Before You Hit the Road

Bike fitting

Get a bike that fits. Local bike shops can identify a bike that fits one’s bicycling needs. They will explain features and teach gear and brake use. Most bike shops also sell safety equipment.

Size: Having a bike that fits you is important for safety and comfort. A rider should reach the pedals and handlebars easily; this reduces difficulty in controlling the bike.

Style: Road bikes have narrow tires and dropped handlebars and are designed for faster riding. Mountain bikes have wide tires and are designed for off-road or winter use. A hybrid or city bike combines features for comfort and efficiency.

Bike check

Regularly inspect your bicycles or take to a bike shop for inspection.

Air – Are tires at recommended pressure and in good condition?

Brakes – Can the rider reach brake levers? Do brakes stop the wheels?

Chain – The chains should spin and change as gears are engaged.

Lights – Bikes require a white front light that is visible from at least 500 feet and a red rear reflector that is visible at least 600 feet to the rear. If riding on roads with a speed limit of 35 mph or greater, an additional rear red taillight is required that is visible from at least 500 feet. More light means more visibility!

Bike helmets

Everyone should wear a helmet while bicycling. Bicycle helmets greatly reduce the risk of serious brain injury from a bicycle crash.

There is no statewide helmet law, but the Code of Virginia § 46.2-906.1 gives a county, city, or town the authority to require anyone 14 years old or younger to wear a helmet when riding or being carried on a bicycle. VDOT maintains a list of localities with helmet laws. Use

When buying a helmet, look for the Consumer Product Safety Commission CPSC label. Helmets should sit level and not shift easily. V-straps should fit beneath the ear lobes. Chin strap should be snug, about two fingers’ width under the chin.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers illustrated instructions at

When the helmet hits a hard surface, replace it. Even when dents aren’t visible, the foam may be damaged and unable to absorb a shock in the future. Other recommendations for replacement can be found at

Street Travel

Bike lanes

PassingwithBikeLanesBike lanes are for the exclusive use of bicyclists. They are marked with white lines and icons/symbols on the pavement.

Motorists should not drive in a bike lane except when turning. Before crossing a bike lane to turn, scan for bicyclists to the right and rear. Use a turn signal, scan again for bicyclists, and then merge into the bike lane for the turn.

Bicyclists and motorists must share the road, whether or not bike lanes are provided.
Ride in a straight line Bicyclists need to be predictable; if there isn’t a bike lane, don’t weave in and out between parked cars. Drivers can’t always see bicyclists in the parking areas and may squeeze them when they try to merge back into traffic.

Take the lane Bicyclists are generally safest if they “take the lane.” They should ride near the center of any travel lane of ordinary width (10-12 feet), when traveling close to the speed of other traffic and when approaching intersections, driveways, and alleys. Controlling the lane improves a bicyclist’s visibility by keeping the bicyclist out of motorists’ blind spots. It improves positioning at intersections to reduce conflicts with turning traffic. It also prevents motorists from trying to squeeze by within the same lane when there is inadequate space.

Bicycling side by side Two bicyclists may ride side by side, but only if they don’t impede other traffic. If riding side by side will prevent cars from passing the bicycles at a safe distance (three feet), bicyclists must ride single file. It is illegal for bicyclists to travel between two lanes of traffic moving in the same direction.


Shared Lane Markings [Sharrows] are road markings used to indicate the safest place to ride within the lane. They are used next to parked cars to help a bicyclist avoid being hit suddenly by car doors being opened and on lanes that are too narrow for cars and bicycles to comfortably travel side by side in the same lane. Occasionally they are used on steep downhill slopes to allow the bicyclist more maneuvering space to react when traveling at a high speed.

Keep a safe distance

Bicyclists should avoid traveling too close to parked cars to avoid the risk of having a door open in front of them!

While biking, take the lane and  travel at least five feet from parked cars to stay out of their door-opening zone.

Virginia law (§ 46.2-818.1) fines drivers who open a vehicle door on the side of passing traffic without confirming that it was “reasonably safe to do so.”


When to use a bicycle on the sidewalk, right of way Bicyclists are permitted to ride on the road or sidewalks (unless prohibited by the local jurisdiction). When a cyclist is riding on a sidewalk, he/she must yield to pedestrians and be especially mindful of slower sidewalk traffic. Bicyclists must audibly warn pedestrians when passing them, preferably with a bell. Always pass on the left.

Paths and Trails

Shared paths and recreational trails Shared-use paths and recreational trails are facilities physically separated from motorized vehicular traffic by an open space or barrier. They are located either within the highway right of way or within a separate right of way. Shared-use paths may be used by bicyclists, pedestrians, skaters, users of wheelchair conveyances, joggers, and other users. Users are moving at different speeds and need to yield to those who are slower. Watch for unpredictable users, such as dogs on leashes, children learning to bike, skaters, or, in some cases, horses. When approaching animals, avoid scaring them by slowing down. Gently saying “hello there” or “is it safe to pass?” can calm a horse and rider. In tight places, you should dismount and walk past.

Bicycling with pedestrians and animals on the trail

Bicyclists and pedestrians should stay to the right on shared-use paths, except to pass on the left.

At mid-block crossings with the road, users need to watch for oncoming traffic. Look LEFT-RIGHT-LEFT. All path users must obey signals.

Bicyclists have the rights and responsibilities of pedestrians when on a shared-use path.
Trail intersections Bicyclists on multi-use trails and on the road must obey the laws pertinent to the trail or road.


Yield to pedestrians Bicyclists must yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, both marked and unmarked.

Bicyclists stay on the road

Experienced bicyclists should ride as vehicles, not riding in crosswalks or alternating between the sidewalk and road by hopping the curb or using driveway cuts. Bicyclists should ride with consistency and predictability. Before making a trip on your bicycle, plan ahead to ensure your route is safe. Resources produced by local governments, as well as tools like Google Maps, allow bicyclists to know the road conditions they will encounter and plan according to their skill level.

Less-secure bicyclists

Newer or less steady bicyclists who feel more comfortable riding on sidewalks must follow pedestrian rules at crosswalks. When riding on the sidewalk, bicycles must maintain a lower speed and give way to pedestrians.

Don’t disregard traffic!

BikeCommutingIt is important for bicyclists to be aware of and protect themselves from pedestrians and motorists.

Your Side

Ride RIGHT Use the right side of a two-way road.

How far to the right? Bicyclists should not hug the curb or road edge since this position makes bicyclists less visible to motorists, promotes unsafe motorist passing, and exposes bicyclists to various hazards. While bicyclists are required to stay “as far right as safely practicable,” when a lane is less than 14 feet wide it is not practical to share the lane with a car. Bicyclists should position themselves to maximize visibility and vantage and to discourage motorists from turning right into them. Bicyclists may use the shoulders or take the lane.

Choose a lane When approaching an intersection, bicyclists should select the rightmost lane that serves their destination. They should not ride in a turn lane unless planning to turn. Bicyclists should not travel between lanes of traffic moving in the same direction, except where one lane is a separate or mandatory turn lane.

Never face traffic Riding a bike the wrong way through traffic is against the law and is a leading cause of crashes. Bicyclists may think they are safe if looking at oncoming traffic, but it is more dangerous. If they are hit head on, the impact would be greater than if hit from behind. When wrong-way riding, bicyclists can’t see signs and traffic signals. Also, motorists are not expecting bicyclists to be approaching from that direction.

Take a class

Classes offer opportunities to learn how to ride a bike in a safe environment, improve riding skills, and increase rider confidence. Bicycle education courses are offered by League of American Bicyclists-certified instructors and are designed for people of all ages and riding abilities. Search for classes, workshops, or camps at and Local bike shops, bike clubs, non-profits, and community centers may offer bicycling courses or bike rodeos as well. Health and P.E. teachers can get certified to teach bike skills and safety in schools.

Bicycling across railroad tracks

Cross railroad tracks carefully. Watch for uneven pavement and grooves that could catch a wheel. Stay in control of the bicycle. Rise up from the bicycle seat and bend arms and legs so the body acts like a shock absorber.

If the tracks cross the road at a sharp angle, signal and scan for approaching traffic, then angle the bicycle to cross perpendicular to the tracks.


Hand signals Before turning or moving laterally, always look behind for, and yield to, any closely approaching traffic in your new line of travel. To signal a left turn, look behind and then hold out the left arm. To signal a right turn, look behind and then either hold out the right arm or hold the left arm up, with elbow bent up. Return both hands to the handlebar before turning to maximize control while turning. To signal a stop, hold either arm down at an angle, but use both hands for braking when necessary. Beware that squeezing the front brake too hard may cause you to be thrown from the bike.

Traffic signals Some traffic signals are triggered by electrically charged wires buried under the pavement. When a vehicle passes over, its metal disrupts the current, which turns the signal. Some bicycles contain enough metal to trigger the light when stopped at the mechanism. Some traffic signals use camera detection. To trigger the camera, “white line get behind” is common practice. Some jurisdictions may have a bicycle symbol near the line to show where to stop to turn the signal. If a light does not trigger, a bicyclist can move forward to let a car trigger the signal, go to the sidewalk and cross with pedestrians, or proceed with caution after waiting two minutes or through two cycles if all traffic is clear.

Bicycling with traffic

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, speeding and inattention are the most common unsafe driving behaviors that result in fatal crashes. Driver unpredictability and a bicyclist’s lack of confidence can make bicyclists timid when riding with traffic.

In Virginia bicycles are vehicles when on the road. Bicyclists and motor vehicle drivers share mutual rights and responsibilities as users of public roads. When bicyclists are in command of their vehicles and when motorists see bicyclists acting predictably, the highways are safer for everyone.


StayAlertWhen approaching an intersection with several lanes, bicyclists should choose the rightmost lane appropriate for their intended direction, using turn lanes if appropriate.

Turning left To make a left turn as a vehicle.

  • While approaching the intersection, look over your left shoulder for traffic. You should practice this until you can perform it without swerving!
  • Watch for approaching motor vehicles.
  • Signal a left turn.
  • When clear, move over to the left side of the lane (on a two-lane road), left lane, or left turn lane, whichever is appropriate.
  • Be positioned so vehicles going straight through can’t pass you on the left.
  • Yield to oncoming vehicles before turning.
  • If riding in a bike lane or on a road with several lanes, look and signal before each lane change.
  • Never make a left turn from the right side of the road. If less comfortable in traffic, use the crosswalks.
  • Cross as a pedestrian in the crosswalk.
  • If there is a signal, wait for the green or WALK signal before crossing.

Turning right Bicyclists and pedestrians should always scan for vehicles that may be turning right. Bicyclists should signal ahead of the intersection. Bicyclists should turn right from the right side of a straight lane or right turn lane if available. Bicycles must stop at red lights before turning right. Motorists must watch for bicyclists.

Stay alert!

Bicyclists should use mirrors and/or turn their head and look back to scan, just as they would if driving a motorized vehicle.

In Virginia, it’s against the law for bicyclists to wear earphones in both ears while riding.

Code of Virginia § 46.2-1078


Passing requires special caution. Bicyclists should watch ahead for vehicles planning to turn right at an intersection or driveway. They should not pass to the right of motorists at intersections, because motorists might turn right and will not see the
bicyclist. Bicyclists should avoid the motorist’s blind spot or other position where visibility is limited. Bicyclists should stay in front of or behind vehicles to always remain visible. On a shared-use path, call out or ring a bell and pass on
the left.

Passing with bike lanes Motorists should not drive in a bike lane. However, when turning across a bike lane, motorists should signal, scan to their right and rear, and then merge into the lane carefully. Bicyclists and motorists must share the road, whether or not bike lanes are provided.

Slow down to get around: passing stopped emergency vehicles and trash trucks Watch out for stopped emergency vehicles and trash collectors. Waste collection workers are frequently at risk, as they make frequent stops in neighborhoods on a daily basis, collecting our waste and recyclables. Bicyclists and drivers need to be mindful that when they see a collection vehicle on the road, there often is a worker on the street or near the truck. The Slow Down to Get Around law requires drivers passing stopped collection vehicles to slow down to at least 10 miles per hour below the posted speed limit and provide at least a two-foot cushion between their vehicle and the collection vehicle. Violations are punishable by fines. (§ 46.2-921.1)

Be Alert

Even if you are obeying all traffic laws, there is a risk of being involved in a crash if another bicyclist, pedestrian, or motorist isn’t obeying the law or is not able to see a dangerous situation ahead. Ride or walk cautiously!

  1. Watch others who are waiting at stop signs or in driveways, or who are in parking spaces. They may be preparing to pull out.
  2. Look out for others who may not see you when they are preparing to turn.
  3. Watch for oncoming traffic that may be preparing to turn left.
  4. Riding and walking at night in rainy, low-light, or snowy conditions

Be Visible

Bike arlington reflectivity tim kellyUse lights and reflectors. Wear reflective or bright-colored clothes to increase visibility. Bicyclists and pedestrians should wear white, yellow, or lime-green clothing. Red is NOT a good color since it looks black in the fading light.

Every bicycle ridden between sunset and sunrise must (by law) have:

  • At least one white headlamp on the front of the bike with a light that is visible from at least 500 feet (10-watt halogen, 1-watt LED minimum).
  • A red rear reflector visible for 500 feet. On roads with speed limits of 35 mph or greater, one red taillight visible from 600 feet to the rear is required. Rear lights are safer than reflectors!

Taillights may be steady or blinking and may be attached to the bicycle or rider. Additional lights and reflectors will improve visibility. Lights may also improve your visibility during the day.

Take extra care when daylight savings changes in the fall, since it gets dark earlier and crash rates tend to increase.

Crash fact

Most vehicle and bicycle collisions occur when turning at intersections. Watch for vehicles turning at intersections and driveways.

Fatal crashes peak in the evening, often with alcohol as a contributing factor. (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)


Commuting by bicycle or walking helps reduce pollution and is a great way to keep fit and increase stamina. When bicycling, always carry identification and medical insurance information, especially when alone. Before deciding to commute by bicycle or on foot, consider how far you will be traveling, how much motor vehicle traffic will be traveling on the roads at the same time, and the terrain. Choose a route or streets that have less traffic or better accommodations for bicyclists—such as bike lanes, wider lanes, or shared-use paths—to make the ride or walk more pleasant. Carry a map or plan an alternate route in case you need to make a detour.

Shared-use paths

Shared-use paths are often used for recreation. Bicycle commuters and fast-moving road bicyclists are not required to use these paths unless a sign is posted prohibiting them from the road. If they do use the paths, they should use care when passing slower bicyclists, walkers, and other users.

Tips for commuting by bicycle

  • Dress safely. Cyclists should wear a helmet and bright-colored clothing and secure loose pant legs and shoe laces. Commuting can be done without special “bicycling” clothing.
  • Carry gear in a manner that will not obstruct your vision or bike control.
  • Ride defensively. Anticipate the actions of other road users and watch for road hazards.
  • Pass with care. Cyclists may not be seen by turning vehicles.
  • Maximize visibility at twilight, at night, and in rainy conditions: wear reflective clothing, use lights, and use reflective tape on the bicycle.
  • Walk bicycles in traffic situations beyond cycling abilities. Walk on the right side of the bike for safety.
  • Use caution around buses and large trucks, especially when they are pulling to and from curbs and when passengers are getting on and off. Avoid blind spots and give large vehicles plenty of room to maneuver.
  • Do not block sidewalks, handicap and building accesses, or emergency drives.
  • Lock your bicycle—secure both wheels and the frame to a stationary object using a sturdy lock.