1. "Safety first" is the most important rule. Though relatively safe, riding a bike unfortunately carries some risk. I hope some of the hints exposed here will keep you safer.
2. Be seen
3. Be predictable by other vehicles (signal your turns, etc...)
4. Predict and anticipate the traffic: That's what you'll build with experience anyway, but it better be a conscious process.
5. Control your bike at all times
6. Better piss off a motorist that being dead. Remember: "Safety first"
From there there are a number of corollary points:
You have to have the right equipment:
- Appropriate clothes to be comfortable (cold/rain). Flashy clothes are best (see 2nd rule)
- Appropriate bag (your bag shouldn't become an hazard)
- Maintain your bike in shape: good breaks, inflated tires is the bare minimum.
- Watch out for hazards related to the drive-train (laces and pants out of the way)
- Careful with right turns and pedestrians!
- Car dooring is a big risk in the city. I personally keep a lot of distance with parked cars (I ride in the middle of the lane most of the time, except if it's totally safe otherwise, which is rarely the case).
- Anticipate obstacles: I change lanes ahead of time to avoid double parked cars, construction work etc...
- Warn other bikers that you are passing them
- Predict motorists behavior and don't take unnecessary risks...
- Watch out for wild u-turns
- Fear the distracted driver ("I'm on the phone and eating a burger, and oh, yeah, I'm driving too")
- Mad cab driver case (most of cab drivers are skilled and prudent drivers, but a few are really crazy)
- Keep an eye on parked cars (use their rearview mirror and traffic lights to spot the ones that will insert themselves in the traffic by rolling over yourself)
- At a red light, I like to be upfront, to avoid pollution and be seen by cars.
- I ride as fast as I can to flow with traffic
- Be nice and respectful (but keep that u-lock at reach if necessary ;-)
- Plan your route: Avoid problems in the first place (I don't like Market street for instance)
Riding tips, special conditions
- Brake front first (but not too hard obviously)
- Watchout for rail tracks (those ugly caltrain tracks at townsend and 7th...)
- Careful going down: braking power of a car is much greater than a bike, so keep your distances with front traffic.
- There is an infinity of traffic conditions:
- Night conditions because of visibility of course, but also watchout for drunk drivers.
- Rush hour: watchout for crazy busy guys.
- Ball game conditions: they are drunk, and they don't know how to drive in the city.
Protect your goods:
- Learn how to lock your bike properly
- Roll over your pants
- Watch out for potholes (hurting your bike)
- Watch out for glass on the street, check your tires if there is a big risk of a flat
- Never, never leave your bike out for an entire night
Another tip: I have bike stuff at the office and at home: u-locks, tubes, clothes
Last but not least, be part of the community. Subscribe to the local bike coalition (sfbike.org).
Fellow bikers, do I miss anything in this list?
Have Fun, enjoy the city from this unique perspective!