Tomorrow, May 17, is National Bike to Work Day. And, to celebrate, I'm riding my bike to work. But, then, I ride my bike to work almost every day, year-round, putting in upwards of 1,500 miles by the time late December rolls around. There are plenty of great reasons to ride your bike to work: It's cheap, it's good for you, it benefits local businesses and it's good for the planet.
The good news is that between 2000 and 2011, bicycle commuting was up 47 percent nationally, and 73 percent in the country's 70 largest cities. In the last few years, even the megalopolis of New York City has gotten onboard by putting in hundreds of miles of new bike lanes to make cycling safer, and is about to roll out the nation's biggest bike share program. Across the country, San Francisco is making biking more accessible with a Bike Share program that has proven to be a wild success, even though nobody thought it would work. Sure, there are still plenty of obstacles to commuting—bad weather, showing up to work sweaty and lugging all your stuff on your back or bike (for our tips on getting started bike commuting, click here).
But perhaps the biggest obstacle to biking to work, particularly for those who live and/or work in cities, is that riding in traffic can be downright scary. I'm reminded of the fact every morning, almost immediately after I leave my house. No matter how I'm riding into Manhattan—Williamsburg Bridge or Manhattan Bridge—within a block of home, I pass by a white-painted Ghost Bike, a memorial to a fellow cyclist who was killed in traffic, and a sober reminder that urban biking isn't all smiles and wind in your hair. There's a lot you can do by way of bike gear—bells, lights, reflective clothing, helmet—to make your ride relatively safe, but in the end, you have to live by the rule of the road for bicyclists and practice defensive riding.
To that end, GearJunkie.com founder Stephen Regenold wrote up some handy urban biking tips for his latest of many outlets, REI's blog. Regenold is not only a GearJunkie, but also a bike junkie, who's been riding city streets for more than a decade. His tips, as he points out, come from personal experience and not so much hard-and-fast rules as they are hard-earned best practices. He begins:
'You Are Traffic'
On city streets that have a speed limit under 40mph, I "drive" my bike like it's a car. To be sure, I'm not in the middle of the lane. But I don't pedal hug the curb, either. Ride a couple feet away from the edge of the street, and try to flow with traffic. Signal, stop at lights and intersections where it's required, and let cars pass by you (signal and wave to let drivers know you're aware). Overall, I try to be courteous but confident on the road. Aggressive city biking is dangerous, but so is being too passive. Car drivers want to know what you're doing and where you're trying to go.
A car pulls up to an intersection, ready to make a turn. You are approaching on your bike. The best way to assure the driver sees you? Simply establish eye contact. A nod or a wave is good in some situations, too. I've applied this technique for years to make a "visual understanding" with a driver of what's going on.
Don't Get 'Doored'
Urban roads lined with parked cars present a danger if you hug the edge of a lane. A car door flung open is like a booby trap for a biker—there's little time to react and sometimes nowhere to go if cars are adjacent. I ride a few feet from parked cars at all times unless the traffic pushes me close. In that case, slow down and look at each vehicle to try and spot someone sitting on the driver's side who might potentially pop out into the street without a glance back.
All 5 Senses
OK, maybe not taste! But when urban riding I try and use multiple senses to constantly assess my situation. Vision is obvious, but in addition to looking ahead I rely on peripheral vision to keep tabs on traffic to my right, left and coming up from behind. I listen for cars constantly to know what traffic is doing. And via my grip on the handlebars I "feel" the road to adjust balance, speed, and slow or brake when needed.
To read the rest of GearJunkie's urban biking tips, click through to his post here.