Safe Cycling: Hazard Avoidance Maneuvers

If you cycle on roads surrounded by motor vehicles, you already know just how important it is to follow traffic laws and anticipate problems before they occur.  Doing so will go a long way towards keeping you safe.  Many cyclists ride an entire lifetime without having any serious encounters with cars.  Here’s hoping you’re one of them.

Reality encroaches.  We need to be able to pull off these maneuvers in tight quarters!
Unfortunately, even when we do everything right as cyclists trouble sometimes finds us.  That’s where hazard avoidance maneuvers come into play.  The League of American Bicyclists teaches the following four basic maneuvers in Traffic Skills 101.  You’ll want to learn and practice them so that you’re proficient should you ever need to call upon them to keep you out of harm’s way.  Let’s take a quick look…
Quick Stop
Learning to stop your bike quickly is a critical skill to master regardless of where you ride. It’s not just cars. People, pets, and other cyclists can cut us off while we ride even in the safest of surroundings.  Your ability to stop your bicycle on a dime can save you the hassle of a tumble, or worse.
The quick stop is performed by applying a combination of both front and rear brakes while sliding your weight as far back in the saddle as possible.  This will keep weight on the rear wheel and allow you to stop in the shortest possible distance while avoiding trouble up ahead.
Rock Dodge
This hazard avoidance maneuver is fun and easy to learn.  It helps you bypass all sort of small obstacles including rocks, nails, glass and other hard to see debris that sometimes litters the roads and trails we ride on.
When you see such an obstacle, continue to ride straight at it and then flick your handlebars to the left at the last instant.  If done correctly, your front wheel will pass to the left of the object while your rear wheel passes to the right.  Always flick left so that if you overcompensate you’ll turn towards the edge of the road and not out into traffic!
Avoidance Weave
This manuever allows you to avoid multiple obstacles that occur in rapid succession.  Think slalom skiing, but on a bicycle!  The avoidance weave is all about leaning.  That’s how we turn our bicycles.  With the weave, we lean one way and then we lean the other.  Get into a rhythm and then continue to ride forward once you’re past the obstacles.  Focus ahead so that you’re in position to navigate early.
Instant Turn
Sometimes an obstacle appears so quickly that it’s not possible to stop in time or otherwise avoid it.  In these cases, the instant turn is an important skill to have in your toolbox.  This is the most difficult hazard avoidance maneuver for most cyclists to learn, but also one of the most important.
   Approaching the Instant Turn 
Approaching the instant turn.  
I've turned the handlebars away to force the bike to lean into the turn.
Now that the lean is on, I can turn quickly.  Note that my inside pedal is up.
The instant turn is counterintuitive and requires more practice to master.   Start slowly to gain confidence.  Don’t worry about it if you’re struggling.  Everyone does at first!  Be sure to keep your inside pedal in the up position.  As you improve, you’ll be amazed at your progress.
One sure way to master these hazard avoidance techniques is to take Traffic Skills 101 with a League of American Bicyclists Certified Cycling Instructor.   This two day classroom and on-the-bike course will show you the proper way to execute these maneuvers and give you plenty of time to practice them.  You’ll become a more confident cyclist, and that will keep you safer wherever you prefer to ride.


Bob Sharpe is a League of American Bicyclists Certified Cycling Instructor and founder of Bike 5, a movement that encourages people to bicycle for short trips of five miles or less.  You can reach him directly through the Bike 5 page on Facebook.

This article is one of a 12-part series on the basics of riding on the road and covering the primary topics found in the League of American Bicyclists Smart Cycling course.

Read all 11 articles in Bob's Safe Cycling Series here.

Find more resources for better bicycling on our Bicycle Skills and Safety page.


Improving safety for Missourians who bicycle, walk, and drive is one of the primary goals of MoBikeFed's Vision for Bicycling and Walking in Missouri. Work to educate and inform Missourians about important safety and skills topics such as those found in this series on safe bicycling is an important part of that effort.

Your ongoing membership and generous financial contributions help turn our Vision into reality!


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