biking in toronto

A cyclist's survival guide to biking in Toronto

Most of us in Toronto look forward to cycling in the city, due to many different reasons and goals in mind. Some of us want a way to get around quick and cheap, maybe work off our bicycles or just be a more active and healthy person.

There's lots of useful information and practices most people can look past when they start cycling, some mistakes can be made and, while some of those are harmless, others can impact your experience.

With this in mind, here's an essential guide for all who want to ride a bike in Toronto, whether a beginner or a returning cyclist.

Major No: Don't cycle on the sidewalks!

Toronto City Council adopted a staff report recommendation that Toronto's sidewalk cycling bylaw shall stipulate "no person age 14 and older may ride a bicycle on a sidewalk."

The fine for an adult who rides a bicycle on a sidewalk shall be $60. Many other countries have no regulations concerning cycling on a sidewalk, so especially for foreign students, being fined for this may be an unpleasant surprise.

Never hop on your bike without proper safety equipment

Always wear a helmet, a reliable cycle lock, a bell or horn to use in traffic, white front light and red rear light or reflector, and those must be in use half an hour before sunset, or half an hour after sunrise, white reflective tape on front forks and red reflective tape on rear forks.

Last but not least, never forget to check if your brakes are working properly and if your tires are pumped before leaving.

Mind the cars (and their doors) while on the bike path

Navigating alongside buses, cars and motorcycles will always have its issues and perils. One can never be careful and aware enough, especially nowadays with more and more people distracted on the streets while checking their smartphones.

It's a particularly dangerous new variable that can make drivers not respect the bike path and passengers already immersed in their phones open doors and hop out of cars on top of the path.

As a cyclist, being quick to notice and react to those issues will ensure your safety and others.

Get to know your local bike retailers and repair shops

Toronto is packed with good stores to buy your first bicycle, repair a damaged one and get supplies and equipment, so there'll always be a store nearby for any need.

If an issue like a flat tire or any other maintenance-related comes up while cycling, hop off your bike and use the TTC bus's bicycle rack to get you and your ride to the nearest shop or home in case you got the knowledge and skills to make repairs.

Use maps, summer biking days and biking off-roads to your advantage

During the summer we will see some major roads closed on weekends for pedestrians and cyclists. It'll be a good time to start cycling if you’re still not confident enough to do it in actual traffic.

Also, it's always good to have the cycling network map downloaded on your smartphone for some easy directions and keep yourself posted on the cycling events calendar.

If you don't feel like buying a bicycle, consider rentals or Bike Share Toronto

Maybe you don't have the physical space to store a bicycle right now or just don’t want to make room for one. If that's your case, services like Toronto Bicycle Tours bike rentals or Bike Share Toronto can get you access to quality bicycles for a limited amount of time.

Bike rentals work on a price per day of rental, whereas Bike Share can offer membership conditions with good prices, but with a caveat: you can only use the bike for 30 to 45 minute sessions before returning it to one of the 625 stations in Toronto or stopping by one either way to extended your session.

Be careful with streetcars! When they stop, pedestrians will hop out in the middle of the street

Cyclists should always stop when behind a streetcar when it opens for passengers to hop in and out. A distracted cyclist could have an unwanted accident with a pedestrian coming out of the streetcar.

Mind trucks on street corners!

Riding along large vehicles in the city has always had its perils. As one of the most vulnerable parties of the traffic flux, you need to take good care of yourself, especially on street corners.

Trucks and buses might not see you while maneuvering, so keeping a safe distance from the corner should keep you from harm.

Be also mindful to hop off your bike and into the sidewalk should a truck or another large vehicle come too close, and try not to cling to your bicycle in these situations.

If you have let go off your bike to avoid injury, do it. Bike repairs or a new bicycle will always be cheaper and less stressful than hospital time and its costs.

Careful with underpasses! Unexperienced cyclists might be scared to navigate in those places

Underpasses can be a daunting place for beginner cyclists, due to the limited space for maneuvering and proximity to vehicles moving much faster than you. If the idea frightens you, try to avoid it until you feel more confident.

Overall, don't be afraid to try cycling in Toronto. It's a fun, healthy and enriching experience. If you're new to the city, it's a great way to explore it!

Lead photo by

Sean Rasmussen. With contributions from Ilgin Karik


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