An Etiquette Guide to Biking in Denver

Here's what you need to know to stay safe when your bike tires hit the pavement.

October 28 2015, 1:10 PM

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In Denver and the surrounding area, biking ranks high on our list of ways to spend our free time. Whether it’s commuting to and from work, tackling the dozens of trails that surround us, or just taking a leisurely jaunt with friends on the weekends, most Denverites love nothing more than putting those bike tires to the pavement.

But no matter how skilled or experienced a biker you are, it never hurts to brush up on the laws, rules and—let’s just say it, proper etiquette. Staying up-to-date on biking rules can help prevent serious injury to yourself and those around you. We spoke with Megan Hottman, attorney, bike racer, and bike advocate, for her advice on what steps to take to remain safe.

Step 1: Know the Laws

While there’s no cycling test that people need to take before hitting the roads, it’s important to be aware of the local laws. “There’s really no one concentrated place to look [all the laws] up,” says Hottman. “In Colorado, the primary statutory section is CRS 42-4-1412, which tells you how far to the right you must be, whether you can ride two abreast, what kind of lights (front and back) you must have, and when you must signal a turn. I’ve tried to post the ones most cyclists need on my website, along with popular riding places’ municipal codes—cyclists must not just know state law, but also the muni code of the cities where they ride.”

For example, here are a couple rules to keep in mind for Denver:

  • Cyclists may not ride on sidewalks in Denver unless they fit into one of the very specific exceptions (see Hottman’s site for those exceptions).
  • Cyclists in Colorado may ride two abreast as long as they don’t impede the normal and reasonable flow of traffic.
  • Cyclists must signal any turns 100 feet prior to the turn.
  • Most importantly, says Hottman, “you must understand that in Colorado and most states, a bicyclist has all the same rights and obligations as other vehicle operators. This means cyclists must stop at stop lights and signs, must obey the speed limit and, generally speaking, if a law applies to a motorist, it applies to a cyclist.”

Step 2: Keep your Bike in Check

Following the laws isn’t the only thing you can do to keep yourself and others safe—if your bike is in poor condition, it can pose a hazard, as well. “ABC quick check is the mantra of the League of American Bicyclists,” says Hottman. “It’s a quick bike check you should do before each ride to ensure that you and your bike don’t have a malfunction that could harm you or another person.”

Some of the basics:

  • A is for air: Make sure your tires are appropriately aired up—if they’re too low, you risk a pinch flat or rolling the tire off the rim; too high and you risk blowing the tire off the rim, or a tire breakdown from too much pressure.
  • B is for brakes: Make sure they are aligned properly and that both work when you squeeze the levers on your handlebars.
  • C is for cranks and chain: Make sure your front crank is secure and there aren’t any loose bolts, and that your chain is clean and lubed, not gunked up with dirt and grime (which can not only affect shifting, but can cause chain suck or other maladies which can lock the bike up).

Hottman also recommends checking up on your bolts (especially in the headset, steer lube, handlebar, and seatpost) and the cleats on the shoes. “I was once stuck in my pedals due to a cleat malfunction, and that quickly became dangerous,” she said. “I had to slide my foot out of the shoe to stop at lights on my way home.”

Step 3: Choose Riding Mates Carefully

While it's tempting to ride with anyone who offers, just remember that a fun ride can turn dangerous quickly if your co-riders aren’t as serious about the rules and laws as you are. “Select riding partners who will also follow the laws, who can ride carefully and safely, and if you’re riding two abreast or in a two-by-two paceline, have good control over their bike and their riding skill so as to avoid crashing you out,” suggests Hottman. “Choose people who are also ambassadors of cycling, so you don’t find yourself embarrassed on a ride by a mate who is acting like a total jerk.”

Step 4: Be a Team Player

As with driving, cycling is as much about paying attention to what you’re doing as it is paying attention to what those around you are doing. Cyclists are generally sharing their paths with other cyclists, runners, walkers, kids, and dogs. “On bike trails and multi-modal paths, always announce ‘passing on your left,'” says Hottman. “[You can] make your presence known either verbally, or with a friendly chime from your bike bell.”

Step 5: Wear Properly Fitting Gear

Your bike can be in tip-top shape and you can be aware of every single law, but none of that matters if your helmet comes flying off when you fall. “Make sure your helmet fits snug on your head and isn’t so loose as to be ineffective should your head hit the ground,” says Hottman. “Wear a snug jersey, not a baggy one—you look more ‘pro,’ but you’re also more aerodynamic and less likely to catch the back of your jersey on your seat.”

Hottman also suggests wearing shorts with a good-fitting chamois and practicing how to use your clipless shoes ahead of time. “In the abundance of caution, if you’re new to a pedal system, clip out well in advance of your stopping point to be sure you put that foot down,” she suggests.

Something else that’s important to remember: just because you’re a seasoned rider doesn’t mean you’re immune to things going wrong. “I think experienced riders can sometimes get a bit complacent [with bike tuning, cleaning, and function],” says Hottman. “I know I can.”

(More: Inside Gov. Hickenlooper's Plan to Make Colorado Bike-Friendly)