Bicycle Safety

The transportation culture in Nashville is changing. A countywide bicycle plan has been adopted, new bike lanes are being striped and new greenway trails wander along our waterways. Together, these projects are making cycling a safer, more practical choice for transportation and recreation in Nashville. A bike-friendly community promotes healthy lifestyles, reduces traffic congestion, provides better mobility for children and those who don’t drive, helps clean the air and improves our sense of community. Bicycling is also one of the healthiest and least expensive ways to get from place to place.
Improving the bicycling environment is part of Nashville’s new focus on a multi-modal transportation system. A multi-modal system offers citizens a practical, safe choice between walking, bicycling, transit or driving for a given trip, instead of having to rely on a single mode for all trips.

This guide was designed to help you understand your responsibilities as a cyclist and to safely assert your rights while using Nashville’s public rights-of-way with other roadway users.

Get behind the Bike Box

Safe Cycling Top

Safe cycling starts with the fundamentals: proper maintenance, the correct equipment, the right fit.
Maintenance checklist
Always make sure your bike is in good working order before each trip. Here are the basics :

  • If your bike has hand brakes, the levers should not touch the handlebars when you squeeze. Also make sure the brake pads hit the wheel rims and not the tires themselves.

  • Spin each wheel. Look to see that the wheel is "true" (does not wobble) and that the rims don’t rub the brake pads.

  • Make sure your tires are inflated to the pressure indicated on the side and that your wheels are tightly secured to the bike frame by the axle nuts or quick release levers.

  • Bike style and fit
    If your bike is the wrong size, it’s hard to ride safely. There are several variables in getting the right fit for you and the right bike for the type of riding you do. See a bike dealer for detailed advice, and always follow these basic rules:

  • Clearance is critical! While standing in front of the saddle and straddling the bar, you should be able to put both feet flat on the ground.

  • When sitting on the saddle, your knee should be slightly bent when at the bottom of the pedal stroke. Adjust the seat post as necessary.

  • Children and adults who have just started to ride may lower the seat so they can put a foot down while seated. Once their skills improve, the seat can be incrementally raised to the proper height.

  • Helmet fit
    No single item of equipment is more important in reducing serious head injuries than a helmet, but it must fit correctly to protect you. Make sure your helmet is certified for safety by SNELL, ASTM or ANSI. Helmets should be replaced after a crash or even after about five years of normal use.

    How to Test for Proper Helmet Fit:

  • The helmet sits level on your head – not back at an angle.

  • The helmet fits securely and doesn’t shift to the front, sides or back of your head.

  • Position the strap under your chin just loose enough to allow two fingers to slide through.

  • For kids, wearing a helmet is not just a good idea – it’s the law. Whether riding a bike or in a carrier or trailer, it’s the parents’ responsibility to ensure that children under 16 are wearing helmets.

    Ride predictably Top

    For the most part, people driving cars all follow the same rules as each other. Traffic flows with relative safety because all drivers can reasonably predict what other drivers will do. When you as a cyclist disobey a traffic law, drivers can’t predict what you will do next, so they’re not sure how to respond. If, however, you operate your bike like a vehicle – stopping at red lights, signaling turns, turning from the correct lane – drivers can predict what you will do. And when you follow the rules of the road, motorists will come to respect cyclists as drivers of vehicles, which is what bikes really are.

    Remember following principles:

    Know the traffic laws and follow them

    In Tennessee, bicyclists are granted all of the rights and are subjected to all of the duties applicable to cars. In addition, regulations specific to bikes can be found in Nashville’s bike ordinance at Munciple Codes. Look for Title 12, Chapter 12.60.


    Make eye contact with drivers, signal your moves and make noise when necessary.

    Be confident and alert

    When you practice good riding skills, assert your rights safely and ride predictably, other roadway users will take you seriously.

    Be assertive - not aggressive

    Don’t compromise your own safety for the convenience of others, but do be courteous to other road users without giving up your right to the road.

    Riding fundamentals Top

    Be visible
    Wear brightly colored clothes and maintain your bike’s reflectors. At night, a white front headlamp and both a flashing red rear lamp and a rear reflector are required by law.

    Look behind you

    You must know how to look over your shoulder while riding in traffic, without losing your balance or swerving. This simple act helps you to safely move left or right, avoid hazards, change lanes or make a turn. A look over your shoulder also indicates to approaching cars that you are aware of their presence. Practice this technique in an empty parking lot or a vacant side street.

    Be ready to brake

    Always keep your fingers near or over your brake levers so you can stop quickly. When you brake, squeeze the front and rear brakes at the same time. Using the front brake alone can flip your bike. Remember that you will need more distance to come to a stop in wet weather.

    Ride safely with others

    When riding with others, you can legally ride two abreast if it does not impede traffic, but not more. If you are riding slower than cars, it is courteous to give drivers reasonable opportunities to pass safely.

    Communicate with others

    Bikes are smaller, slower and quieter than other vehicles, so you need extra efforts to communicate with drivers and make sure they notice you.

    Be alert and aware

    As you ride you have to avoid two things: hazards on the ground in front of you and the cars and pedestrians all around you. Accordingly, you should always know what’s going on with the pavement and with the surrounding traffic. To do this, get into the habit of looking at the ground about 30 feet in front of you, then up at traffic, then back down at the ground.

    Use hand signals

    Hand signals are an important way to communicate, but use them only when you know you can remove your hand from the grip without losing control of your bike. Although some people remember the old hand signals taught in school, you may do better to point in the direction you intend to go; however, the old "stop" hand signal still applies.

    Lane Positioning Top

    Traffic laws say that slower vehicles should stay to the right. Since bikes are typically slower than cars, these rules usually apply, but there are exceptions.

    Here are the basics:

    When to ride to the right

    Stay to the right when you are moving slower than the prevailing traffic – which is most of the time. However, you don’t have to ride in the gutter. Take your rightful share of the roadway a safe distance from the curb or parked cars. When you ride a little bit further from the curb, oncoming motorists and those on cross streets can see you better. Also, riding closer to traffic discourages drivers from passing you and then cutting you off with a quick right turn.

    When to ride in the middle of the lane

    When you’re moving at the same speed as cars, it is safe to ride in the middle of the lane. This is also true when you have to avoid pavement surface hazards, like parallel asphalt joints or rough shoulders. When you’re on a narrow road, riding in the middle requires drivers to pass you as they would a car - in the opposite lane - instead of trying to squeeze past too closely.

    Bike lanes

    When riding on a street with bike lanes, use them - it’s the safest place to be. However, you have the right to ride in the adjacent travel lanes when surface hazards - like debris or standing water - are present. You may also need to exit the bike lane in order to merge into the appropriate lane for your movement through an intersection.

    Never ride against traffic

    Some riders reason that if it’s safest for pedestrians to walk counter to the flow of cars on streets without bikeways, it must also be true for cyclists. However, twenty percent of car/bike collisions happen when cyclists are going the wrong way.

    Turning Top

    Always follow these simple guide lines

  • Look behind you.

  • Use a hand signal to let drivers know you are merging left.

  • When clear, merge into the appropriate lane for a left turn.

  • The box turn

    For cyclists less comfortable in traffic, at some complex intersections, or when traffic is especially heavy, you may need to use a box turn:

  • Proceed straight through the intersection remaining in your usual position on the right side of the road.

  • When you get to the curb on the other side, reorient your bike so that you are facing the direction in which you want to go.

  • Proceed at the appropriate time.

  • Riding on Sidewalks Top

    In Nashville, bicycling on sidewalks is allowed only along streets with few or no commercial establishments. In Downtown or Hillsboro Village, for example, you may not ride on the sidewalks. If you’re not comfortable riding in the street in areas like these, become a pedestrian and walk your bike on the sidewalks.

    Handling Common Hazards Top

    Parked cars

  • Don’t weave in and out of the cars parked along a street – it will confuse drivers. Instead, ride in a continuous, straight line about three feet away from the parked cars.

  • If a car door does open in front of you, yell and brake.

  • Swerve to the left only if you know you have enough room to do so.

  • Blind spots

  • Know where a driver’s blind spots are and stay out of them.

  • Don’t follow a vehicle so closely that you can’t see potholes or other pavement problems until it’s too late to react.

  • Don’t follow a vehicle so closely that it blocks your field of vision.

  • Position yourself so that the car in front of you doesn’t block other drivers’ views of you – especially at intersections, where there are a lot of cars at a lot of angles relative to you.

  • Railroads

    Some railroad tracks cross streets diagonally. The gap between the rails and the adjacent pavement is an easy place to get your bike tire stuck and have an accident. Cross the tracks as close to a right angle as possible, especially when the street is wet.

    Roads to avoid

    All interstate highways and some state roads restrict access by bicycles. All limited access roadways are marked at entry ramps.

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