May 30, 2014 2:16 pm

New to cycling? Tips for navigating Toronto’s crowded streets

Hey Mister, where's your helmet?

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

TORONTO – Gridlock, construction, transit diversions, potential bus strikes. Just another day in the Big Smoke.

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If you’re finding it difficult to navigate the city, now may be the perfect time to take up cycling.

But if you’re a newcomer to the cycling world, or haven’t been on a bike since grade school, Toronto can be an intimidating place to two-wheel it.

Fortunately, the city is rich with resources for cycling enthusiasts (both beginners and pros).

Here’s a quick beginner’s guide to cycling in the city.

Essential gear

So you’ve got your bugle horn, basket avec baguette and handlebar streamers. You’re all set. Well, not quite.

Put substance over style and make sure, if nothing else, you have these items:

  • helmet (it’s illegal not to wear one if you’re under 18 and a really good idea regardless of your age)
  • lights (white light on the front and red light or reflector on the rear of your bike. It’s the law)
  • a quality lock (more on Toronto bike theft below)

Beyond the bare essentials

You’ve got the basics covered, but you can kick it up a notch with items that will make your ride safer and more comfortable:

  • water bottle
  • small backpack
  • first aid kit
  • multi-tool
  • GPS app
  • a friend (more fun than biking alone)

(If you’re ready to shell out for the really fancy bike tech, check out these innovative items that are making waves).

Cycling apps

A number of apps are available for Toronto cyclists, from ones that record your route to others that may help improve the city’s bike infrastructure.

  • Toronto Cycling App, users record cycling routes and provide data to the city. The city will analyse data when planning new cycling infrastructure (Android, iPhone)
  • Map My Ride, built-in GPS records your ride, including distance, speed, pace, duration (Android, iPhone, BlackBerry)
  • Ride the City, cycling routes and bike shops for over 20 cities (iPhone)
  • Toronto Bike Map, shows maps and directions to Toronto’s bike paths and trails (iPhone)

Free (or nearly free) resources

Tips for avoiding/dealing with bike theft

So you wanna cycle in Toronto you say – well so do a lot of criminals.

In 2011 (the latest year statistics are available) there were 3,139 bikes stolen in Toronto. Bicycles are stolen from under security cameras, from chain-linked fences in broad daylight with ease.

So what to do?

  • Buy a high-quality lock, a U-lock works best (use a second lock for additional security)
  • Lock your bike to an immovable object
  • Don’t lock your bike to fences, trees, signposts (they’re not as secure as the ring and posts that are provided in the city)
  • Replace “quick release” screws on your bike’s wheels and seat with screws that require an Allen key to unlock (because it takes longer to unscrew, it may deter potential thieves)
  • Write down your bike’s serial number
  • Register your bike with your local police station
  • If your bike is stolen, report it to the police

Cycling safety tips

  • Toronto police recommend riding 1 metre from the curb in a straight line
  • Look well ahead while biking and watch out for potholes, streetcar tracks and sewer grates
  • Watch out for opening car doors
  • Watch out for cars making right turns, they might not be looking for you coming up beside them
  • Shoulder check and signal before changing lanes or turning corners
  • If cycling in pants, tuck your pant leg into a sock or buy a leg shield/cuff clip
  • Follow the rules of the road – a bicycle is a vehicle which means you have to obey the same traffic laws as other drviers

© Shaw Media, 2014

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