Turning left on a bike... sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? Well, not quite.
Since the general rule is that you should cycle with the flow of traffic, cyclists are supposed to keep to the right side of the street. So a left turn essentially means that you're going up against traffic rather than following it.
Sounds scary, but it doesn't have to be! In this post, we're going to show you how to turn left on a bike as safely and efficiently as possible.
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This way of turning left is preferred by most amateurs because you don't mix with the traffic head-on and hence it's very low risk. The maneuver is quite simple:
1. When you’re approaching the intersection, use your bike signals for turning to indicate that you want to move to the right
2. Check for some leeway in the traffic
3. Move to the rightmost lane at the intersection and wait for the light to turn green
4. Cycle straight ahead to the opposite side instead of turning left with the rest of the traffic
5. Turn your bike to the left and wait for the stoplight to turn green on that side
Tip: if your bicycle isn’t fitted with signal lights, then you can simply use bicycle hand turn signals.
Here, you're essentially merging into the right side of the intersection where the traffic is stopped, waiting for the light to change and then proceeding. This maneuver works very well in cities with good cycling infrastructure, especially ones with bike boxes.
Tip: if you’re not sure whether your local area has bike boxes, look out for the appropriate bike street signs and road markings.
In that case, you can simply pull into the front of the lane, provided that the spot isn’t already occupied by a vehicle. If it is, then you can resort to using the sidewalk. Just make sure you leave enough room for pedestrians.
The main drawback of a box turn is that it can take a lot of time. If you’re in a hurry and there are not many cars in the intersection, then you could try this next maneuver.
With this maneuver you're essentially turning left with the rest of the traffic:
1. While approaching the intersection use your bike signals lights to indicate that you want to turn left
2. Check for some leeway in the traffic
3. Change into the leftmost lane (when making a left turn rules of the road dictate that you have to be on the left side of the road) once you arrive at the intersection
4. Wait for the light to turn green and turn left with the rest of the vehicles
This is the easiest way to make a left turn but it can make newbies quite nervous.
The more lanes there are next to the bike lane, the more difficult the maneuver becomes since you have to make sure that there are no cars behind you. Things become more complicated if you're in a bike box because then it becomes much more difficult to merge into car traffic. In such cases, it's best to make a box turn instead.
When there's a center turn lane, cyclists are most often left standing still while trying to turn left with the rest of the traffic. It can be quite scary to stay stationary on a bike while all sorts of vehicles are moving past at high speeds and it's quite difficult to suddenly move out of danger.
A box turn can be a good alternative but it can be impossible to execute in certain scenarios (for example, if there aren't any stoplights for through traffic or if you're at a T-intersection). Hence, the best maneuver would be a U-turn left:
1. When approaching the intersection, signal your intent to turn left
2. Move into the left-most lane and move straight across the intersection without turning with the rest of the traffic
3. Keep an eye out for a gap in traffic and make a U-turn when you spot one
4. Cycle towards the intersection again (this time approaching from the opposite side)
5. Make a right turn
As you can see, it can be a little complicated and scary but it's the safest way to make a left turn at a center lane where you can't make a box turn. As opposed to doing a vehicular turn where you have to stand still and wait for a gap in traffic, you're essentially keeping a lookout for one while continuing to peddle.
With this maneuver, you essentially blend in as a pedestrian once you're stopped at a red light:
1. While approaching the intersection, signal your intent to turn right
2. Shift to the rightmost lane at the intersection and use the crosswalk to cross to the other side of the intersection with the pedestrians.
3. Wait for the light to turn red on that side and cross again with pedestrians
4. Turn left onto the bike lane
This maneuver is quite safe since you’ll be treated as a pedestrian. If you see a bike traffic sign or a general sign at the crosswalk that says ‘yield’, it means that cars will let you have right of way. It can save you a lot of time as well. If there's a large crowd on the crosswalk, then it's probably safer to dismount and walk your bike.
As you can see, you’ve got a few different options when it comes to making a left turn on your bike. The method you choose should depend on your level of experience, comfort, and of course the sort of intersection you come across.