Bike riding with or against traffic

I remember a safety class in elementary school in which a police officer told us to ride a bike with the flow of traffic but to walk against it. The walking part makes sense to me. It gives the walker the ability to see oncomming traffic thereby affording him the chance to avoid it. What about bicycling, though? It seems to me the cycler should warrant the same safety measure. What gives?

someone riding a bike with the flow of traffic,is supposed to give hand signals to indicate left,right,stop,ect.Im affraid that if you were to give hand signals while walking with or against the flow of traffic they would put you away!or, at the very least make fun of you.

I am an avid cyclist. I bike everywhere. My repsonse comes straight out of commen sense and is thus: When you bike, you go about half as fast as a car on average. Now, when you’re cycling, would you want to be rushing past cars at 1.5 times their normal speed, or at half their normal speed? I thought so.
Also, according to the Ontario (Canada) Highway Traffic act, a bicycle is a motor vehicle and must obey the same laws as such i.e. Keep right.

Sincerely, SDStaff hopeful

Sorry, Rory, I didn’t quite follow that. I’d rather pass a car at 1.5 times its speed. But you said bikes go .5 a car’s speed.

What the law says is not so much the issue (as far as the questioner is concerned) as WHY the law says it. My understanding is that the primary difficulty is at intersections. A person in a car turning into an intersection will often look only in the direction of oncoming traffic. A person who is walking is not going so fast that they can’t get out of that person’s way - but a cyclist will have much less time to react to someone turning straight at them. It happened to me just a few days ago, and I was missed by less than a foot, even though I was in the bike lane (the problem being that a short distance ahead, the bike lane on the OTHER side of the road ceases to exist, so I routinely go counter to traffic in the bike lane rather than have to deal with California drivers OUTSIDE the confines of a bike lane, or cross the street when the lane runs out - simpler to stay on the one side).

Let’s say a car is going 30 mph and you’re biking at 15 mph. A head on collision would be like standing still and being hit by a car going at the combined speed of 45 mph. That’s riding against traffic.

If you were riding with traffic and a 30 mph car hit you while you were doing 15 mph, it would be equivalent to standing still and having the car hit you at the difference of the speeds, i.e., 15 mph.

So, you want a 45 mph impact or a 15 mph impact?

Of course, it doesn’t have to be speeds of x and x/2. If the car is doing 25 mph and you’re biking at 15 mph, the resulting crash speeds would be 35 mph and 10 mph, riding against and riding with, repectively.

Walking at the usual 3 mph hardly makes a difference. The advantage of walking against traffic is that you can see and hopefully sidestep (or sidejump) a car heading right at you.

(Again, a bike riding against traffic has a reduced reaction time because its own high speed would reduce the time available to avoid the car; and, bikes have a bit of trouble in trying to suddenly move perpendicularly. Thus, it’s better to ride with traffic.)


That makes sense. A bicycle is a vehicle. It obeys (well, depending on the rider) the same motor vehicle laws a car does, for the most part. Introducing vehicles going the opposite way into the traffic mix would just confuse things terribly. By going the same way, you can use the same left/right turn lanes, etc etc.

By taking part in the normal traffic patterns, albeit at a slower top speed, the bicycle fits in much better, behaves in an expected manner (i.e, when turning right from a side street people look left for vehicles coming from that way, but rarely more than take a cursory glance to the right), and causes fewer problems.

As a ped, you don’t take part in the normal traffic patterns. You don’t get through an intersection as a pedestrian by using the turn lanes like you do on a bicycle. You’re separate - not part of the traffic system. So different things make sense there.

peas on earth

Something else to take into account:

A pedestrian, seeing oncoming traffic can get safely off the road without too much of a problem. A bicyclist usually cannot get off the road all that quickly or safely. So, the bicyclist follows the regular traffic laws, and the motorist passes him/her the same way he would pass another vehicle. This can be much harder to time if the bicyclist is coming toward him.

Carpe hoc!

I ride on the right. In many states a kid on a bike has special rights. The bike, under a certain size, is a toy. So you have to slow down for the kid, no matter how stupidly they are riding. Full size bikes are vehicles in most places.A few odd cities demand that you ride on a side walk.

And a few won’t let you. I was once stopped (in Knoxville, Tennessee, if anyone cares) for riding my bike on the sidewalk and told to ride on the street. Since this was the main road in town at rush hour I considered this suicidal.

“You can’t run away forever; but there’s nothing wrong with getting a good head start.” — Jim Steinman

Dennis Matheson —
Hike, Dive, Ski, Climb —

Sunbear: Really? Most of the cities I’ve ridden in are pretty adamant that bicycles stay off of the sidewalks. I wish I lived in a city that wanted me to ride on the sidewalk.

Flick Lives!

Agreeing with BigRoryG, moriah, and Bantmof’s points.
I put in around 5000 miles a year on my bike, about 60% of which is commuting, and in my experience going with traffic, aside from being the law in Calif. (CVC Sec 21200), is more safe for all the reasons stated about relative speeds, reaction time, and driver expectations.
As far as sidewalks, my normal rant is “why do you think they call 'em sideWALKs?” I don’t think riding a bike on a sidewalk is safe for pedestrians. Bikes should be in the roadway, and if a rider feels it is not safe for a stretch, then that rider should become a pedestrian and push the bike while on the sidewalk (and then lobby the local traffic authority for a “traffic calming” redesign for that route). OK, I feel better now.

I think that, at least under certain circumstances, it would be safer for the bicyclist to ride against the vehicular traffic, facing it (you can see what they are up to; they don’t come up behind you overtake you without leaving you any room in your lane and knock you in the ditch); but if pedestrians exist, bicycles coming up behind them are dangerous for the same reasons that cars coming up behind bicycles are dangerous, even more so because bicycles don’t make much sound.

Designated Optional Signature at Bottom of Post

Hand signals … forgot all about 'em.

Assuming I am traveling 15mph on a bike and a car traveling 40 hits me from behind or from forward, I’m toast either way.

The “right turn on red” has endangered pedestrians and bicyclists alike. I see right-turners eyeing traffic approaching from the left and not even glancing right before proceeding. Everything seems geared torward motor-vehicle traffic. Thanks, Canada.

Maybe these rules seemed appropriate a hundred years ago, but I’m not buying it today. Where I live/ride, we don’t have sidewalks so I’m forced to ride in the street (45mph speed limit) and I would much prefer seeing Joe-Schmoe approaching in his Expedition than have my back to him … praying.

Bicycles are supposed to ride on the right for two reasons:

  1. They are vehicles. All vehicles keep to the right (in most of the world, at least).

  2. It’s much safer from the point of view of the driver of a car. Say the bicycle is moving with the flow of traffic. With the bicycle in the street, the car has to veer to the left to pass it. Now, if a car is coming from the other side, there’s no place to veer. No problem – the driver can slow until the car passes, staying behind the bicycle, then pull around the bicycle.

If the bicycle is going aginst the flow of traffic, and the driver has no place to veer because another car is in the way, the bicycle can end up splat against the grille.

Riding in the street is safer anyway. I don’t have the numbers at hand here, but Forrester’s book has a lot of data about this topic. Perhaps contrary to intuition, people who ride on sidewalks have more collisions with cars than people who ride in the street and use the normal vehicular traffic patterns.

I would never ride my bike on the sidewalk - that is an environment suited for pedestrian type speeds, not bicycle type speeds. It just feels a lot more dangerous to me, not to mention being slower.

Many times when riding my bike (properly, with traffic) I encounter an inexperienced rider riding against traffic, and it always creates an awkward situation, because either (1) we both stop, or (2) one of us veers farther out into the automobile lane. I’ve seen cases where such a wrong-way rider has had to pass 10 or more right-way riders in the span of a mile, but still doesn’t seem to get the idea that he’s on the wrong side of the road for vehicles in north america.

peas on earth

As a cyclist who has been, on more than one occasion, hit by a car, I can tell you, it’s not the traffic with or against you, but the traffic cross-traffic that always gets ya.

How’s that for a run-on sentence?

Abstainer: a weak person who yields to the temptation of denying himself a pleasure.
- Ambrose Bierce