through them slowly.

Metal, paint and wood

Metal plates, service covers, tracks and painted lines are all very slippery when wet. Slow down and corner carefully on all such surfaces.


Visibility can be poor in wet weather. Wear bright outerwear so that drivers can see you better.

Keep your bike secure

Always carry a quality bicycle lock when riding and always lock your bike and quick release items like your wheels and seat to something solid.

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