cycling toronto

15 things you need to know if you're a cyclist in Toronto

Cycling in Toronto, depending on who you ask, is a risky move, a political statement, or an incredibly rewarding way to get yourself from point A to point B. With cycling-focused infrastructure and services steadily on the rise in the city, it's clear the folks who place themselves in the latter category are increasing in number.

But with so much to consider - the multitude of bike stores to shop at, the hair-raising traffic, and the ever-evolving lanes and regulations - getting started can be a bit intimidating. Study up on our handy cheat sheet, and you'll be cruising comfortably across town on two wheels in no time.

Here are 15 things you need to know if you're a cyclist in Toronto.

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GEAR AND BIKE STORES

Where to buy a bike
Toronto has tons of great bike shops that will help you pick the ride that suits your needs, including your riding style and habits (leisurely or bat-out-of-hell), terrain (bike lanes or mountain bike trails), and body geometry. They're way more knowledgeable than your standard big-box store, and will often throw in extras like free tune-ups. If you're hoping to save some cash, used bike stores are another option; other spots specialize in custom road bikes or mountain bikes. (We can't tell you what kind of bike to buy, but we'd recommend something with at least three gears - this city is hilly.)

What extras you'll need
Cyclists under 18 are required to wear helmets while cycling; it's still an excellent idea for cyclists of all ages (talk to any cyclist who's ever had a nasty crash, and the phrase "thank God I was wearing a helmet" will come up at least once). Other (legally) necessary accoutrements include lights, if you're riding after dark (a white light at the front, and a red rear light or reflector in back), and a horn or bell. (You may want to purchase lights that you can easily take off and carry with you - they're popular targets for theft.)

Where to learn to fix your bike yourself
You know that old saying about teaching a man to fish? It's also true in this case; you'll save a ton on tune-up fees and maintenance with a few DIY skills. Toronto has a handful of do-it-yourself repair shops in Toronto, with staff who'll walk you through the process, rent you tools and supply parts for either a donation or a small fee (still way less than you'd pay to have someone else do it for you). Cycle Toronto also holds frequent Tune-Up Tuesday events around the city teaching cyclists basic maintenance skills while offering free tune-ups.

How to use Toronto's bike share program
Toronto's bike-sharing program, the somewhat-beleaguered, recently rechristened Bike Share Toronto, puts hundreds of bikes at your disposal. (Granted, none of them are west of Ossington or east of the Don, but still.) For $90 a year (or $18 per month), you can borrow a bike at one of their stations and return it when you're done. (If you're in a bind, you can also get 24 hours of access for $7 or 72 hours of access for $15.) It's best for short rides, since you start incurring additional fees after 30 minutes. (Another option: Renting a ride at a bike store.)

cycling toronto

RIDING IN THE CITY

How to ride in traffic
Basically, just act like a car - a very small car that doesn't include a huge steel frame, which means you have double the incentive to be smart on the road. Make sure you're visible, obey lights and stop signs, and avoid making unpredictable, sudden movements. Familiarize yourself with the rules of the bike lane, and, of course, Toronto cyclists' worst habits. (By the way, don't ride on the sidewalk. Not only is it uncool - if you're riding an adult-sized bike, it's illegal.) Above all else, remain calm - if you feel nervous about riding in traffic, plan your routes around quiet side streets and bike lanes at first. For a full rundown of rules you can check out the Toronto Cyclists Handbook.

Where to find bike lanes and sharrows
Toronto's cycling infrastructure and network is growing year by year; these include separated or raised bike lanes (the kind seen on Roncesvalles or Sherbourne), flat bike lanes, which are demarcated by a painted line, and sharrows, which are demarcated by a bike signal with an arrow, and signal to cyclists and drivers that they are to share the lane. Use the city's online map or Ride The City's online map or app to familiarize yourself with routes. (If you want to influence where the next set of lanes go in Toronto, download the city's Toronto Cycles app, which tracks where and when (and, crucially, why) people ride in the city.)

What the worst roads are for cyclists
Part of staying safe while riding in Toronto is knowing which streets to avoid. Everyone has their picks for worst roads, but there are a few that consistently show up on most people's lists. Pothole-strewn and bike lane-free, Dufferin is a top contender. So too is the Bloor-Danforth corridor, which is always busy and a prime place to get doored. And please be careful on any street that crosses the 401. Darting out of the on ramp lane can be terrifying.

How to avoid the dreaded dooring
It's one of the city's worst cycling hazards - drivers opening their car doors just as cyclists pass by. When passing parked cars, keep your eyes peeled for rear lights that are still on - and if you see them, slow down and ring your bell to make sure they're aware of your presence.

How to coexist peacefully with streetcars
The law states that when a streetcar's doors are open and the red light on the side of the car is on, vehicles need to wait to pass until the light is off and doors are shut - that includes you, cyclist. Often, streetcar drivers will ring their bells at you when they're approaching from behind - mostly in an effort to make sure you know they're coming (best to give them as wide a berth as possible). The biggest streetcar-related challenge for cyclists, though, isn't the vehicles themselves, so much as it is their tracks - those grooves in the road can catch bike tires and lead to an instant faceplant. Keep your eyes peeled for them, and be sure to roll across them at an angle.

Where to go off the beaten path
Toronto has its fair share of bike paths, but sometimes you'll want to get as far away from vehicular traffic as possible. This is why the city's bike trail network is so crucial. Not only is it a fun way to explore our ample ravine space, but some trails also serve as short cuts through the city for savvy commuters. The best area for off-road riding in the city is the network of trails in the Don Valley, which offers options for a variety of skill levels.

cycling toronto

AVOIDING THEFT

What kind of locks to use
Bike theft is all too common in Toronto, and a good, solid U-lock is a must. Put as much as you can afford toward your lock; bike store staff often suggest sinking in at least 10% of the retail price of your bike. Sturdy brands you'll commonly find in Toronto shops include Kryptonite and Abus. Cable locks can help deter wheel thieves - loop one through your front and back wheels and secure it to your main lock. The city offers a ton of anti-theft locking tips on their website to better arm yourself against scumbags with lock-breaking tools.

Where to lock your bike
Toronto's city-approved ring and post locks aren't entirely tamper-proof, but they're generally pretty sturdy. The trouble is, they're often tough to find, especially in high-traffic areas with a high commuter population during the daytime. If you're having trouble finding a ring and post, check out the BikeParkTO website and app for a handy map; you can also request one near your workplace or home through the city's website. If you insist on locking to a fence, tree, or other object, proceed with caution - some private businesses have been known to remove offending bikes.

Do you have a cycling tip to share? Leave it in the comments.

Additional writing by Derek Flack. Photos by Paul Flynn/blogTO Flickr pool, Jesse Milns, Xander Labayen/blogTO Flickr pool, Steve Jones/blogTO Flickr pool.


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