Same Roads, Same Rights, Same Rules
Leave your oppositional defiance disorder at home
I should have written this first. If we’re going to riding bicycles all around Nova Scotia, we need to know the rules of the “Share road with motorized vehicles and not die” game. There are guidelines that CAN-BIKE instructors (like me) can share with you, and there are actual rules i.e. legislation outlining where and how you can operate a bicycle on a road in Nova Scotia. If you have the opportunity to take a CAN-BIKE course, I highly recommend it. If not, you can always ask a friendly neighbourhood CAN-BIKE instructor or veteran CAN-BIKE trained rider to take you out on a few rides to show you the evolutionarily stable strategy (for present purposes that means you stay alive long enough to reproduce and make sure your offspring do the same or timeline equivalent to that, OK?) for riding a bicycle on a roadway in Nova Scotia and just about anywhere else.
Bicycle Nova Scotia has a pretty good summary of the rules of the road for cyclists on its website, so I am not going to repeat that here. What I am going to do is address the most common misconceptions and arguments I encounter against the rules and best practices. And I’m tired of repeating them, so don’t ask me again.
1. Helmets are stupid. A good quality and properly-fitting helmet will protect you from serious head injury. Period. No, maybe it won’t protect you if you get hit by a large vehicle going at a high speed. Neither will anything else, and since you’ll probably be dead it’s not going to matter whether or not you have a head injury. The fall you are most likely to have is at some speed a bicycle is capable of going, from the height of yourself to the ground. Don’t fool yourself: a fall like this can result in whiplash, concussion, and other brain injuries. Why risk it? Just wear a helmet! Nurses in long-term care are pretty nice, but we want to see you when you’re 105 and tired of cooking for yourself, not at 55 because you didn’t want to wear a helmet and broke your brain falling off your bike onto a concrete curb.
2. I should be able to ride on the sidewalk. In Nova Scotia, if you are age 16 years or younger, sure, ride on the sidewalk. If you’re over 16, you’re breaking the law and creating a hazard not only for pedestrians on the sidewalk but also for motorists entering and leaving the roadway. Riding on the sidewalk turns every driveway and parking lot entrance into an intersection. If you are on the road where you’re supposed to be, you have the right of way and are part of the traffic drivers look for as they enter the road. If you are riding on the sidewalk because you feel safer there – see paragraph one about finding experienced CAN-BIKE cyclists to ride with. Keep to a trail or sidestreets until you feel confident. Or you can always get off your bike in a place you feel uncomfortable riding and walk it along the sidewalk and across crosswalks until you get to an area where you’re confident on the roadside. Oh, yeah: you have to get off your bicycle to use a crosswalk. Yes, really.
3. Riding facing traffic is safer. Drivers are not expecting wheeled vehicles to come at them head on. They’re also not expecting them to come at them from the opposite direction when they’re turning into traffic. Since a bicycle is considered to be a vehicle in Nova Scotia, riding facing traffic is also contrary to the law. I know it might seem safer to be able to see what’s coming at you, rather than wonder what is coming up behind you. I get it – that’s why I have a rear-view mirror on my helmet. Mirrors for bike handlebars or helmets are inexpensive and easy to install and use. Personally, I wouldn’t ride without one. Not feeling comfortable riding in the same direction as traffic? See paragraph one about finding a CAN-BIKE trained cyclist to help you develop your skills and confidence.
4. I should be able to ride 2 or 3 or 900 abreast. In Nova Scotia, we have something referred to as the “One Metre Law”. This law requires motorists to give cyclists one metre clearance when passing. This is a law that keeps cyclists safe, because at speed having that car one metre to your left gives you room to maneuver if you suddenly come upon an obstacle in the road. It also makes it less likely you are going to get clipped by wide mirrors or objects in pick-up beds or on trailers. This law was hard-fought-for by a number of wonderful people for many years. One of the things cyclists had to concede to get this law was the right to ride several abreast. Sure you can ride along beside your friend chatting on a quiet road, but the second a car comes up behind you GET THE F**K OVER TO THE RIGHT, SINGLE FILE! Hanging out there in the middle of the lane is dangerous for you, your fellow cyclists, and the people operating vehicles. The most hate I’ve heard aimed at cyclists in the Valley is because “they take up the whole road in large groups”. Yeah, stop that. It’s the law in Nova Scotia to ride single file. If you want to have an intense chat with our friend, pull over at one of the wonderful parks or cafes in this beautiful province and get serious over a cup of tea or a craft beer.
There’s a very serious bottom line for cyclists about sharing the road with motorized vehicles. In any collision, we end up the big loser. The least we can do to keep ourselves safe is abide by the law. CAN-BIKE has a tried and true basic philosophy for cycling with traffic: See, Be Seen, Be Predictable. When we are obeying the law, we are being predictable. We will be seen when we need to be – at intersections, on the roadside single file, riding with the flow of traffic. With our helmet properly adjusted and a clear line of sight un-obscured by fellow cyclists riding abreast, we can see what we need to see.
There’s a lot more to riding safely than I’ve mentioned in this article and I’ll discuss it more in upcoming posts. Here’s a teaser: if you want to travel with the big vehicles, get a big light.
Summary of Rules of the Road in NS https://bicycle.ns.ca/rules-of-the-road/
Fitting a bike helmet https://momentummag.com/bike-helmet-fit/
Find a CAN-BIKE course http://canbikecanada.ca/