Cycling Tips for Vancouver


Cycling Tips for Vancouver

The Basics: basic rules, hand signals, helmet fitting
Starting Out: bike size and optional equipment bike safety checklist
Let’s Go: basic bike care cycling etiquette and rules of the road
Traffic Central: road hazards, traffic hazards.

Let’s Go: basic bike care, cycling etiquette plus rules of the road
Traffic Central: road and traffic hazards – ways to avoid nasty situations!

The Basics

Basic Rules

Under the Motor Vehicle Act (section 185) a person operating a bicycle has the same rights and responsibilities as a driver of a vehicle.

What this means is, when cycling:

bulletride as far to the right as practical (you don’t have to be hitting the curb… you are entitled to a space one metre from the curb and one meter from parked cars).

bulletyou must always ride with at least one hand on the handlebars (I can’t ride no-handed anyway).

bulletyou must ride single file (go to Dairy Queen for a Blizzard if you want to chat).

bulletif there is one seat on the bike, there’s only one rider.

bulletdon’t hang on to another vehicle for an “easy ride”… that’s cheating and is really dangerous.

bullettreat a traffic incident as if you are in a car; if there is an “accident” where there is property or personal damage/injury owing to the presence or operation of a bicycle on a highway, the person in charge of the bicycle must: remain at the scene; render all possible assistance; give all names, addresses, and particulars of vehicles, names of persons involved, etc.

Hand Signals

Good Cycling is very similar to good driving. Let people know what you are planning to do, before you do it. Signals are often forgotten by drivers and cyclists alike. As bikers, let’s show the drivers how it should be done…always!

When braking or slowing down, give the slow down signal then put both hands on the brakes. This gives you a lot more control.

The old method of the right turn signal is still acceptable, but we recommend that the new “point-point” method be adopted. It’s easier to see as a driver, and easier to do as a child (or as an adult in “panic-mode”).


Helmets are mandatory throughout B.C. Look for the CSA, Snell or ASTM approval sticker in the helmet to be sure that it meets acceptable safety standards. CSA has the only certification process for small children’s (under 5) helmets.

Make sure your helmet fits you properly. The straps can be adjusted – it takes time but is worth it for safety sake, and of course to look way-cool! An improperly fitting helmet can cause more problems than it can solve.

We recommend that you staple the straps in the position of proper adjustment. This will prevent the straps from loosening over time. When you put your bike away, store your helmet on your handlebars – next time you won’t have to go back in the house to get your wonderful helmet.

Most bicycle helmets are only designed for one crash. After a fall, take the helmet back to your bike store and explain the circumstances of the crash as they will know immediately if the helmet needs replacing. Many of the helmet companies have a crash protection plan where you can replace your crashed helmet with a new one for a substantial discount.

Favourite Rides #1

When starting to ride for the first time or on a new-to-you bike, it is important to practice in a controlled setting. The places Lorne Milne suggested in’s “Blading Vancouver” are perfect. A place which is flat with few distractions is perfect for the beginner.

bulletAn empty parking lot (hard to find in our vehicular reliant city). UBC is good in the summer, as is the Sunset Beach Parking Lot – just past the Aquatic Centre under the Burrard Street Bridge. The Sanctuary Foundation has a BIG TRAILER set up there to do mechanical inspections and offer advice to two-wheeled travelers until mid-October.

bulletStanley Park is always a popular destination for cyclists, bladers, tourists, etc. The seawall is flat and the scenery is amazing. This does, however lead to possible conflicts between those who are spending the most energy on the mountain and ocean views and those who are interested in the athletic views. Please exercise caution on the seawall – if you want to go hard, use the road. The road is great, especially in the non-peak months, with continued great views, only one uphill and one high speed decent.

Remember: bikes are vehicles and a speeding cyclist (Stanley Park = >30kph…I’ve been ticketed!)

Check out the bike route map of Stanley Park

bulletSea and Iona Islands: Outside of downtown Vancouver, you can also go over the Arthur Laing Bridge and, on the Richmond side, take the exit as if going to Richmond Centre. At the first set of lights just over the bridge turn left and then left again on to Grauer. This is a relatively traffic- free area, and very flat. Motorized vehicles do travel along here quickly, there is no shoulder so be aware. The winds along this route can make this ride challenging.

Starting Out

Bike Size

Bike Size is very important. A bike that is too big will be awkward, and dangerous when riding and when coming to a stop or when confronted by an obstacle. A bike that is too small can cause knee and back pain and is inefficient. Be aware that it’s different sizing a bike for an adult as opposed to a child.

Adults and experienced riders will want their leg to be nearly straight when the pedal is in the 6 o’clock position with the rider on the saddle. Children must be able to touch the ground with both feet when seated on the saddle.

Optional Equipment

There is never a shortage of “stuff” you can buy for your bicycle and for the rider. Hint: Check out the Sugoi catalogue around the holiday season.

To ride a bike, that’s all you need… a bike! Two relatively round wheels, a seat and some metal to connect it all. All the other components that you see on the roads, trails, or in the stores are extras designed to make the ride more efficient and enjoyable.

Bike Shorts: these are wonderful when riding any distance. They provide cushioning, and protection of vital organs. These shorts are typically made of tight stretchy lycra or cotton/lycra blends with a leather or synthetic chamois (pad). Some companies do make loose fitting shorts with the same chamois protection. I recommend these “baggy shorts” for touring or sight seeing.

Bike Gloves: as above, they are wonderful when riding a distance though if you wear them riding all summer, you’ll end up with strange tan lines. These are great for relieving pressure on your hands from your upper body weight over your handlebars. They are also good in the event of a crash.

Glasses: shades or clear are recommended to prevent debris from getting in your eyes. Excessive squinting from hours on the bike without proper eyewear will also accelerate the development of wrinkles!

Sunscreen: a must-have if you want to stay young looking forever! Check out our weather posts for High UV warnings

Bike Safety Checklist

A quick check before each ride will ensure that the bike will run smoothly, and that there will be no unexpected surprises (like your wheel falling off).

bulletWill the brakes stop me?

bulletDo the tires have lots of tread? And lots of air?

bulletAre the wheels tight on the frame?

bulletIs the chain tight and oily?

bulletDo the pedals turn smoothly?

bulletIs the seat fastened tightly in the seatpost?

bulletIs it at the right height?

bulletAre the handlebars tight?

Do the “drop test” before each ride. Pick up your bike so both wheels are off the ground a couple of inches, and drop it. If there are any strange clanks, pings, etc, then check it out!!

A regular bike tune-up (every 6-12 months) at a bike store plus keeping the bike clean and lubed, will help your bike rolling for a long time.

Favourite Rides #2

bulletSeaside Bicycle Route: a wonderful, picturesque and relatively flat route to travel Vancouver east to west (or vise versa). It runs 15km from Stanley Park, around False Creek, through Kitsilano to Spanish Banks to the west. It can connect to the Adanac, Off-Broadway and Ontario Bikeways at False Creek.

bulletCypress Bikeway: is the best, or easiest way to travel north – south in the Vancouver west side. It travels through some of most spectacular real estate areas, beautiful and quiet tree lined streets. It extends 8 km from the Planetarium at Vanier Park to SW Marine Drive along Cypress St. and Angus Dr. It passes through the neighbourhoods of Kitsilano, Shaughnessy and Kerrisdale.

bulletThe Adanac and Off Broadway Bikeways are fabulous east-west routes. The Adanac route extends from Science World at False Creek to Burnaby’s new Frances/Union Bikeway. It is a great way for East Vancouver residents to commute to downtown. The Off-Broadway route starts on the Ontario Bikeway at 5th Ave. and extends out to UBC.

Check out the the maps page to plan your bike trip

Mountain Biking in and around Vancouver is huge. Check out the Provincial Government’s trail maps and the local mountain’s trail maps which can be picked up at Cycling B.C.

Try local retailers as well – they will give you valuable information on your equipment, trip tips and maybe can suggest certain trails.

Let’s Go!

Basic Maintenance

Your bike will perform a lot better if you keep it in good condition. It doesn’t take a lot of time to keep clean, oiled and running smoothly if you keep on top of the process. Don’t wait until it’s to late! Vancouver is famous for it’s rain, which can make cycling not as appealing. It can be just as much fun as riding in the sun if you dress for it… and dress your bike for it.

After a ride in the rain, rinse it. It is important that you don’t spray water on any section of the bike where water may get into “sealed” areas. You can also wait until the bike dries a wipe the dirt off with a dry rag. Purists say that this the is only way to properly clean a bike. This can take a lot of time and is very messy. Either way, be sure to re-oil your chain, and dry as much of the bike as possible.

If riding in winter it’s important to clean frequently because the salt from the streets adheres to your bike and causes rust and a very unhappy machine. Does anyone remember when the city of Vancouver started using salt on the roads?

Cycling Etiquette

Being courteous to all other road and path users can make everyone’s day a lot better. Bicycle riders are subject to the Motor Vehicle Act and applicable City by-laws… cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicle drivers. BUT, remember that when there is a crash between a bike and a car, the biker looses! It doesn’t matter who is at fault. The cyclists are one of the most vulnerable of road users, so being extra cautious will keep everyone smiling.

Cyclists must learn to take their rights but at the same time keep your eyes and ears alert to those who don’t understand the rights of the cyclist. If you are in a crash and end up in spinal traction in Vancouver Hospital, it doesn’t matter who was at fault!

In addition to the rules in THE BASICS section here are more (yup, more rules, but these are actually more common sense than rules)

bulletYield to pedestrians and be careful in school zones.

bulletObey all traffic regulations including speed limits.

bulletDo not ride on the sidewalk unless indicated by signs.

bulletAlways shoulder check and signal before turning or changing lanes.

bulletDo not wear headphones that cover both ears.

bulletBicycles in Vancouver are required to have a warning bell or horn.

bulletAll bicycles ridden at night are required to have a white front light, red rear light and at least one rear reflector mounted to the bike. In addition, wear as much reflective, or easy to see clothing as possible. Safety Vests may look “un-cool” but a driver can see them from a great distance.

bulletHelmets are required on all streets and paths.

There is also a courtesy code that experienced cyclists ride by. There will be many readers who would like certain additions… I welcome these and will share them with the readers in future articles.

bulletWhen on bikeways which often are routed through residential areas. Please respect private property and the local residents by riding in a responsible manner.

In addition, please consider the following:

bulletMinimize noise, especially at night and early in the morning.

bulletWatch and anticipate children and pets running into your path at all times.

bulletDon’t block the path on a pedestrian/cyclist route. Position yourself so others can safely pass.

bulletIf you want to pass another cyclist or pedestrian sound your bell or say “excuse me, passing on your left”. Don’t startle anyone, they could cause you more grief!

bulletIf you wish to go fast choose a bypass route or the road, not a bike path like the seawall. It will annoy yourself and others!

bulletSlow down and form a single file in congested areas or where visibility is limited. In front of all Lifeguard Stations cyclists must get off their bikes and walk through the area.

Favourite Rides #3

bulletCircle Pacific Spirit Park and UBC: lots of scenery, variety of terrain and relatively calm traffic.

bulletNew Westminster via SW Marine Drive and Marine Way: long ride, easy traffic mid day.

Traffic Central

Out on the roads adds all sorts of obstacles of which the average road user is unaware. There are both road hazards and traffic hazards. Both can be equally as devastating. The key is to anticipate and predict obstacles and maneuvers in advance, this will put you one step ahead of the game.

bulletRoad Hazards

bulletpot holes

bulletroad snakes (parallel cracks in the road)

bulletrailway tracks



The above list can easily be expanded. What are your thoughts? According to the Canadian Cycling Association, Road Snakes are the most devastating. They can be cracks in the pavement or differing levels of pavement and are difficult to move your wheel over if you don’t see them. One actually has to turn the wheel to ensure that at least the front wheel goes over it at right angles. To do this maneuver make sure traffic is clear.

bulletTraffic Hazards

bulletthe door prize (most cyclists’ biggest fear)

bulletthe motorists’ right hand squish


bulletthe Demon Driveway



bulletother cyclists

Again the list can go on and on. To the surprise of many cyclists, the cyclist is at fault in 83% of the collisions between cyclists and motorists. This statistic is from the Canadian Cycling Association and the US Cycling Federation from the early 1980’s. As an observer, I think both cyclists and motorists have become far more conscious of each other; however, it is a proven fact that in all cyclist/ motorist collisions, the cyclist can prevent the majority from happening by being alert and knowledgeable about the traffic patterns and laws.

In a collision between a bicycle and a motor vehicle the bike looses. It does not matter who is at fault. It pays to on the defensive at all times!

Favourite Rides #4

bulletHorseshoe Bay: Lower Levels Road,Taylor Way/ Upper Levels

bulletDeep Cove: Lower Level/ Mt. Seymour Parkway, Marine Drive/ Dollarton Highway

bulletMountain Biking: Cypress- intense road ride up, awesome trail network.
Grouse- very intense road ride up, restricted but wicked trail descents.
Seymour- long and relatively intense road ride up, fabulous trail network.


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