Riding your electric bike in traffic alongside other vehicles can be intimidating for even the most experienced riders, especially when no bike lane is present. Using public roads can be one of the best ways to make the most of an e bike or even an electric mountain bike. In most municipalities it's illegal for an adult to ride on the sidewalk, but it's always a good idea to check with local authorities. Commuting is one of the most popular reasons for buying an e bike (we wrote a whole other blog just on that topic, find it here). We've put together some basic rules and tips to make the roads safer for everyone and your ride an enjoyable one.
When using public roads its important to know that you have the right to occupy space as close to the right side of the road as is safe. You are free to avoid debris, potholes and obstacles. This also gives you a certain amount of responsibility to maintain a pace that is close to the pace of traffic. Cars should give you between 3 and 6 feet of space but maintaining pace is the best way to "hold your own". It's important to use hand signals to let drivers know what you are about to do. Being predictable is the safest way to ride your new e bike or e mountain bike. Head movements can be effective in conveying a message to a driver in some situations as well.
The signals for cyclists to communicate with drivers were actually developed for automobiles before the days when they had turn signals. This is important to remember because it means all turn signals are designed to be used with your left arm, (They would have been impossible to be seen in front of the passenger seat if not).
The three most important signals are:
Turn left: Hold your left arm straight out from the shoulder to the left.
Turn right: Arm held out to the left with your hand pointing up with a 90 degree angle between your arm and forearm.
Stop: Stopping is similar to a right turn but with your hand and forearm pointing down at a 90 degree angle with you arm.
There's a concept amongst cyclists now, first developed in Spain, that dictates roads are public spaces and public lands and owning a car doesn't give someone special privilege or entitlement in using them. This makes it acceptable to ride your electric mountain bike on any public road but it's also extremely important that all methods of transportation work together to maintain safety for everyone. One advantage of an e bike or e mountain bike over a traditional bike is they are much quicker at accelerating. This helps in situations like a left hand turn at an intersection. Its expected of a cyclist to occupy the left turning lane or center of the road when turning left, An electric mountain bike is faster at accelerating to speed in most situations then the average car. This can make some potentially stressful situations completely comfortable, making e bikes and e mountain bikes the best commuting tool out there. By the way a one of the best sites for all things e bike and e mountain bike is e Mountain Bike Company (Find their website here)
Being visible and smart are two skills necessary to the modern cyclist commuter. It's most important that you are aware of everything going on around you, you are responsible for your safety before anyone else. This can be even more true when thinking about being "doored". This term known amongst cyclist involves running into a door of a parked car that has just been opened in front of the cyclist leaving no room to react. This can be avoided by being on the lookout for vehicles that have just parked or have brake lights on still. Give any suspicious cars 3 or 4 feet space to be safe. Being visible to other drivers and cyclists is also very important. Wearing reflective and bright clothing is always a good idea. Highlighting your legs and feet with reflective bands or bright colors is more effective because of the motion of the legs, this can catch a drivers eyes quicker.
A few good strategies to add to your ride can be planning your ride with more right turns to avoid as many situations where you may be riding on the median. It's also good to keep in mind that the average electric mountain bike travels at 20 mph compared to 12 mph on the average traditional bikes. This can make situations like the right hook move possible. This is when a car passes you only to turn right quickly after and unintentionally cutting you off and causing a collision. The speed of an electric bike can fool a driver because it's unexpected compared to traditional cyclists. All of this in the end makes the helmet the most important tool to preventing injuries. Of all the tips I've given you in this article, I cannot stress the importance of a helmet. Mistakes happen and a helmet might be the only thing that lets mistakes become lessons. Safe cycling everyone!!