If you are giving cycling a try, then you are awesome! But if you feel nervous about riding a bike, that's ok. Lack of confidence is a common barrier for new riders, and we can help.
Being a more confident rider will help you enjoy more routes, and rides. The keys to being more confident riding are (1) knowing what to do, (2) practicing what you've learned, and (3) being able to turn to a community of people who will help support your riding.
Know where to ride. It seems counter-intuitive at first, but it's actually a lot more dangerous and illegal to ride on the pavement in most cases. Riding in the road can feel a bit intimidating, so start with a quieter residential street with lower traffic speeds to get the hang of things.
Don't hug the curb. Hugging the curb means other vehicles might be tempted to overtake you when they shouldn't and puts you in the path of potholes, drains, and all the nasty debris that ends up at the side of the road. It's usually best to ride about 2 feet away from the edge of the road and whenever you are approaching a junction, roundabout, queue of traffic or potential hazard you should adopt the 'primary position' or 'take the lane' by moving into the middle of it. This makes you more visible and means cars can't squeeze past you dangerously. You are not an obstacle to traffic, you are traffic: Behave like it!
Know the law. Once you're riding in the right place it's important to remember that bicycles are vehicles - that means you should follow all traffic laws, and everyone else should treat you the same. In many places there are extra laws protecting cyclists too, so if you're not sure, ask your local advocacy organization or local council for more information.
Be aware. Be attentive to what's around you, as well as what's in front of you. Knowing what's behind you means you can make informed decisions to keep yourself safe and be courteous to other road users. Being attentive is extra valuable in the off chance that another road user is distracted. Generally the best thing is to avoid wearing headphones or otherwise limiting your ability to see or hear other vehicles around you, so you have a strong handle on everyone around you.
Signal safe. Make sure your intentions are crystal clear to other road users: signal early and decisively. Don't hold back from taking control of a situation if it means you will be safer. Remember that signalling with your hands is both a turn signal and a brake light for you, so it's extra important when riding in traffic. A quick hand out to the left or right will do wonders to help you effectively communicate your intentions and ride safely!
Learn the skills of the Bike Ninja. Ok, it's not martial arts, but learning things like the rock dodge, quick stop, and other more advanced skills can make you really feel like a master of your bike!
Once you've gained the knowledge, practice! There's no substitute for getting out on your bike and riding. As you ride more and in new situations, you'll understand why certain principles exist, apply them to new contexts, and feel even more empowered. Start with something easy, and slowly build your confidence in more challenging environments. If a road is too intimidating for you, that's ok - see if you can find another route (and if there isn't another route, tell your city or county that you want #Space4Cycling!).
Remember, you're not alone. there are MILLIONS of cyclists across the country (and an estimated 741,000 commuting by bicycle every day). There's always someone to ask questions, share your experiences with, or ride with - you just have to find them. If you're not sure where to start, visit your nearest bike shop. Also, you can also always reach out to us, we're happy to help or connect you with other resources!