Cycling safety 101: The basics any beginner biker should know

A Cycling Canada expert sounds in to help you get started safely.

A Cycling Canada expert sounds in to help you get started safely

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

The popular assumption is that once you learn how to ride a bike as a kid, you'll always know. To an extent, that's true, at least as far as pedaling, steering and braking are concerned. But the fact that only 42% of Canadians reported always wearing a helmet when cycling is an indicator that there's more to know about the safety concerns you face whenever you ride your bike (especially considering you don't need a bicycle license to take one on the road). 

We reached out to Andy Wilson, Education and Safe Sport Coordinator of Cycling Canada, to help answer your biking FAQs, so you can do your summer cycling in peace (until you take it down that steep hill at your cottage). 

Safety FAQs with Cycling Canada's Andy Wilson

Is it illegal to bike without a helmet in Canada?

Helmet laws are made provincially. Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario require helmets for cyclists under 18, B.C., New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, P.E.I., Newfoundland and Labrador have all-age helmet laws, while Saskatchewan, Quebec, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories have no helmet laws.

What should I look for in a helmet?

Helmet manufacturers have a set of CSA approved standards they comply with, and have their own warranties in place. Typically, bike helmet warranties have an average expiry of five years before needing to buy a new one. When picking your helmet, a proper fit is the most important, so use the "2-V-1" principle. First, make sure there is a 2-finger-widths distance from the bottom of the helmet to your brow. Next, make sure the V-shaped side straps fit under both your ears. Lastly, make sure you can get fit one finger between your chin and the chin strap. 

What else can I do to protect my body?

Cycle within your own ability. Be aware of your surroundings, communicate your intentions to other cyclists, pedestrians and drivers, and be predictable.

How do I know a bike is my size?

There are basic size charts available, based on the individual's height and type of bike. The geometry of the bicycle also determines whether it is the right "fit'. Measurements can be taken to make adjustments to the seat-post height, saddle (seat) position, stem length, and other considerations. The size of the bike, and the correct fit, makes all the difference in riding with or without comfort. It is also important to know what type of cyclist you are. Is the intent to commute, to ride recreationally, or to compete? These are also factors to consider to find the right bike for you.

What do I need to check on a bike to know it's safe to ride?

Before riding, follow the "ABC" checklist — Air, Brakes, Chain. Essentially, if those items are in good working order, your bicycle is ready to ride.           

What other safety equipment does my bike need?

A bell or other audible device is always good to have and certain provinces require it by law. Similarly, bicycle lights are required after dusk into the evening and before dawn, according to some provincial laws (like Ontario's Highway Traffic Act). A white light is necessary for the front of the bike, while a red light is required for the back. Certain provinces may also require reflectors, which are a good idea regardless as they can make your bike more visible.

Should I always ride on the road? Are there roads I shouldn't ride on?

Yes, riding on the right-hand side of the road is the law. Certain provinces and municipalities have specific laws about where a person can ride their bicycle, what major highways and municipal roadways are prohibited. In some cases, and depending on the local infrastructure, someone riding a bicycle may be required to ride within the designated bike lane.

Are there times I should ride on the sidewalk?

No. Riding on the road is a requirement in all provinces. These laws apply to those individuals who are of a certain age (eg. older than 14) and/or are riding on a bicycle with a wheel-base larger than 61cm. Cycling on the sidewalk can be dangerous (eg. people driving cars are not looking for cyclists as they exit their driveways), so should be avoided unless otherwise noted.

Do all the rules of driving apply when I'm on the road?

People who ride bicycles must follow the same rules of the road as those who drive motor vehicles.

Any tips for cyclists dealing with drivers on the road?

Being aware of the motor vehicles and their intent is important. Do not attempt to overtake a vehicle if you are unsure. Ride as far to the right of the road as possible, and in a safe manner, allow for motor vehicles to pass. Communication between both parties is essential so it's important to be both visible and predictable.

Any tips for drivers with cyclists on the road?

Certain provinces have adopted the one-metre-law, where drivers maintain that distance from cyclists, which allows for safer passing. People driving motor vehicles should be aware of the person riding a bicycle as well, while cyclists should be signalling their intent as required. People driving motor vehicles should be aware that a person riding a bicycle has the right to take the full lane if it is determined as necessary for their own safety. Ultimately, a bicycle is recognized as a "vehicle" so it's important to regard them as you would another driver.

What changes when I'm in a bike lane?

Essentially nothing, as safety and communicating one's intent are still required. What people who ride bicycles need to be aware of, is that the separate bike lane will end at some point, where they will then find themselves back within regular traffic. Recognizing this is important, and following the rules of the road when doing so.


For a detailed, current and changing list of what the cycling laws are in your province, see this chart from Can-Bike Canada

For an extensive list of safety, skills and on-road regulations, see this guide from Ontario's Ministry Of Transportation   

Do you have biking tips, tricks and questions you want to share? Pedal into our comments and let us know.


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