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Sunday, September 16, 2007

How To Ride a Bicycle in the City

I ride my bicycle in the city of Albany, New York at least seven months out of the year. I tend to ride when the ground is free of ice and snow. I've developed some rules for riding, based on my experiences.

1. Wear a helmet.
If you're over 14, you may (edit: WILL) be mocked - "What, do you think you're riding a motorcycle or something?" My advice: wear a helmet anyway.

2. Signal.
I get amazing amount of yielding by cars because they actually know my intentions. Or maybe it's just the shock of seeing a bicyclist actually following the motor vehicle rules. Do this in spite of the fact that:
* Other bikes don't signal.
* Cars often don't signal, especially when they are turning right.

3. Keep right. Go WITH the traffic.
I've actually had debates about this from drivers and bicyclists, who think I should go against traffic like a pedestrian on a country road. Read the manual.
What I've learned from trial and error, though, is that when you're riding to the right when there are no parked cars, and parked cars are coming up ahead, you need to be out from the curb at a suitable distance as though a parked car WERE there, moving out at least a car length before reaching the parked car. Otherwise, you may appear to be lurching into traffic.
One of my favorite moments is when I'm riding, and a bike, obviously NOT keeping right, is heading toward me. My solution: keep right. But be prepared to stop. (Not so incidentally, this is also the rule when two people are walking towards each other - keep right - unless you are in England.)

4. Use lights, front and back, not only when it's dark, but at dusk, dawn and when it's foggy. Reflective clothes and other items are a good idea as well.
If a large percentage of cars have their lights on, that's usually a good signal to do likewise.
Since most lights are only useful to be seen, rather than for seeing, I've opted that if I only have one light available, to put it on the back if possible.
I also suggest that you get a removable front light. Not only does that keep it from "disappearing", but you can use it as a flashlight if you're walking from a dark garage to a building.

5. Follow the rules of the road, but not at your peril.
I stay on the road, as opposed to the sidewalk, except in those places where the road is too narrow to feel safe. If I do ride on the sidewalk, I yield to the pedestrian.

6. Focus.
I don't recommend headphones, because I think you need to hear what's going around you. Suffice to say, I don't suggest cellphone use, either.

7. Maintain your bike.
Put air in the tires. I'm not mechanically inclined, so I take it to the bike shop at least once a year to be checked out, especially my brakes.
My personal experience is that I like the bikes with the wider tires. They're not as fast, but they are less likely to blow out from broken glass and other debris than the bikes with thin tires.

8. People are unpredictable.
I now expect people to walk in front of my bike at an intersection where I have the right of way, and for cars coming out of driveways to pull right in front of me, where I also have the right of way. I still need to be vigilant about:
* people coming from between parked cars
* drivers opening car doors
* people chatting on the driver's side of the car
* people and cars turning around in the middle of the street and coming back from whence they came

9. You probably can't outrace a dog.
Even back in high school, I'd ride down some dead-end street, seeing no canines, and yet, seconds later, they'd be about a half dozen, barking at my tires. I've found stopping, then walking the bike to be a useful response.
Some people recommend squirting dogs with water or pepper spray. I have used neither, so I cannot speak to this point. I HAVE heard stories, though, about people using pepper spray and have the wind shift, so that they become the victim of the spray.

10. Some people are just hostile to bicyclists.
At least twice a year, some yahoo in a car, usually in the passenger seat, will make some untoward comment. You have two options: ignore it, or be prepared with some pithy retort; they're driving away, so make it short.
On at least two occasions, I've received the insult, and they've driven off, only to catch the traffic light, allowing me to pull along side of the truant. "Ha, ha, only kidding!", they always reply, nervously.
Still my favorite insult was from someone sitting on his front porch, who yelled out as I was riding by, apparently without irony, "Get a car!"

(Graphic from here.)
"Let me tell you what I think of bicycling.
I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.
It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance.
I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel...the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood."
-- Susan B. Anthony



Anonymous said...

I am sorry Roger, but the "Get a car" taunt was kind of funny. At least to me being a reader of it.

I just read this post yesterday and happened upon a biker on my way home. He did something that I thought helped his situation. He had one of those orange flags on a very tall pole. And he had it mounted to an adjustable bracket. Then he positioned the flag to stick out into traffic on his left (following your advice of going with traffic). I felt it was a good way to remind drivers that he was there, and that if you got too close you were going to hit the flag first, therefore possibly scratching your car.

EM said...

Roger, I always appreciate your biking posts. I started bike riding again a few weeks ago after a long (read more than 15 years) time away from even thinking about it.

We're trying to cut down on car usage and use our bikes for short trips. Since we're located pretty close to many of the places we frequent, it means we're riding somewhere nearly every day.

I still feel too new (not to mention scared) at this to ride in the street on a traffic-heavy street. I will do it on side streets though.

Anyway, thanks for sharing this kind of info.

Deborah Mends said...

Roger Dodger,

Do you folks in the States know about the new biking program we have here in Paris, called Velib'? It's a huge success - there are city bikes set up at stations all over the city, you pay a euro an hour with a credit card, and you leave the bike off at another or the same station. The mayor (a "green" sort of guy, obviously someone who has something in common with YOU, Mr. Green)has increased the number of bike routes and decreased the number of parking and driving options for cars. I am certain we will soon be able to taunt car drivers: "Get a bike!"

I should also add that there are some wags who have temporarily set up a similar system for people who prefer walking - for a euro you can rent a pair of shoes and leave them off at another station in Paris.

Anonymous said...

I love that graphic with the truck.

If I had a nickel for everyone that actually left 3' when passing me, I'd be very, very poor! ;)

Roger Owen Green said...

1. Scott- Didn't say it wasn't funny; I did say it was ironic.
2. Eddie - You're welcome.
3. Bon jour, Deborah - have not heard of Velib, specifically, but I knew there were places in Europe (and Asia, I believe) that had similar systems. Very civilized.
If there were more REAL bike lanes, there'd be more bikers.
Levi - Just this week some bus came way too close for my comfort; the key is to hold on tight and not get distracted.

Anonymous said...

Great post and you are a braver man than I. Wouldn't dare take my bike out onto the roads in a busy city. But out here in Japan you can cycle on the sidewalk which is great.

Anonymous said...

More dog/bike stuff. Arf!


Anonymous said...

I used to ride a lot more when I was a kid but still ride today, I love it. I've never ridden in the midst of a busy city, though, you're quite brave Roger!