“I would never ride a bike in Toronto!”

I hear this. A lot.

On the one hand, it makes me feel kinda gutsy that cycling is my main mode of transportation. On the other hand, I lament that so many people feel too scared to ride in this city.

And if I had a third hand, I’d wonder if I lack (or choose not to see) just how dangerous it is. Is it?

Comfort Not Included: Some Assembly Required

The first summer I started cycling I felt uneasy on the roads. I was as far over to the right as one could be; nearly hitting my pedal against the curb repeatedly as I attempted to take up as little room as possible.

I wasn’t so much afraid of getting hit but I felt like I was borrowing the road from the drivers.

Oh, how times have changed! Now, I’m sharing the road.

Road Users Coexist Sticker (Source: San Francisco Bicycle Coalition)

A message of peace between road users (Source: San Francisco Bicycle Coalition)

Source: San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. This image is part of a flyer to educate taxi drivers on how to safely share the road with cyclists. I picked up a sticker with the same image on it at Ride Your Bike to Work Day in San Francisco. Read my post about cycling in San Fran

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t gratuitously hog the lane nor endeavour to slow down the flow of traffic on purpose. Rather, I’m more aware of my right to be on the road so I feel entitled to take up more room, especially if it makes my ride safer. For example, riding more in the middle of the lane to avoiding large potholes or the door prize.

Caution: Wide Load

Nothing scares me more than when a car passes me at a high-speed with mere inches to spare.

More often than not, if I catch up to the driver following such a close encounter, (s)he is not looking at me. They didn’t do it out of malice but I still feel upset because there was no awareness either.

Why not?

  • Mix 1/2 cup of not expecting a cyclist with a generous handful of perpetual distraction,
  • Add 2 tbsp. of no idea how wide my vehicle is, and
  • Serve up cold.
  • Add a sprinkling of one quick text before serving (optional).

Riding Defensively

My approach is that there are things I can control (whether I wear a helmet, my speed, how aware I am at any given moment, whether I follow the rules of the road) and expect the unexpected.

I am more visible when I expect to be invisible.

In other words, if I constantly assume that drivers don’t know I’m there, I can anticipate their movements and avoid collisions.

Yet, how dangerous is it, really? Stay tuned! I plan to explore some statistics in an upcoming post. If you know of any good reports, please send them my way!

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2 comments

  1. That’s exactly what I assume, too. Unless I have made direct contact with a driver, my assumption is that they have not seen me. Even then…I proceed with caution.

    And like you said, I control the things I have control over — like helmets, my behavior, etc — but have to accept the risk that I don’t have control over everything.

    But, driving a car has the same problem–you can’t control everything when driving either!

    1. You’re absolutely correct – we’re not able to control everything in most situations, I guess :) What distinguishes cycling in Toronto is that the perception is that we can’t control enough for it to be safe. I still think the benefits outweigh the costs.
      Thanks for your comments!

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