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Bike Commuting in Santa Barbara County

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Fitting Your Bike

  • Your bike must fit you. That's your first important safety feature. If you're not comfortable, you're more likely to ride badly and hit something. Getting exactly the right fit depends on many things—including your size and riding style—so you should talk to a bike dealer if you have fit problems. But first, consider these six points.
  • Frame Size: If your bike's frame is too tall, too short, or too long, it's very hard to adjust other things to make you comfortable—so you might need a new bike.
  • Check the Height: Stand with your bike between your legs. Measure the space between the highest part of the top tube and your crotch. For city riding a one inch to three inch space is safest. (This is a general rule. It's different for other situations, such as off-road riding or with bikes that have a sloping top tube.)
  • Frame Length: If, when you ride, you feel overly stretched or have pain in your neck, shoulders, or back, your frame might be too long. Try moving the seat and handlebars closer together. Also, some people—including many women—have torsos shorter than what most bikes are made for. If you're one of them, you can get a bike with a shorter frame height and raise the seat higher, or get a bike made for people with smaller torsos.
  • Seat Height: A seat that's too low will strain your knees, while a seat that's too high will make it hard for you to pedal and put your foot down. Here are some ways to get the right seat height for city riding:
  • Sit on your bike and push one pedal all the way down. Put the ball of your foot on the pedal. If your seat's high enough your knee should be slightly bent.
  • If your hips rock from side to side when you pedal, your seat's too high.
  • Don't raise your seat so high that less than two inches of your seat post extends into the frame. Most seat posts have a mark showing how high you can raise them.
  • If you have to raise your seat higher, get a longer seat post.
  • Handlebars: After you've set your seat height, set your handlebars so you feel comfortable. Some things to guide you:
  • Start by raising or lowering your handlebars so they block your view of the front axle when you're sitting on your bike.
  • With your hands on the handlebars, you're elbows should be slightly bent (not locked).
  • Lower-back pain often means the handlebars are too far away, while upper-arm or shoulder fatigue often means the handlebars are too close to you.
  • Try raising or lowering the handlebars. Or moving your seat forward or backward. You can also change to a shorter or longer handlebar stem.
  • Don't raise your handlebars so high that less than two inches of your handlebar stem extends into the frame.
  • Most stems have a mark showing how high you can raise them. If you have to raise your handlebars higher, get a longer stem.
  • Rotate your handlebars so that they put even pressure across the palms of your hands without bending your wrists in a strange way.
  • Seat Tilt: Last, adjust your seat tilt for comfort: Many cyclists keep their seats level, while others have them tilted. If the front of your seat's tilted too high your butt will hurt, and if it's tilted too low you'll slide forward and strain your arms.
  • Saddle Soreness: If you haven't bicycled in a while, expect to be sore at first; chafing or soreness should decrease with time. If it doesn't, the first thing to check is the seat adjustment; see Seat Tilt above and Seat Height. If adjusting doesn't help, look into a seat pad, a wider seat, a seat with a hole in the middle, or padded or seamless cycling shorts.

Equipping Your Bike

  • Commuting cyclists have a few simple ideas about equipment that make biking a whole lot safer—and easier. Here's what they recommend.
  • Helmet: A must everywhere! A later section has details.
  • Prevent Flats: Keeping your tires at their maximum air pressure gives you fewer flats. Puncture-proof tire liners, self-sealing inner tubes, and Kevlar-belted tires all help.
  • Flat Fixer: Every cyclist gets flats, often far from home. Always carry a spare inner tube or a patch kit, and tools to get your tube out. Use tire irons (best) or a screwdriver (not as good); a wrench if you don't have quick-release hubs; an old sock to cover your hand when you grab your chain; and a hand pump, or a quarter to pay for a gas-station pump. Practice at home beforehand.
  • Carrying Rack: If you don't have a rear carrying rack or front basket, you might use a backpack which can strain your shoulders and make balancing harder. Or you might carry things with your arm, which is unsafe because it's harder to steer and brake. Instead, make your bike carry your stuff. Use bungee cords to tie things to your carrying rack. If you carry things often you should invest in panniers, the bags that hang from the side of your rack.
  • Clipless Pedals and Toe Clips: Clipless pedals and the older toe clips give your pedaling more power. But if they're not adjusted right, they can lock your feet to your pedals so you can't put a foot down when you lose your balance. When using them, make sure you can get your feet out of them fast. Practice it. Nylon straps (Power Grips) serve the same purpose.
  • Ankle Strap: Getting your pants caught in your chain can make you lose control. If your bike doesn't have a chain guard, use a strap, clip, or rubber band around your pants cuff to keep it from hitting your chain and frame.
  • Sunglasses or Goggles: To protect their eyes, many cyclists wear sunglasses or clear goggles, especially with contact lenses. Wrap-around glasses give the best protection. In the winter apply an anti-foggerso your glasses don't steam.
  • Gloves: Not really needed, but they serve many purposes. If you crash, gloves can protect your hands from abrasion. Many are padded, so the shock transmitted from the handlebar to your hands, arms, shoulders is reduced. In cooler weather, gloves can keep your hands warmer, and on really cold days and winter downhills, thermal versions are available.
  • Night and Foul Weather Gear: If you ride at night or in bad weather you need lights, reflectors, and more. Details are given later.

Quick Maintenance Checks

  • Safety starts with your bike. Whether you use your bike a lot or you're dusting off an old bike, this page gives you a few simple things to check for a safe ride. While these checks help you find problems, we don't have room to tell you how to fix them all. If you need help, go to your owner's manual, a maintenance book, or a bike shop.
  • Air: Tires lose a little air every day. If your gauge says a tire is more than five pounds under the needed pressure (printed on the side of the tire), add air. No gauge? Push each tire hard against a curb. If you can flatten it, add air.
  • Chain: A dry chain can lock up or break suddenly. If your chain squeaks when you pedal or it hangs up when you pedal backward, it's time to lubricate:
  • Grab the bottom of the chain loosely with a lint-free rag. With the other hand turn the pedals backward, sliding the chain through the rag. Pedal the chain around twice to remove surface grime.
  • With one hand squeeze or spray lubricant onto the chain, and with the other hand pedal the chain backward so it goes completely around once.
  • Repeat the first step to get the excess lubricant off the chain. Extra lube can attract dirt.
  • Wheel Spin: Lift each wheel up and give it a slow spin. Spin the back wheel forward so the pedals don't move. If the wheel won't spin by itself or stops suddenly, see whether it's rubbing against the brake pads, frame, or something else. If the wheel's not rubbing, the problem might be inside the axle.
  • Tires: Turn each wheel very slowly and look for big cuts, bulges, bubbles, or places you can see the inner casing. If you spot any, replace the tire. Remove glass or other debris. If the valve stem doesn't point straight at the middle of the wheel, the rim might cut it; let the air out and straighten the valve.
  • Shifting: Try all of your gears, shifting each gear lever from high to low. You have a problem if the lever sticks, you can't shift to all gears, the chain rubs, the derailleur, or the chain jumps off the gears. These are usually caused by worn or dirty cables, or a derailleur that needs cleaning or adjustment.
  • Handlebars: Hold the front tire between your legs and try to turn the handlebars. If they're loose, tighten the stem bolt.
  • Brakes: You should adjust or replace the brake cable or pads if you have any of these problems:
  • when you apply the brake on each wheel, one or both brake pads don't touch the rim
  • you can squeeze your brake lever all the way to the handlebars
  • on each wheel, the brake can't stop the tire from moving on dry, clean pavement.
  • Loose Parts: Pick up the bike and shake it hard. Check and fix anything that rattles.

Where To Park Your Bike

  • Bike Racks: The cities of Santa Barbara County, the County itself, and building owners have installed hundreds of bike racks all over Santa Barbara County. These are secure places to park your bike.
  • Sign Poles: Sign poles aren't the best places to lock your bike. Before locking to a pole, check whether you can pull it out of the ground. Also check how easily a thief could remove the sign and slide your bike over the top of the pole.
  • Parking Lots: Some public parking lots provide bike racks and or lockers. Those that don't may still allow you to park, for a small fee. If you forget your lock, look for an attended parking lot.
  • Indoors: A good way to avoid theft—park your bike indoors. Some stores and buildings allow bikes inside, if only for a short time. Some employers provide a bike room, with showers and lockers nearby.

How to Secure Your Bike

  • Always lock your bike. Never leave your bike unlocked—even if you're leaving it for only half a minute. A thief can grab your bike in seconds. Some parking basics:
  • Security: Lock your bike to something that's permanent and not easy for a thief to take. Lock to a bike rack, a parking meter, a metal fence, or big tree. Don't lock to another bike, a door handle, or small tree. And if you keep your bike in a garage, basement, or on a porch, lock it.
  • Visibility: Park where many people pass by and where they can see your bike easily. Thieves don't like an audience.
  • Close By: Put your bike where you can get to it fast. Thieves like to steal bikes whose owners are far away.

  • There are several kinds of locks and security devices:
  • U Locks: Some U locks are stronger than others; make sure you buy a strong steel-alloy lock. If the manufacturer offers a warrantee or insurance, register the lock and write down the lock's serial number and when you bought it. For a stronger U lock, get one or more U-lock cuffs (such as Bad Bones); they can keep thieves from using a lever to pry open your lock. One drawback to U locks: you can't lock up to thick objects such as trees or streetlights: for these, carry a thick cable.
  • Padlocks and Chains: The thicker, the better; chain links and lock clasps should be at least 5/16 of an inch thick. Look for locks and chains that are case-hardened—a process that makes then harder to cut.
  • Cables: Some cables are actually harder to cut than chains, because they don't snap and thieves can't pry them open. Use a cable at least 3/8 of an inch thick with a lock as thick, or thicker.

  • A thief with enough time and the right tools can break any lock. But you can further discourage many thieves if you follow these tips about your bike:
  • Lock the Whole Bike: You should put your chain, cable, or U locks through your frame and both wheels—taking the front wheel off, if you have to. Never lock through your wheel without locking the frame.
  • Cross Locking: A good way to foil thieves is to use more than one kind of lock. For example, put a U lock through your frame and rear tire, and put a cable or chain through your frame and front tire.
  • Placing the Lock: Some thieves can break a lock by putting it against a wall or sidewalk and smashing it with a hammer. If you use a padlock, try to put it where it's not close to the ground or against a wall or another solid surface.
  • Ugly Bikes: In urban areas where thieves have lots of bikes to choose from, your bike is less likely to be stolen if it looks old or just ugly. Sorry about that.
  • Removable Items: When you leave your bike, remove any parts you can't lock and a thief could steal easily: a quick-release seat, horn, bike bag, pump, water bottle, or lights. If removing quick-release parts is a hassle, replace them with permanent ones.

  • What's the first thing to do when you get a new bike? Grin! Then write down its serial number and record the number in a safe place. Police recover hundreds of stolen bikes each year, but can't return most because the owner has never recorded, and does not know the bicycle's serial number.
  • Identifying Marks: You can discourage thieves by engraving your name or social security number in an obvious place on your bike frame. Or put a card with your name and phone number inside the handlebar tube—so if you find your stolen bike at an auction or flea market, you can prove it's yours.
  • If Your Bike Is Stolen: First, find your bike's serial number if you have it. Then call the police non-emergency number and say where your bike was stolen. You also must give a callback phone number. Police will call you with a report number that you can use for an insurance claim. They'll call again if they find your bike.
  • Police Bike Auction: What do the police do with stolen bikes? They hold them for a while, then may auction them off. But if you find your stolen bike at an auction, police won't give it to you unless you can prove that it's yours.

All About Bike Helmets

  • Why wear a helmet? Because nearly 1,000 American bicyclists die in crashes each year-and around three-fourths die from head injuries. Hundreds more suffer permanent brain damage. Many of these are experienced, careful riders—maybe just like you. And most of these head injuries can be prevented with bike helmets.
  • You say a helmet's too much of a hassle? It'd make your head sweat? Mess up your pretty hair? It's too expensive? You'd look like a geek? Think how good these sayings would look on your gravestone.
  • Construction: Helmets today have a tough thin plastic surface on top of a soft foam core. The outer plastic allows it to skid when you hit rough pavement, rather than catch on something and break your neck.
  • Rating: Look on the inside of the helmet: It should have a CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) certification sticker. The CPSC rating has been required on helmets sold in the US since 1999. Older helmets may still have Snell, ANSI or ASTM certification.
  • Helmet Fit: You must have a good fit. A snug fit means that if your head hits and skids, the helmet stays in place. Most brands of adult helmets come in two or three sizes, and you make them fit by adjusting the chin strap and putting foam pads around the inside. Don't wear your helmet back on your head because it won't protect your skull if you fall forward.
  • Test for a Good Fit: The helmet sits level on your head. You can't shift the helmet to the front, back, or sides of your head. With the straps correctly tightened, you can't possibly get the helmet off. If the helmet fails these, adjust the straps, put in different pads, or try another size. Ask your bike shop staff to help you with a proper fit.
  • Cost: Compared to the cost of emergency room visits—or funerals—helmets are cheap. You can get a decent CPSC-rated bike helmet for around $30, although they can run up to $150 or more in price. More costly helmets usually aren't much safer, but they have better ventilation, weigh less, and look cool.
  • Ventilation: A helmet's ventilation depends on front-to-back airflow. Good airflow comes from long, wide air vents. Bald, light-skinned cyclists beware: big vents can cause weird tan lines.
  • Weight: Cheaper helmets are usually not much heavier than expensive ones—and most cyclists adjust to them easily. If you think you want an light helmet, test-ride a heavier one to make sure.
  • Look: You can pay a lot of money for style. But don't be fooled. No matter how aerodynamic a helmet looks, it won't help you go faster.
  • Kids Especially Need Helmets: California requires helmets on all bicyclists under 18 years old. Besides, children aren't as careful as adults when they ride—so they should always wear helmets. And always put helmets on kids whom you're carrying by bike; in a collision, very little protects them from flying off of the bike or trailer.
  • Very young children: A local child safety nurse tells us that children donít have strong enough neck muscles to support the weight of helmets until 14-18 months of age.

Traffic Basics

  • On the street, motorists follow traffic rules. Traffic flows smoothly because drivers can predict what others will do. A collision happens when someone breaks the rules or does something unexpected.
  • Act Like a Vehicle: When you're on a bike in the middle of all those cars, it's easy to defy traffic rules because you can maneuver better, and almost no one will stop you. This is how most bicyclists get into collisions. When you break traffic laws motorists never know what you'll do next, so they're not sure how to avoid you. But if you act like a vehicle—signaling turns, turning from the correct lanes, and stopping at red lights and stop signs—drivers can predict what you'll do.
  • Ride predictably. Being predictable is the key to safe bicycling on our streets. And if you follow traffic rules, motorists will come to respect bicyclists as drivers of vehicles—which is what California laws say we are.
  • Here are the basic rules for riding predictably:
  • Get Smart: Know the traffic rules you should follow and when others should yield to you.
  • Be Confident: Learn riding skills so you don't hesitate in traffic, and always be courteous.
  • Communicate: Make eye contact, signal your moves, and wave to thank someone who yields.
  • Traffic Rules: You probably know that a red octagon means stop, but as a bicyclist, you have to know and obey all of the traffic signals and pavement markings.
  • Messengers: There are no special rules within our County that apply only to bike messengers.
  • Right of Way: "Right of way" means permission to go head of somebody else. As the driver of a vehicle, you must yield the right of way in the same situations that motorists do. If you don't know when to yield to pedestrians and other vehicles, read the California Drivers Handbook.
  • Sidewalks: Santa Barbara city law says you should not ride on a sidewalk. If you do use a sidewalk you should walk your bike, even where it seems like a good place to bicycle. That being said, we also believe that law enforcement officials should exercise discretion in enforcing these laws as they pertain to young children and elderly adults.
  • Roads to Avoid: It's against the law to ride your bike on freeways where signs prohibit entry. It's also illegal to ride the wrong way on a one-way street, or against traffic on a two-way street.
  • What Police Will Do: If your break a traffic law, an officer might stop and warn you or possibly give you a traffic ticket. What happens when police stop you for the wrong reason? If polite persuasion doesn't work and you know the California Vehicle Code, make your case in court.

  • Learn Traffic Skills. Every adult can bicycle in our traffic. If you're concerned, practice by riding on quiet side streets and in parking lots. Then practice on major streets early on weekend mornings. We've listed a few skills that'll help you ride in traffic.
  • Watch Behind You. To bike in traffic you must know how to look back over your shoulder while riding. This simple act helps you move left or right fast—to avoid hazards, change lanes, or make a turn. And looking over your shoulder makes drivers pay attention to you. Even if your have a mirror attached to your handlebar, you should always turn your head to look before you move left or right.
  • Practice Looking Back. Here's how to learn to look back without swerving or slowing down.
  • Find a parking lot or wide, quiet street with some kind of lane stripe.
  • Ride along the lane stripe in a straight line.
  • Keeping your left shoulder steady, turn your head down and around to the left.
  • Try to keep your arms steady so your bike moves straight. Then turn your head forward.
  • Turn your head back again, but this time pick out something to look at. Try to keep moving straight. Then turn your head forward.
  • If you can't turn your head without turning your handlebars, drop your left hand down to your thigh while your turn your head.
  • Next, practice turning your head right. Then practice turning your head while moving faster.
  • Mirrors. Although mirrors attached to the handlebars provide a limited view on one side behind you, there are small ones that attach to either your helmet or eyeglasses. They have three advantages: they weigh less, they have less image jiggle than handlebar mirrors, and by simply turning your head a little, you can quickly scan for conditions behind you. Their disadvantage is that drivers approaching from your rear don't know that you know they're there; however, a quick glance back tells them that you're aware of them.
  • Where to Look: As you ride you have to avoid two kinds of things: Hazards on the ground right in front of you, and cars and pedestrians ahead and on either side. So you should always know how both the ground and the traffic around you look. To do this, get into the habit of looking first at the ground 20 to 30 feet in front of you, then up at traffic, then back down at the ground. At first this'll seem hard—maybe even strange—but with practice you'll do it without thinking.
  • Ready for a Brake: Always keep your hands near or over your brake levers—so you can stop fast in a pinch. When you brake, squeeze the front and back brakes at the same time. If you see a dangerous situation coming up, like a car backing out, glance behind you and get ready to brake or swerve if you have to.
  • Shifting Gears: If your bike can change gears, know how to shift without looking down. Learn shifting from a friend or bike shop workers.

  • Communicate. Bikes are smaller, slower, and quieter than most other vehicles. So you should make drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians notice you, and try to communicate with them. And since a lot of bicyclists don't follow traffic laws, drivers don't always know what you'll do—even if you think it's obvious. Here are some ways to communicate.
  • Use Hand Signals: Whenever you change lanes or turn, signal with your arm. If you are about to move in an unexpected way—like around a bunch of glass—point over to the part of the road you're moving to. Also signal when you're about to slow down—you don't have brake lights! California law says you must signal 100 feet before making a turn—tricky if you're also shifting and braking. Try to put your arm out in between the other things you're doing, but not if you'll lose control. Instead, yell.
  • Yielding: When you're waiting for a car to pass you before you cross an intersection or change lanes, the driver might not realize you're yielding. Wave at the driver to go ahead. Also, when drivers yield to you—even when they're supposed to—it's a good idea to thank them by waving and smiling.
  • Assume You're Invisible: In some situations—like a car turning in front of you—it's a wise to pretend the driver doesn't see you. Plan in advance how you'll avoid that driver. Can you stop in time? If not, slow down and figure how you'll steer out of the way.
  • Does the Driver See You? Watch for the car to move slower than it would if you weren't there. Look at where the driver's eyes are. If they're not looking at you, slow down and be ready to get out of the way.
  • Make Noise: Just as a car honks its horn when it comes out of an alley, you should make noise when you emerge from places where people can't see you—like when you ride between two stopped trucks to get into an intersection. Yell or use a whistle, bell, or horn.

Santa Barbara County Bike Map

photo of bbike map front

  • Before you ride, decide which streets to take to your destination. Think about road construction, rush hour congestion spots, and the areas that have bad pavement. Use the Santa Barbara County Bike Map to pick your route. Email Traffic Solutions or phone them 805-963-SAVE for a free copy. The map shows which streets have been designated, signed, and stripped as bicycle routes. Two words of caution:
  • Know the neighborhoods you ride in: the map doesn't tell you where crime might be a problem. Before you bicycle somewhere you're not familiar with, talk to someone who knows the area.
  • Not all neighborhoods have good cycling routes. The map shows the streets cyclists think are best—but these streets still might have rough spots.
  • Are streets the only places to bicycle in Santa Barbara County? No—although they can take you to just about any part of the County you want to go. Whether you've lived here for five months or fifty years, there's always more to see. Check with friends, your library, and government publications to choose a theme—like architecture, sculpture, museums, or restaurants—and use the Bike Map to plan your own tours.

Lane Positions, Turning, and Passing

  • Traffic law says that slower vehicles should stay to the right. But where exactly should bicycles ride? Here are some basics.
  • Never Ride Against Traffic: If you feel safer riding against traffic, you're wrong: one out of five car-bike collisions results from cyclists going the wrong way. Drivers moving down a street—and drivers turning onto the street—don't look for vehicles coming at them in their lane. And if they hit you, it'll be a much harder head-on than from behind.
  • When to Stay Right: Stay right if you're moving slowly compared to traffic, but remember: the farther from the curb you ride, the better motorists can see you—whether they're in your lane, oncoming, or on cross streets. Riding closer to traffic keeps cars from passing you on the left and then turning right immediately in front or you.
  • When to Ride In the Middle: It's safest to ride in the middle of the lane when you're moving at the speed of traffic, the lane's too small for cars to pass you safely, or you're avoiding potholes or the doors of parked cars. If you're riding in the middle and traffic starts to move faster than you can, move toward the curb if there's room. Some special cases:
  • Bike Lanes: You can ride in the middle of marked bike lanes. But when you find parked or moving vehicles in these lanes, follow the lane practices described above.
  • Dangerous Areas: If you come to a dangerous area—like a bend in the road that you can't see beyond—ride in the middle of the lane to be more visible.
  • Roundabouts: Traffic roundabouts are designed for our safety with no bikelanes within them. Take the traffic lane so exiting motorists won't guess wrong and cut you off.
  • Parked Cars: Don't weave in and out of parked cars, because you'll confuse drivers; ride in a straight line. Ride at least four feet away so you don't get hit if someone opens their door. And if a car door starts to open into you, yell and brake; swerve out of the way only if you have enough room.
  • Riding with Others: Be extremely careful when you ride side-by-side with other cyclists. It's best to never have more than two riders side-by-side when riding in traffic. If you ride next to someone, don't block motorists or other bicyclists that want to pass you. When another cyclist turns or changes lanes, don't assume it's safe for you to go too. Always look behind you before you make a move. When you're with a group stopped at a light, line up single file so you don't block or slow other vehicles.
  • Blind Spots: To be safe, know where a driver's blind spots are—and stay out of them! This is especially important when you're approaching an intersection because drivers can turn right into you if they don't see you.
  • Following Distance: Don't follow a vehicle so closely that you can't see potholes or other pavement problems until you're on top of them. If you're following a large vehicle—like a van, truck, or bus—don't follow so closely that it blocks your field of view. Also, big vehicles coming at you can hide other cars. Slow down or don't proceed until they get out of your line of sight.

  • Intersections: Almost half of urban car-bike collisions happen at intersections. This section tells you the safest places to put yourself when you reach an intersection, whether you're turning or going straight.
  • Go straight: When you're about to cross an intersection, don't veer to the left or right. Try to move in the straightest possible line to where you'll ride on the other side.
  • Don't Block Crosswalks: It's dangerous to make pedestrians cross farther into the intersection. Besides, it's illegal.
  • Changing Lanes before a Turn: When you're turning left on a multi-lane street where traffic isn't much faster than you, merge left one lane at a time. Where traffic moves much faster, drivers won't have time to react to you—so it's safest to wait for a gap in traffic and move across all the lanes at once.
  • Turning Left from a Left-turn Lane: Follow these steps for making left turns just like cars do.
  • From the right side of the street, look behind you for a gap in traffic. Start looking a half-block or more before the intersection.
  • When traffic allows, signal left and change lanes. If you can't find a gap and you're sure of your skills, get a driver to let you in by making eye contact and pointing. Don't change lanes until you're sure the driver will yield!
  • Go to the middle of the left-turn lane.
  • If there's a car already waiting to turn left, get behind it. Never put yourself next to a car in the same lane. Don't be afraid of oncoming cars that are stopped facing you, waiting to turn left.
  • Turn just like a car does. After the turn, move into the right side of the road—unless another vehicle is there or you're making another left turn immediately.
  • Turning Left with No Left-turn Lane: If there's no turn lane, ride about four feet from the center stripe—far enough out so a left-turning car behind you can't pass until you've finished the turn. If a car's stopped at the intersection and you can't tell whether it's going to turn left, don't try to pass it on the left. Stay behind it until it gets through the intersection.
  • One-way Street Turns: When turning left from one one-way street to another, you can turn into the left or right side of the street. In this case, California law allows left turn on red—you can make a left turn after stopping at a red light and yielding to vehicles on the cross street.
  • The Box Left Turn: Use the box left turn if you can't merge left before you reach the intersection. Here's how:
  • Stay in the right lane and ride across the intersection on the left side of (not in) the crosswalk.
  • Just before the opposite corner, check whether there's room for you in the traffic lane to the right of the crosswalk, behind the stop line. If there is, go there and align yourself with traffic.
  • If there's no room behind the stop line, stop on the intersection side of the crosswalk and align yourself with traffic.
  • When the traffic light changes, move with traffic.
  • Stop Signs and Turns on Red: At a stop sign or right turn on red, the law says you must stop—not just slow down. Remember to act like a vehicle. If you're at a stop sign and a vehicle on the cross street got there first, let it go through first. If you're turning on red, yield to any vehicles coming at you in your lane.
  • Don't Veer to the Curb: Don't veer into the right-turn lane as you go through the intersection. You're easier to see if you stay away from the curb. And you won't have to move back over when you get across the intersection.
  • Cars Stopped in Both Lanes: When cars are stopped in the left and right lanes, it's safest to stop in the middle of the right lane. But if the right-lane car is turning right and you're sure of your traffic skills, stop on the left side of the right lane. Stop where drivers in both lanes can see you.
  • Right on Red Allowed: If you're going straight at a red light where right turn on red is allowed, stop on the left side of the right lane—leaving enough room for right-turning cars. If a car's stopped in the left lane, stop where drivers in both lanes can see you.
  • Three-way Intersection: At a red light in a three-way intersection, stop on the street you're traveling on. Don't cross the diagonal street to wait on the next corner, because you'll confuse drivers about which way you're really going.

  • Passing. In most cases you should pass cars in your lane as you would if driving a car: look behind you, signal left, get into the left lane, and pass. Here are some things to remember about passing:
  • Pass Left: Pass moving cars on the left when you can. That's where motorists expect you to pass, so that's where they look.
  • Don't Pass on Turn Side: If a vehicle is about to turn, don't pass it on the side it's turning toward.
  • Opening Doors: When you pass a stopped car, watch out for the driver or a passenger opening their door. Pass four feet from the car, or pass on the side with no passengers.
  • Cars Speeding Up: If you're passing a car and it speeds up, stay in your lane and slow down. After the car passes you, look back, signal, then merge back behind the car.
  • Squeezing Between Cars: Say you're in a traffic jam with cars backed up for a block. It's safest (and most legal) to get into line with the cars and wait it out. But if you do squeeze between the cars to get through, here what to watch for:
  • A car door can open in front of you, on the left or right, at any time. Look inside cars for passengers who might get out. Keep your hands on your brake levers.
  • When pedestrians cross the street in the middle of a traffic jam, the last thing they expect is you zooming down on them between the cars. Watch out for pedestrians, especially when passing trucks or buses.
  • If a space opens up in the traffic jam—and you're near a driveway or cross street—watch for a car from the opposite direction turning into your path.
  • Passing Buses: Here are a few tips for passing buses at intersections or bus stops:
  • When you come to a bus that's nearing or stopped at a bus stop, don't pass on the right. You might get squeezed into the curb or hit a passenger.
  • When you pass on the left of a bus with its rear stuck out in traffic, look around carefully. And pass the front of the bus with plenty of room in case it pulls out suddenly, or a passenger crosses the street in front of it.
  • Don't pass a bus to turn right immediately in front of it. Buses sometimes speed up suddenly.
  • Highway Exit Ramps: When an exit ramp merges from the right, first look over your right shoulder to see what's coming. If a lot of cars are merging, stay straight so they pass before you on the right. As you move farther, they'll pass behind you on the left. If there's a break in the merging traffic, move to the right as soon as you can.
  • Passing Cyclists: Cyclists can swerve faster than cars—so when you pass a bicycle, pass at least three feet away on the bicycle's left (not the right). Always shout "passing on your left" before you pass so nobody's surprised.

Trouble Situations

  • Emergency Moves: When you're moving fast and something gets in your way, slamming on the brakes doesn't always work. This section describes some emergency moves that you can practice in a quiet parking lot. Start slowly, then work your speed up. Practice—so when you need an emergency move, you make it automatically. This section also tells you why knowing how to fall might keep you from serious injury.
  • The Quick Slow-Down: When you stop fast, your weight shifts from your back wheel to the front. Even if you use both your front and back brakes, your back tire can skid and start to lift. To slow down quickly:
  • Push yourself as far back on the bike as you can. This keeps weight on the back tire.
  • Put your head and torso as low as you can so you don't flip.
  • Squeeze both brakes. If the back tire starts to slide or lift, ease up on the front brake.
  • The Instant Turn: Use the Instant Turn when a car turns in front of you while you're going straight. To make a very sudden right turn, steer sharply left—towards the car—which makes you lean right. Then turn right hard, steering into the lean.
  • The Rock Dodge: The Rock Dodge is just a quick turn of the front wheel to miss a rock or hole right in front of you. At the last second, turn the front wheel sharply left and back right again. Both your wheels should miss the hazard.
  • How To Fall: Most serious bicycle injuries involve brain damage, so the best way to protect yourself in a fall is by wearing a helmet. Otherwise, it's not easy to prepare for a fall. But if you have time to think:
  • When you're about to hit a car, don't try to wipe out first; instead, stay upright as long as you can. If you get low you risk going under the wheels or hitting the sharpest parts of the car.
  • If you go flying, tuck your head, arms, and legs into a tight ball and try to roll when you hit the ground. If you stick your arms out you're likely to break them, or your collarbone, or both.
  • Dogs: Here are some of your options when a dog chases you.
  • Just stop. Some dogs just want a good chase and will give up when you're not moving.
  • Stop and get off your bike quick. If the beast looks like it wants to attack, try to keep the bike between you and it. Shout something commanding, like Go home!
  • Try to outrun it. This might be a good idea if there's more than one dog. Don't try to outrun it if you're not sure you can; too many cyclists have wiped out when running dogs jam their front wheels. If you go for it, try a squirt with your water bottle to slow Fido down. Don't try to hit the dog; you may lose your balance.
  • Use a dog-repellent spray. But be careful: wind could blow the stuff back into your face.
  • If a dog bites you, get to a doctor or hospital right away for a rabies test. If you know where the dog lives, tell the police so they can check with the owners.
  • Pedestrians: The law says you should yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. This can sometimes test your patience, where some people cross against the traffic light when they see no cars coming. So what happens when you're zooming down the street, come to a green light, and find a dozen people scurrying through the crosswalk? Warn them by shouting or using a bell, whistle, or horn. Remember: pedestrians look for cars, not bikes.
  • If there's still a crowd in the crosswalk, or pedestrians freeze, you should slow down or stop. If you don't stop, when you're close enough for the pedestrians to see you clearly, go carefully between them. Try not to go between parents and their kids.
  • Be patient with slow-moving seniors, young children or handicapped individuals who have not yet cleared the street when your light turns green.
  • Railroads: Some railroad tracks cross streets diagonally. If you go over these tracks without changing your direction, your tire might get caught between a track and the road. Instead, try to cross tracks at a right angle—especially when the street's wet.
  • Rocks and Gravel: When you bike over gravel, don't turn suddenly or use your brakes; you might wipe out.
  • Assault: It's rare, but it can happen. If somebody's determined to attack you, they will—whether you're on foot, bike, or in a car. If you're afraid to bike in a certain neighborhood, don't—or go with friends and stay on busy streets. Here are some other tips:
  • The best defense is to stay alert. If you see someone who looks like they'll hurt you, stay away from them.
  • Don't stop, for any reason, in places where you think you're about to be attacked.
  • Carry a defensive spray, such as a Mace or dog repellent, where you can grab it quick. Remember that people who use this stuff often get it blown back in their faces.
  • If you get knocked off your bike by a mugger, don't fight. Try to notice what they look like, then go to the nearest phone and call 911.

Conflicts With Motorists

  • A lot of motorists act mean toward bicyclists. Some cut you off or curse you because they don't understand you're operating a vehicle just like them. What should you do?
  • Don't start a fight. As long as you and your bike aren't damaged, don't start a fight—no matter how steamed you get. If you lose your cool, the motorist might decide to nail the next bicyclist who goes by. Or, worse, the motorist might decide to smash you with two tons of metal and glass—and speed off before you can even start to say license plate.
  • Report harassment. Motorists who touch you or put you in danger might be guilty of assault. Stop and write down everything you can remember: the license plate number, type of car, and where and when it happened. Then call the police.
  • Take the long view. If more cyclists follow traffic laws, more motorists will start to see bicycles as vehicles. You can help: If a motorist questions what you're doing but isn't hostile, explain what you've learned here.
  • Meanwhile, Traffic Solutions, our regional cities, the County of Santa Barbara, the AAA, the PTA, the DMV and others are carrying the bicycling message to people.
  • Traffic Collision: If you're hurt in a traffic collision, don't ride away or shake off what seems like a minor injury—you might find later that it's worse than you thought. If you're a victim of or a witness to a traffic collision, here are the steps to take:
  • Call 911 for the police. If needed, get medical help immediately.
  • If you're injured, don't move unless you're sure you won't injure yourself more.
  • Don't get mad at the scene. Keep a level head so you can ask questions and take notes.
  • Get the following information from every vehicle: driver name, address, phone number, driver's license number, license plate number, make of car, insurance company name and policy number.
  • Get the names and phone numbers of witnesses.
  • Get the police report number from police on the scene.
  • Write down how the accident happened.
  • Keep (or photograph) any damaged clothes or equipment.
  • It should be apparent from the above to always carry pencil and paper, plus some identification about you that lists an emergency contact and your medical conditions that specialists might need.

Off-Street Bicycling

  • Where can you bicycle away from the streets? On park pathways and designated bike paths. Despite the pleasant setting, bicycle collisions happen almost three times as often on paths as on streets. Here are some tips about safe path riding.
  • Be Courteous: Unless there are arrows to direct them, people on paths don't know which side to travel on and when to yield. So the most important rule for everyone is, act courteously. When in doubt, give the other person a break.
  • Ride Predictably: Ride straight and at a steady speed so people can stay out of your way. Always look back before passing or turning. And use hand signals and make noise by shouting or using a bell, horn, or whistle.
  • Where to Pass? Slower path traffic should stay right, except to pass—just like traffic on the street. And you usually should pass others on the left. When there's not enough room on the left, pass on the right. Always signal so people behind you know which side you'll pass on.
  • Call Out to Others: Yell "on your left" or "on your right" before you pass another cyclist, a skater, or a runner. If you shout at people walking, some will freak out and jump in front of you. So if they're walking in a straight, predictable line, you can pass them without saying anything—but pass them with as much distance as you can. Or you can slow to their speed, and say "bicycle passing on your left" and wait for them to move aside. And don't wear headphones so you can hear others passing you.
  • When to Yield: Here's when to yield on a path:
  • When you enter a path, or you're on a path that crosses a street or another path, always be ready to slow down and yield to cross traffic.
  • If cross traffic has a stop or yield sign, they should yield to you.
  • If there are no signs, you should yield to the person who reaches the intersection first.
  • Yield to anyone who looks like they won't slow down for you.
  • If there's no room to pass yield to people in front of you who are moving slower than you.
  • Don't Block the Path: Don't stop on a path. Instead, move off the path to stop.
  • Using Lights: If you ride paths at night, you should always have lights in front and back. If your light has high and low beams, don't blind others with your bright one.
  • Don't Do Damage: Don't ride in the grass or dirt, or lock your bike to small trees. You'll compact the soil, kill grass and trees, and cause erosion.
  • Santa Barbara's Beachway: This is not a highway. Many people use the oceanfront bike path. They walk, run, skate, dance and just stand and talk. This means that you—a cyclist sharing the path with others—often have to slow down or stop. If you use the path to work on your racing skills or you're trying to get across town in a hurry, going slow might really annoy you. If it does:
  • Find a better route. For commuting, streets might be faster and safer. For racing, try quiet rural roads.
  • Use the Beachway at off-peak times. In warm weather, avoid the Beachway weekends after 8 AM and weekdays after 3 PM.

Riding At Night

  • Attract attention! Here's how to be seen at night:
  • Reflective tape: Use white or yellow in front, yellow or red in back.
  • Reflective clothing: An orange safety vest or reflective (Illuminite) clothing increases your visibility. Don't wear dark clothes without some light-colored material too.
  • Jacket: Bright color with reflective piping in back.
  • Rear reflectors: Big ones are best. Get one at least three inches wide. Only red is legal but amber ones can be 8 times brighter. Reflectors work only if they're clean, so remember to wipe them off. Make sure it's pointed straight back and not up or down.
  • Rear light: Not important if you have a good rear reflector. If buying just one light, get a good headlight.
  • Flashing lights: Many cyclists use the red or amber flashing LED lights. Some can be seen a half mile away.
  • Pedal reflectors: Attached to the pedals. Because they move when you pedal, they attract more driver attention than fixed reflectors.
  • Reflective ankle straps. In any color, they attract attention from many angles, moreso because they're rotating.
  • Wheel reflectors: These white reflectors attach to spokes and are highly visible to approaching cross traffic.
  • Headlight: Battery-powered is best. Get the most powerful one you can afford. Use white, not amber or red. Generator lights can be bright, but many go dark when you stop, so they're poor for city riding. If you ride at night a lot, use rechargeable batteries—you'll save money and our landfills.
  • Flashlight: In a pinch, attach one with rubber bands, a bungee cord or duct tape.
  • Only three percent of bike rides happen at night—but over half of all cyclists killed get hit while riding at night without lights. You need bike lights to be seen by others, not necessarily to see. In darkness, California law requires:
  • A white front light that lights the road and is visible from 300 feet.
  • A red rear reflector visible from 500 feet in normal headlights.
  • A white or yellow reflector on each pedal, visible from the front and rear of the bicycle from a distance of 200 feet.
  • On the bike front, white or yellow reflectors visible on each side. Usually attached to wheel spokes.
  • On the bike rear, white or red reflectors visible from each side. Usually attached to wheel spokes.
  • A car's headlights are visible from 3,000 feet and that's what most drivers look for. Since your upper body's at eye level, it's important to wear white, light-colored, or reflective clothing at night.

  • When you're riding after dark, consider the following.
  • Defensive Moves: At night you can't see where drivers are looking, and some are under the infuence of alcohol or drugs. Slow down from your daylight speed. To make sure drivers see you when you're stopped, flash your lights by twitching your handlebars back and forth. And watch cars closely; be ready to get out of their way.
  • Know Your Route: If you're new at night riding, take streets where you know the potholes and traffic so you can focus on riding in the dark. Also, if you're not sure about nighttime crime in a neighborhood, ask someone who knows the area—or don't ride alone.
  • Night Blindness: Don't bike at night if your visual acuity is worse than 20/40 with glasses or contacts, or you can read a far-away sign or address fine in daylight, but not at night. Check with a doctor if you're unsure.

Riding in Winter

  • We get little real cold and rain in Santa Barbara County, but you'll still want to be careful on winter days. Here's what to consider.
  • Start of Rain: Don't race to beat the rain after it starts. That's when streets are slickest because automotive oil on the road spreads before it washes away. Slow way down on turns and don't lean as much.
  • Wet Streets: It's easy to slip when things are wet. Watch out for slick things like metal-grate bridges, temporary construction covers, manhole covers, painted pavement, and leaves. Don't turn or brake on them. On metal bridges, if you have thin or smooth tires don't ride across; put both feet on the road and scooter across, or walk your bike on the sidewalk.
  • Puddles: Don't ride through a puddle if you can't see the bottom. It could be a deep pothole that'll throw you.
  • Reduced Vision: Remember that in rain, motorists and cyclists can't see as well. And it takes longer for us all to stop. Just go slower.
  • Braking: When brake pads and wheel rims are wet, they take up to ten times longer to work. Dry them by applying your brakes far ahead of where you want to slow down, causing your pads to wipe the rims. To dry them faster, pump the brakes by applying them lightly, then letting go, over and over.

  • People who bicycle in the cold and rain aren't nuts; they're just dressed right. But how?
  • Protection and Venting In Wet Weather: If your clothes keep out rain they might also seal your sweat in. To vent perspiration, wear a jacket or poncho that lets air in from the bottom, back, or sides. Or buy a jacket that keeps rain out, but allows perspiration vapor to escape. Front and rear fenders work well to keep your legs, feet, and back away from road spray.
  • Layer for Cold: You don't need a whole new set of clothes to bike in the cold. Instead, wear a sweatshirt or jacket and add t-shirts, light sweaters, and tights or long johns in layers as weather gets colder. By wearing light layers you can also remove outer clothes if you warm up while cycling. The layer closest to your skin should be a wicking material that will let sweat pass through as you ride.
  • Try different clothing to find what makes you comfortable at different temperatures and in the rain. In extreme cold or wind chill, cover your hands, feet, and ears well. Here are some other ideas:
  • Cool: Light jacket or windbreaker; long pants or tights; light gloves.
  • Cold: Thicker socks (or a second pair); heavier gloves; hat.
  • Freezing: Sweater or another torso layer; glove liners under gloves: neck gaiter, turtleneck, or scarf; headband or earmuffs, add face mask, knee socks, heavy shoes or shoe covers.

  • To equip yourself for the rain, consider the following:
  • Wear light, bright colors—yellow, orange, lime green, or pink.
  • Head: Cover it unless you have thick hair. A tight-fitting hood covers your ears and fits under your helmet. A baseball cap under your helmet will keep rain out of your eyes.
  • Hoods: Don't use loose-fitting hoods that block peripheral vision.
  • Neck: High collar or hood keeps water from going down your neck.
  • Hands: Use gloves with a water resistant shell or a waterproof liner.
  • Rain gear: Wear a waterproof jacket. If sweat's a problem, wear a loose or vented jacket, a waterproof poncho that lets in air from below, or a cyclist's rain cape that hooks to handlebars to keep it out of your tires.
  • Leg gaiters: often made of nylon; keeps your pants legs dry.
  • Feet: Wear synthetic or wool socks and in really wet weather wear rubber boots.
  • And now for your bike in rainy weather:
  • Brakes: Grime builds up on brake pads, making them squeak or scratch your rims. Run a rag between each pad and the rim, like shining a shoe. Occasionally remove the tire and check pads for wear.
  • Bearing damage: After biking in wet weather put your bike indoors so bearings can dry.
  • Fenders: they beat almost anything to keep you dry on wet pavement. Plastic ones are cheap and light, but can crack if installed wrong.
  • Rims: When wet, brake pads grip aluminum rims better than they do steel.
  • Tires: Fat tires have better traction. Tires less than 1.25 inches wide work better on wet streets when under-inflated. Use tires with a herring-bone tread pattern.

Bicyclists Resources