How to Bicycle Safely in San Francisco

Follow these basic guidelines for bicycling safely on San Francisco streets. Common causes of injury to San Francisco cyclists include motorists making right turns directly into the path of oncoming cyclists, opening vehicle doors directly in front of cyclists, changing lanes without checking their blind spots, or hitting cyclists from behind; and bicyclists losing control of their bicycle by riding into or trying to avoid Muni tracks or road hazards such as potholes or debris, failing to make themselves visible while riding at night, riding too fast for conditions, or failing to wear a helmet.


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    Go around or wait behind a right-turning car.
    • Pass on the left or wait behind: Cars are required to move into the part of the bike lane bordered by a dashed line before making a right turn. That way the car will not cut off cyclists. When a car in front of you in traffic signals a right turn, and you are continuing straight ahead on your bicycle, pass on the left side of the right-turning car or wait behind it until it has made the right turn.
    • Evasive action - turn the corner quickly: If a car makes a sudden right turn in front of you, you’ll need to take evasive action. The best move in this situation is to turn quickly around the corner with the car. Turning a corner at high speed takes a bit of practice. While riding straight ahead, turn your handlebars very slightly away from direction you want to turn. This shifts the bike slightly from under you, preparing for a sharp turn. You can then turn hard in the direction you wish to turn.
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    Don't get "doored."
    • Ride 3–4 feet (0.9–1.2 m) away from parked cars: A bike lane is often directly alongside parked cars. It is important to leave enough space to avoid being hit by car doors opening. When there is no bike lane, you may need to ride near the center of the car lane. Remember that a bicyclist is allowed full use of the lane to stay safe when the lane is narrow. A bicyclist may also take the lane when traveling the same speed as traffic.
    • Evasive action - Stop quickly: If you find yourself about to be “doored,” you will need to stop as fast as possible. To do so, sit far back and low on your seat with your weight over your rear wheel and brake with even pressure on both brakes. Sliding your weight back on your seat gives your rear tire more traction. You will be able to stop more quickly, with less skidding. If most of your weight is over your front wheel when you try to stop, you risk going over the handlebars.
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    Cross MUNI tracks at a 90 degree angle. MUNI streetcar tracks present a special hazard for City cyclists, and are a common cause of falls. If your wheel slips into the track, it will cause you to lose control of your bicycle and fall. The best way to avoid this is to cross MUNI streetcar tracks at a nearly perpendicular angle. This minimizes the risk that your bike wheels will get caught. Foggy or rainy weather increases the risk, because the tracks are more slippery when wet.
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    Check for traffic coming from behind.
    • Check over your left shoulder for traffic before you move out of the bike lane or go through an intersection. By checking over your left shoulder, you can see cars coming from behind you. It’s important to practice this so you can do it without swerving. Drill yourself in riding straight ahead and looking over your shoulder for traffic, until you can do it easily.
    • Beware at Market and Octavia: There have been more injury collisions at Market and Octavia than any other intersection in the City. Drivers make an illegal right turn there to get to the freeway. This is extremely dangerous for cyclists. Watch out for cars making illegal right turns across the bike lane at this intersection.
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    Give buses and trucks a wide berth. Leave enough room behind a truck or bus so the driver can see you in the rearview mirror. Remember that the driver can’t see you if you are too close behind or beside the vehicle. Try to make eye contact with the driver via their rearview mirror. Do not try to sneak by at bus zones - always pass on the left. When passing, stay several feet away from the sides and wheels of the vehicle. Be extra cautious of trucks and buses turning right since they often first pull straight forward and thereby give the illusion that they are proceeding straight and then trap the unwitting cyclist as they make their turn.
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    Ride with traffic, on the right side. Riding against the direction of traffic can lead to a collision. Drivers habitually look in the direction of the flow of traffic when entering a roadway or changing lanes. A driver will not be looking out for traffic coming from the wrong direction. A bicyclist popping up from the wrong direction risks a collision. Ride predictably, with traffic, to stay safe.
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    Light up at night. You are required by law to have a white front light, as well as reflectors on your pedals, wheels, and on the back of your bike when riding at night. It is also advisable to have a blinking light on the back of your bike. The more lights, the better. Do not wear dark colors for nighttime riding. Wear light colors and reflective clothing or backpacks. Also, take into account the lower visibility and ride more slowly at night, to allow yourself and motorists enough time to react.
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    Go slowly in wet weather. Slow down in rain or fog! Also, use lights and reflectors to increase your visibility. It will take you longer to stop in wet weather, because water between your brake pad and wheel rim keeps the pads from gripping. The wetness can also cause you to skid. Brake more gradually, and start braking sooner, than you usually would. To test your brakes, pump them a few times. That will also reduce the moisture layer somewhat to get your brakes working better.
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    Avoid road debris and road defects. In urban riding, you will encounter broken glass, rocks, and other debris, and road defects such as potholes or uneven pavement. It’s important to learn to steer quickly around these hazards. To do this, practice a slight side-to-side movement of your handlebars – steer quickly to one direction, then the other. That way, your tires will avoid the debris without you being thrown out of your line of travel. If you find you are unavoidably running over a rock or other debris, stand slightly on your pedals, with your weight off your seat, to decrease the risk of a flat tire. The slower you ride, the more likely such hazards will not result in injury.
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    Wear a helmet. If you have a collision or fall, a helmet can prevent brain injuries. Your helmet should be properly fitted, with the straps adjusted to keep it positioned securely. In addition to traditional bike helmet designs, there are now many commuter helmet designs available. These often provide more protection, covering more of the head with a tougher shell. They also come in a variety of stylish looks, from matte black to leopard print.


  • This is not an all-inclusive list of cycling safety practices. Cyclists should acquaint themselves with rules of the road, use common sense, and exercise caution at all times.

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Categories: Bicycling