Despite its large size and abundant traffic, Chicago is a surprisingly easy city to navigate via bike. The Lakefront Trail offers 18.5 miles of vehicle-free riding, but it’s equally common to see legions of electric bikes sharing the Windy City’s streets with motorists.

Chicago Bike Law Basics

Bicyclists in Chicago, as well as the rest of Illinois, are bound by the same rules of the road that motorists are. That means you have an equal right to occupy a lane of traffic.

That said — and given your lower speed when compared to a car or truck — there are certain rules you should abide by for everyone’s safety. Most notably, you should stay as close to the road’s right edge as you can. Exceptions to this general guideline do exist, though. Take the lane when:

  • Getting ready to turn left or right
  • Passing a vehicle or other cyclist
  • Avoiding a hazard or other obstacle in your path

Except where noted, city bikes and other types of bicycle are prohibited from using sidewalks. In some areas, riding your bike on the sidewalk can result in a hefty fine. Instead, stick to the street, and always ride with the flow of traffic. Just as it is for cars, it is against the law for you to operate your bike against the flow of traffic.

Hand Signals

While the rules of the road are largely the same whether you’re traveling via antique pickup truck or womens hybrid bike, one of the most notable differences is the use of hand signals. When you traverse Chicago on bike, you need to alert drivers and other cyclists to your next move using the following signs:

  • Left turn: Extended your left arm and hand so that they’re perpendicular to your body
  • Right turn: Extend your left arm, bend your elbow and raise your hand so that it and your forearm are parallel to your body
  • Stop: Extend your left arm, bend your elbow and point your hand downward so that it and your forearm are parallel to your body

General Safety Tips

Following the basic rules of the road is crucial for safe cycling in Chicago. Additionally, there are several other strategies you can use to make your next ride as secure as it is fun.

  • Note motorists’ blind spots. If you can’t see a driver; he or she can’t see you.
  • When stopped at an intersection, wait in front of traffic to maintain visibility.
  • Give parked cars 3-4 feet of room to avoid getting hit with an open door.
  • Don’t tailgate. Leave enough room that you can see the road conditions ahead of the vehicle in front of you.
  • Don’t ride between buses and the curb. Buses stop frequently to let passengers on and off, which requires them to maneuver in and out of bike lanes.
  • When riding at night, make sure you’re properly illuminated. At a minimum, this involves rear reflectors and a headlight on your bike that’s visible from 500 feet away or greater.

If you’ve never biked Chicago before, it can seem intimidating. In reality, its grid layout and increasingly bike-friendly streets make for an enjoyable city to take on two wheels. For a stress-free ride, obey the rules of the road and exercise common sense.

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