As a touring rider, I avoid cities at every opportunity. I like mountains, nature, and fresh air – not buildings, congestion, and aggressive road users.
Occasionally, however, we find ourselves in busy cities when touring. Sometimes we have no choice but to pass through them to get to our destination. And sometimes, it’s because the city itself is worth visiting (think Paris, Barcelona, or Venice.)
And yes, the speeds are slower. But due to the number of people using the roads (and their impatience!), riding in cities can be far more dangerous than riding on fast twisties.
So in this post, I want to go through some city riding tips to help you get to your destination that little bit easier when riding in unfamiliar cities on tour.
City Riding Tips: Prepare
Before you even leave in the morning, do your homework! With the technology we have at our disposal these days, you can get a good understanding of your route before you even get there.
Look over the route on your sat nav – or better still, Google Maps. Get a feel for the directions, and make mental notes of important signs. Ones that often confuse people coming into cities from the motorways are forks where you might have Lyon (E) and Lyon (W), for example.
These situations always cause last-minute lane changes from unsuspecting drivers in the wrong lane – made worse by volatile people who won’t accommodate them.
Anticipate these in advance by KNOWING you need to follow Lyon (E) rather than trying to figure it out as you get there. It makes your life a whole lot easier (and safer) in the long run.
Pre-Plan Your Parking
Messing around in the city whilst you hunt for somewhere to park serves only to prolong your time on the bike. And the longer you’re on your bike, the more chance you have of something going wrong.
So the next in our list of city riding tips is to pre-plan your parking the night before – and put it into your sat-nav. Of course, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to park once you get there. But it’s far easier to look for ONE place than continually scan for parking whilst negotiating everything else happening around you.
Get In The Right Mindset
Most roadsigns are self-explanatory – even if they’re slightly different to the ones you’re used to at home.
But some are mystifying, and it’s worth brushing up on them before you leave. Like the famous Priorité à droite, for example.
Having a basic understanding of such a rule stands you in a safer stead when you see it – so at least you can adapt and anticipate rather than reacting and getting it wrong.
Also, check if filtering is legal in the country you are visiting. If it is, go for it (providing it’s safe). If not, I recommend finding a different route to your accommodation because you’ll end up sitting in traffic all day – getting hot and sweaty.
Finally, plan a rest stop a few miles before you reach the city. Most of us reach the city at the END of our ride – so we’re tired, it’s been a long day, and we want to get to our accommodation. But riding in the city is exhausting, so adding to the stress by negotiating an unfamiliar city (and its drivers) is a recipe for disaster.
Plan a break just before you enter the city. Have a coffee, use the loo, and refresh yourself with any directions.
Also, take this time to mentally prepare yourself for the shift of pace. Speeds may be slower in the city- but with so many people on small, congested roads, the sensory overload makes everything seem so much quicker.
Change Your Arrival Time
If your ride takes six hours, setting off at 11 am will get you into the city at 5 pm – the height of rush hour.
Consider setting off at 9 am and arriving in the city at 3 pm instead. Or go the other way and get into the city at 7 pm.
If you can avoid the worst of the traffic by making small adjustments to your schedule, it could save you a lot of stress and headaches.
City Riding Tips: Observations
Observations are, by far, an imperative factor of city riding (or any riding). You’re in an infinitely better (and safer) position to make it to your destination unscathed if you’re switched on.
As riders, we often have a loftier field of vision than other road users – so use it to your advantage.
Look ahead – WAY ahead. Assess the flow of traffic. Look for brake lights. Scope out traffic lights, junctions, roundabouts, or pedestrian crossings.
Scan for traffic, shops, bin waggons, or parked-up vehicles that you’ll need to overtake. Look for signs up in the distance and get ahead on the lane you need to be in so you can act early.
Observations allow you to see things more quickly than most. And if you see things early, you can act early.
Finally, don’t just look ahead. Keep an eye on your mirrors for that Audi driving a few centimetres from your exhaust pipe. Knowing who’s behind you (and how close) allows you to alter YOUR position or distance to the vehicle in front if things go wrong.
Lastly, look into side streets and junctions on approach for the exiting driver that likely hasn’t seen you. And actively look for cyclists and pedestrians.
You could argue that positioning is more important than observations – because without proper positioning, you might not have proper observations.
Either way, positioning is vital. Because nothing will make you so invisible as sitting in the centre of your lane. You can see (and make yourself seen) so much more by using the space in your lane.
Sitting in position two (the centre of your lane) restricts what you can see in front and behind you. And it restricts the view that other road users have of you – especially for those waiting to turn onto the road you’re on.
Use your lane to garner better observations up ahead – as well as behind you through your mirrors. Careful changes of position also mean you’re likely to catch the attention of the driver in front as your headlight periodically catches in their mirrors.
Keep Up With The Flow Of Traffic
I’m not saying for one second that you should enter foreign cities and disrespect them by speeding. I’m NOT saying that at all.
However, you’ll find on some roads that the traffic is flowing quicker than the speed limit – and keeping up with it is often safer than slowing down and adding to the impatience of the locals.
If you’re in a 50kph zone and the traffic is flowing at 58kph, it’s often safer to keep up with it. If you slow down, road users will become impatient. They’ll cut you up and squeeze into the gaps you’ve left.
If you’re slowing down because you’re lost, I advise you to find somewhere safe to stop – instead of trying to figure it out on the move.
Stop, find your bearings, familiarise yourself with the route, and then carry on.
City Riding Tips: Dealing With Pushy Drivers
You can guarantee rush hour traffic if you enter the city towards the end of the day. The people you’re sharing the roads with are tired and hungry, and they want to go home to their families.
So with that in mind, you can expect them to be pushy, intolerant, and impatient.
You can’t change the attitudes of other road users – so if someone is up your backside, don’t engage with them. Simply move over and let them get on with their day. It’s not worth the hassle.
Worse, you may come across pushy motorcycle/moped riders. You might expect some leniency as a fellow rider – but don’t kid yourself!
You won’t be able to filter as effortlessly as a local on a sportsbike with knowledge of the area if you’re on a fully-ladened adventure bike, complete with panniers and a pillion. And they WILL push you.
Should you find yourself in this situation, pull into a gap and let them pass. You never know – you might even get through the traffic quicker if you use them as a guide.
As mentioned above, check whether the country you are visiting allows filtering. If it doesn’t, don’t filter. For a start, you could end up with a hefty fine. And at the very least, you’ll antagonise other road users.
Worse still, drivers will NOT be looking for you – because you’re not supposed to be filtering. So filtering in a country that doesn’t allow it is downright dangerous.
In my experience, filtering in Europe is best done slowly and considerately. Take your time, and you’ll find that drivers part for you like you’re Moses. They give you SO much room, and filtering is a pleasure.
If you’re filtering in the city itself, take note of pedestrian crossings, junctions, traffic lights, cyclists, and pedestrians. Take your time, and choose a speed that is safe and polite.
Traffic lights can always cause contention – because everybody wants to get through them!
If the lights are on green as you approach, prepare to stop rather than speed up to get through them. Scan the pavements for pedestrians waiting to cross – especially those with headphones, looking down at their smartphones.
Be aware that traffic lights in many countries miss out amber when changing from red to green – so if you filter to the front, make sure you’re ready to go, or you’ll find yourself in a world of pain when the lights change!
And (as in the UK), many European countries use filter lights. So if you filter to the front using the turn-left-only lane only to then accelerate straight ahead when the lights change, you’re committing a traffic violation – because your light is technically still on red.
You can also expect to contend with other motorcycles and mopeds – and there can be a lot of them at the front of the queue at traffic lights. If you see this on approach, it’s often easier to sit back rather than force your way through.
City Riding Tips: Avoid Rear-Ending
In my experience, European drivers tend to be more patient at junctions and only go when it’s safe – unlike the UK, where people creep forwards until someone lets them go.
That said, if you’re waiting to turn out of a junction, don’t move until the car in front of you has gone. If they stop suddenly, you may run into the back of them.
Likewise, if you’re at the front of the queue, resist creeping – lest the person behind may run into you.
Accept When You’ve Made A Mistake
We all make the wrong decision from time to time. If two lanes clog up with traffic, you have one of two options – the lane on the left or the one on the right.
By all means, make your decision based on whichever you think is making the most progress when you approach. But if the lane you choose stops, don’t dash into the other one because it’s moving.
If it’s safe, then yes. But if not, accept you made the wrong choice and wait it out in your lane.