Let's say you persuade some significant other to ride with you in the city. You both have good bikes, they are inexperienced, and you are (I am) used to commuting, including in traffic.

How do you prepare the inexperienced rider to ride in traffic, and keep them safe while they learn and practice? How do you instruct them while riding?

  • I have no experience as an instructor, have a driver's license, and have never cycled in a group (well, just once I went on a casual, informal jaunt with two other cyclists from work).
    – ChrisW
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 15:49
  • Reworded your last line a touch, but please revert if I've somehow missed the point. Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 18:35
  • @NeilFein - The original was "what tips?" and the revision is "how do you ride?", which is very similar: so, fine. If someone has any other tips , e,g, "how do you prepare?" or "how do you instruct?" those would be welcome too.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 18:48
  • That's a good idea! Will edit that in. Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 18:52
  • Lotsa info in this question, but it's not oriented towards instructing a beginner. I've never managed to do this successfully; people I've cycled with are usually already pretty traffic-savvy. Would love to see the answers. Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 18:56

4 Answers 4


I ride behind: she sets the pace, concentrates on the road ahead. Being behind I can watch, control the distance between us, speak advice, and manage (i.e. observe and give hand signals to) any vehicles approaching us from behind.

Edit: I just found a quote on the front page of The VEHICULAR CYCLIST (December 2011)

"I’ve taken three cycling courses since becoming a community officer with the Ottawa Police Service and am on schedule to become a cycling instructor this fall. At the end of every course, I’m absolutely amazed at all the bad habits that I had taught myself throughout the years, ...".

http://www.toronto.ca/cycling/safety/index.htm mentions "CAN-BIKE" courses. One idea might be to take that kind of lesson: I'd at least see how they teach it.

  • My preference might be two abreast, side by side sometimes (when there's room i.e. a whole lane for my co-rider to ride a line, without wobbling into me), however I fear that can anger drivers: vehicularcyclist.com/hta2.html
    – ChrisW
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 18:09
  • I tend to be behind and more to the middle of the street, too, but sometimes the beginner feels more comfortable following than going ahead. Some negotiation is always possible, I think. Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 1:53

I had some instruction a few days ago (to find out what bad habits I've accumulated), and after checking my bike and handling away from the road, and working through some scenarios on (almost) empty residential streets, the traffic section worked like this:

  1. start on a quiet side-road, or in a safe spot at the side of the road
  2. discuss a manageably short section of the journey: what junctions and manoeuvres are involved, where you're going to stop
  3. instructor generally hung back to watch what I was doing
  4. finish the section as discussed, analyse it, and then discuss the next section

On longer straight sections, the instructor would ride alongside (traffic permitting) and discuss the next (or previous) step. You can (we did) segue straight into the next leg of the journey if there is enough time and space to talk it over on the move.

The important thing seems to be that you both know where you're going, what junctions or road layouts are involved, and how to approach each one.

Remember that leading (or instructing) is about building both parties confidence: your SO will enjoy it more if they know what they're doing, and you'll enjoy it more if you're confident in them.


IMO (having run some Boy Scout cycling classes, among other things), before you go "play in traffic" with teens/adults you should have a "chalk talk" explaining the various basic rules/techniques for riding in traffic, and then, on a quiet road, demonstrate the techniques and have the "student" practice them a bit.

Granted, if by SO you mean a spouse or romantic interest such pedantry may not go over well, but it's the quickest and safest way to teach the techniques.

Of course, before you do this read up on how to ride in traffic yourself, from some reasonable authorities -- it's amazing how many adult cyclists have no idea how to properly ride in traffic, and how many bad habits they have.

  • I've read many cycling safety brochures (e.g. beware of cars turning right across your cycle lane, etc. etc.). We're not "playing" downtown or anything: the most dangerous road we have is like this. Hardly any theory I can think of telling: no complicated intersections, just occasional traffic. Maybe a right answer is that she could do with more practice on an off-road cycle path.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 4:39
  • That's plenty busy traffic. The techniques that need to be learned are things like "claiming your lane", keeping a healthy distance from parked cars, proper techniques for left and right turns, diagonal railroad crossings, etc. Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 13:13
  • A reason I ride behind is to take responsibility for directing and warning (e.g. using my own hand and lane positioning) the traffic that's on our tail, to help protect the rider in front.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Dec 14, 2014 at 23:58

How do you prepare the inexperienced rider to ride in traffic, and keep them safe while they learn and practice? How do you instruct them while riding?

It depends on how inexperienced the other rider is...and providing that you had a pre-ride discussion of cycling safety. A rough idea is to take progressively small steps:

  • Start on quiet, slow traffic, residential streets for a nice ride.
  • Next, venture off of the the quiet streets for segments onto somewhat busier streets for a few blocks of the ride.
  • Now, go for some rides on roads where the traffic is moderate and the traffic speed is moderate.
  • Gist is... Progressively build up at the pace/comfort level of the inexperienced cyclist and not your pace.

Your idea of riding in back is good to start out. Once your SO/partner/friend is up to speed, then try things out where you lead, and see if it is working.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.