The route you are accustomed to drive in your car may not be the best route on your bike. Aside from multi-use trails, Salt Lake City’s grid system provides plenty of options for choosing a bicycle route to suit your style.
Some bicyclists prefer quiet neighborhood streets, while others like the faster pace of arterial routes. Riding on quiet streets may be slower, because you will have to wait for a break in traffic to cross arterial streets. Arterial streets with bike lanes may be a good choice if you want through-roads that also provide you with bicycle-preferred space.
If you are new to bicycling in the city, spend some time exploring which streets work best for you. The Salt Lake City Bikeways Map is a valuable resource in selecting the best way to go.
When selecting a route, you may wish to consider:
- Traffic speed and volume.
- Available multi-use or mountain bike trails.
- Intersections and crossings — both for safety, and for approaches that give you the right-of-way.
- Traffic signal timing.
- Hills — and particularly steep grades.
- Shade trees, especially in the summer.
Getting a Green
Bicycles are vehicles under Utah law and must follow the rules of the road, including stopping at red lights.
If there are motor vehicles also waiting at the red light — in a travel lane going the direction you want to go, you will get a green light when it is your turn. Although bicyclists often run red lights, this is a considerable source of animosity between motorists and bicyclists. You are an ambassador for bicyclists’ rights to be on the road. As a matter of bicycling ethics, bicyclists should obey the law.
However, if there is no motor vehicle waiting at the signal with you, you may be frustrated that the light will not turn green for you. At such traffic signals, bicyclists can often trigger the green light — if you know where to position your bicycle.
At some traffic signals, you will see small cameras up near the signals. The cameras should detect bicyclists who are waiting in a bike lane or in the travel lane. The cameras are set to ignore right-turning cars. If you are in the right-turn area, you may not be detected. If there is no other traffic on the road, try stopping your bicycle in the middle of the through lane to get a green light.
If you can see circular patterns or other patterns of a metal wire just under the road surface, position your bicycle with the wheels and crank over the edge of the circle, or over the wires for other patterns. These wire, called “loops,” detect metal; the bicycle’s smaller amount of metal must be very near the wire to trigger the light. If you have cleats on your shoes, try putting your cleat right on the circle of the loop.
During rush hour, most traffic lights in the City are timed by a computer, independent of vehicle detection.
It is a common urban legend that “bicyclists don’t weigh enough” to trigger the traffic signals. Pressure plates, which detected the weight of a vehicle, were indeed used historically; however these have not been in use for many years. In Salt Lake City, the last pressure plates were removed in the late 1970s or early 1980s. If you are looking at a circle or square in the pavement, that is actually a loop detector (as above), not a pressure-sensitive area.
Bikes on Transit
Bicycles are permitted on all TRAX and Frontrunner trains, at all times of the day, subject to space limitations. All bus routes except Paratransit and Ski buses have bike racks. The Utah Transit Authority provides more information.
It’s warmer than sitting on a ski lift!
Salt Lake City’s mild valley conditions make for reasonable bicycling on most winter days. Winter bicyclists will want to be careful not to overdress; you’ll warm up as you pedal. Dress in layers so you can adjust for temperature. A thin balaclava for under your helmet in highly recommended. You will also want to have good windproof gloves and footwear.
Consider hand / foot warmers (as used by skiers) for extra-cold days. Check out this video for tips on dressing for winter bicycling from a “hard-core” bicyclist in Chicago — a woman who dresses in ordinary street clothes appropriate for the office environment while bicycling in zero degree (Fahrenheit) temperatures.
Also, this video created by our very own Salt Lake City Bicycle Collective offers good advice for winter cycling.
Yes, there are studded tires for bikes
Pay attention to snow and black ice (clear ice that is not easy to see) on roads. Studded tires, available at local bike shops, provide good traction on icy days.
Keeping going on bad air days
If air quality is a concern, filter masks are available as well, and may be available at local bike shops.