Cycling Tip of the Week: How to Change Lanes and Make Left Turns

By: Andrew Posner, Planet Green
turning left
Mike Clarke/istockphoto

In Cycling Tip of the Week, we'll be featuring a weekly tip aimed at making cycling safer and more fun for you. Feel free to send us your tips as well.


Cyclists Have the Same Rights as Motorists

Let's start with a simple fact that many cyclists and motorists are unaware of: bicyclists have the same rights, and responsibilities, as drivers. So the next time a driver yells at you to "get off the road," you can calmly?and correctly?yell back "I have as much of a right to be on the road as you do."

One of the many implications of the fact that cyclists have the same rights as drivers is that they are allowed to make left turns much as cars do?by moving into the left-hand turn lane, and making the turn either when there are no cars coming in the other direction, or once the light has turned yellow. However, many cyclists are either unaware of their ability to make turns like this, or are otherwise afraid to do so. As a result, they often are forced into awkward situations where they get off the bike in order to cross the street using the sidewalk.


The key to making a successful left turn is to know how to change lanes while on a bicycle. Just as new drivers have to learn to look over their shoulder without veering into the other lane, cyclists need to be able to check for cars behind them without slamming into cars that might be near them. In order to maintain a straight line while looking back, first put your right hand near the middle of the handlebar, which gives you better stability. Before you do that, however, first look in front of you to make sure there are no potholes or other obstacles that might cause you to lose your balance while looking back. Then, take your left hand off the handlebar and rotate your hips so that you can turn your head enough to be able to see behind you.

The key is that as you turn your hips, you also use your right hand to counteract the tendency to want to turn the bike to the left; by using your hand to press right while you look left, you will be able to keep a straight line. Practice in a parking lot or, preferably, a grassy area, in order to become proficient at this.

Once you've looked behind you, the next step is to signal. This is done by simply sticking your left arm out. As you signal continue looking behind you; if the cost is clear, then go ahead and move over into the left-turn lane. If there are cars, try to make eye-contact with the drivers; they will often wave you through. However, IT IS VERY IMPORTANT that if you need to cross more than one lane of traffic, you make sure both lanes are clear. In other words, a driver in one lane might let you through, but there might be another car coming up in the second lane. Please be careful about that; don't feel like you have to cross the lane just because one driver has waved you through, as that can lead to a collision.

Now that you are in the turn lane, treat it just as you would if you were in a car. The only difference is that you need to give yourself more room because you can't accelerate as fast as a car can. It's very important that when you make the turn you take the widest route possible so that cars behind you can make the turn at the same time.

If you still feel uncomfortable making left turns, find a bike buddy that can ride in front and show you how to do it safely. Never make a left turn if you feel uncomfortable?it's always better to be safe than sorry! Left turns can be easy and safe, provided that you are confident in your bike handling abilities, so spend time riding with more experienced riders, and make sure you feel comfortable on your bike.