When cycling, what program should constantly run in the back of your mind? Safety, of course.
Look! Branch. Watch out! People. Car, car, car!
Riding a bike in Korea is a safe proposition. Traffic and bicycle laws follow international standards. And universal safety tips apply.
But it’s always a good idea to update your safety software.
We’ll give you the details and some tips about how to stay safe.
Roads In Korea
Korea adopted their traffic laws from international standards. You’ll be able to navigate city streets in most cities if you’re familiar with the laws of your own country.
Cars drive on the right sight of the road. Red means stop. Green means go.
Over the years, the government limited speeds to improve safety.
- City streets: 40-60 km/h (25-50 mph)
- Expressways: 100-110 km/h (65-70 mph)
- Country roads: 60-80 km/h (40-50 mph)
Pedestrians have the right of way. Cars must yield to them in crosswalks and intersections without traffic lights.
Road Markings and Signs
The road signs in Korea may differ from your country. Let’s go through some of their common characteristics.
- Yellow center lines.
- White divider lines.
- Red regulation signs.
- Yellow warning signs.
- Blue instruction signs.
You’ll find both Korean and English written on direction signs on expressways and in major cities.
If you’re familiar with road sign pictures, you’re in luck. Korea marks many signs with intuitive pictures. A picture of a bike with a red line overtop means… Well, you guess.
In cities with limited space, you will often see traffic instructions painted on the road. Speed limits. Bike decals. School zones. Pedestrian crosswalks.
Korea strictly enforces traffic lights in Korea. Many intersections have red light cameras that provide the local cities with some extra revenue from cavalier cars.
Unless otherwise marked, right on red is allowed. Left arrows signal left turns. (Left turns on a normal green is illegal.) Green and red walking men signal pedestrian crossings.
Wait for the Light
Traffic lights in Korea are long. You could repaint your bike, watch it dry, then chip, then rust. Look up. Still red!
Don’t disobey the red, though. Traffic lights in Korea follow a particular pattern.
- One side: green and protected left green.
- Both sides: green and no left turns.
- Opposite side: green and protected left green.
Ignore the little red man at your own peril. You might not spot the left turning car.
Drive along any Korean expressway. Every few kilometers you’ll spot speed cameras hanging over the road. They snap pics of any car creeping a few kilometers over.
They ensure safety and provide a little extra revenue. But they also have an unintended effect: driver immunity.
Most apps not only show drivers every speed camera on the map, they’ll warn you. The navigation map will flash red if you’re over the speed limit and approaching a camera.
Once some drivers pass the speed camera, they accelerate. 5 km/h over. 20, 30, 40 km/h over. No camera. No problem. Autobahn time.
Behind the Thoroughfares
In Korea, major thoroughfares look normal. Traffic lights, divider lines, roundabouts. Things change once you slip into neighborhood back roads.
Between apartment buildings and houses, you’ll find one lane roads. Not one lane in either direction. Just enough space for one car.
No sidewalks. No signs. No traffic lights. Parked cars jammed into every non-towable and towable space, further narrowing the space.
Some cities mark back roads with one-way arrows. But you’ll often find two cars playing chicken, neither sure which has the right-of-way.
Wild, Wild West Intersections
Because land is so valuable, developers in Korea maximize every millimeter of space. They push buildings to the edges of property lines.
This creates networks blind intersections. You won’t see cross traffic until you’re one wheel into the breach.
And because of space limitations, stop signs are rare. In its place sits a patch of yellow paint warning drivers to slow.
Drivers don’t speed through back roads because they’re narrow and littered with obstacles. But drivers also rarely slow at intersections. They’ll disregard right-of-way and push through.
First goes first. Hesitation is invitation.
Bike Path Alternative
Back roads might seem dangerous. But they’re a great alternative if you’re headed through major cities on a bike.
Sidewalks get crowded near popular shopping areas and markets. Cars, buses, and trucks barrel down through thoroughfares.
Back roads have fewer cars and people. And because you’re on a bike, you can weave around parked and slow-moving vehicles.
Just remember to slow at every interaction. You might not see that bongo truck until it’s too late.
Korean Bike Paths
What do the bike paths look like in Korea? Most share the same features.
- Protected (apart from vehicle roads)
- Blue line border with white dotted
- Two meters wide center lines
Look down! See a blue line on your path? Good.
Blue lines not only mark protected bike paths. They designated which country, coastal, and farmer roads allow cyclists.
Keep an eye out for blue bike signs, too. They sit at every intersection. On them, a bike icon and arrow will point you in the right direction.
Bike Path Tips
Some cyclists treat protected bike paths like highways. They’ll speed down them at 40 km/h. So it makes sense to use traffic rules and caution.
Here are some tips to stay safe:
- Before merging onto a bike path, slow down and look both ways.
- Want to pass a slow biker, look for oncoming traffic. Pass if the coast is clear.
- Throw up a hand signal when stopping or turning to warn cyclists behind you.
- Watch out for pedestrians and anticipate their moves.
The most important tip! Keep your lane.
Say you’re driving a car and swerving in and out of oncoming traffic. If a cop spots you, you’ll get a one-way ticket to hoosegow.
And solve this grim word problem. You’re traveling at a leisurely 15 km/h. An oncoming cyclist approaches at 25 km/h. You swerve into their lane. At how fast do you two collide? 40 km/h. Without airbags. Without seatbelts.
Korea does its best to keep up their bike paths. But, mother nature has her own priorities.
Summer brings typhoons and monsoons. Rivers and streams flood. When they spill onto bike paths, they carry their silty beds with them.
After major downpours, keep your caution meter running. When riding along water-level paths, you’ll often find clumps of fine sand that will make the fattest of tires spin in place.
While winter covers bike paths with snow, fall brings traction’s hidden enemy. Rain and fallen leaves leave bike paths slick as ice.
Many bike paths flow in and out of local parks. When they do, they follow popular walking paths. That means lots of pedestrians out for relaxed strolls.
Watch out! Cyclists don’t make as much noise as cars. Walkers won’t hear you approach.
If you see a pedestrian dawdle towards your bike lane, ring your bell, give a shout, or just slow down.
Most major roads in Korea have dual purpose sidewalks. A brick laden portion for pedestrians and a rubberized concrete portion marked with a bike decal.
Bicycles are classified as vehicles. They’re not allowed on sidewalks. However, the government classifies the section of a sidewalk marked with a bike decal as a bike road, not a sidewalk.
When you encounter sidewalks with a bike decal path, you’re required to ride on them. Not on the road.
You’ll often see pedestrians avoid the uneven bricks on sidewalks. They prefer the smooth surface of the bike decal path. No one blink if you swerve out of the bike path to avoid them.
Korea builds sidewalks for pedestrians and sometimes cyclists. But they have another function.
Take a stroll in any busy city. You’ll come upon a car parked on the sidewalk. You might say, is that legal? Maybe not. But dusty law books can’t defend convenient parking.
Walk a little further. You’ll come upon a bongo truck parked outside a gutted store in the middle of a remodel. Next to the truck, sparks fly as a construction worker brings his circular saw down on metal beams.
Why? You won’t find backyards or parking lots in Korea. There are just buildings. And more buildings.
Bike Laws In Korea
Protected bicycle paths line Korea’s Bike Certification routes and urban sidewalks. So you don’t worry about those metal beasts creeping up on you.
Brush up on Korea’s bicycle laws and safety practices. Cars menace bikers. But bikers can terrorize pedestrians, too.
Check out the highlights below.
- Bicycles are classified as a vehicle.
- Bicycles must ride on roads or designated bike paths. Not on pedestrian sidewalks.
- Bicycles must obey all traffic laws.
- Cyclists must wear a helmet.
Korea classifies bicycles as two-wheeled vehicles. They must follow the same rules as cars.
- Stop at red lights.
- Signal when turning.
- Maintain a safe stopping distance.
There are a few more rules. These only apply to cyclists.
- Expressways, tunnels, and motor-vehicle-only designated roads don’t allow bikes.
- Ride on the right side of roads.
- Dismount your bike before crossing a pedestrian crosswalk.
Cyclists can’t cross pedestrian crosswalks. They must dismount and walk across or ride outside the white lines. Some crosswalks have a parallel bike line.
When riding at night, use bike lights. A blinking red rear light warns drivers behind you. A bright front light not only alerts cars in front but also provides light for dark country roads.
You need not wear green, reflective spandex. But putting on your black high school goth clothes for night rides isn’t the smartest idea.
Even if you have high-powered lights, it doesn’t hurt to throw on a reflective vest. You can also get light bouncing decals for your helmet and bike frame. They scare away those ferocious metal demons.
Learn and use the basic cyclist hand signals. They let both fellow cyclists and drivers know what you’ll do next.
- Left Turn — Extend your left arm straight out to the side.
- Right Turn — Extend your left arm and bend your elbow 90-degrees upwards (fingers towards the sky).
- Stopping or slowing — Extend your left arm and bend your elbow 90-degrees downwards (fingers towards the ground).
On a road? Throw up a 90-degree elbow when taking a right turn. The driver behind you might not know what it means. [That some kind of cycling gang sign?!] But they’ll pay extra attention to what you do next.
This applies to all vehicles, motor or leg powered. Always maintain a safe following distance from the vehicle in front of you. You’ll need room to react and slow your momentum if the cyclist in front of you crashes to a stop.
Say you’re traveling at 30 km/h. It’ll take you 13 meters before you notice you need to stop. Then it’ll take 6 meters to stop after you slam on the brakes. That’s 19 meters.
If the road is wet, you’ll need even more. 13 meters to react and 10 meters to stop. 23 meters total.
Slow at Blind Corners
Korea’s maxed out cities create countless blind corners. You’ll often approach interactions where you can’t see one meter down the road until you’re in the crossfire.
So slow down! You might see all the other cars speed through back road intersections. Don’t follow their lead. Don’t redecorate the hood of their new Hyundai.