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Do It

Share Some Advice for New Urban Bikers

Zachary Slobig


With the NYC bike share launching putting thousands of newbie cyclists on the road, NPR affiliate WNYC and Transportation Nation are gathering up sage advice from two-wheeled commuters (as well as pedestrians and drivers). Follow the link below to record your bike wisdom and listen to tips (like this, from actor Alan Cumming: resist the urge to look up and admire the skyline while you're biking). And please leave all your urban biking tips in the comments below as well.

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  • jmossfeld

    "A place for everything, and everything in its place." Find regular places to put your stuff so that you do not lose track of anything, and then every day, you know exactly where everything is when you need it. This is especially important in Winter when you will likely be cycling with several layers and accessories.

    BTW: ear muffs are great for keeping your head warm down to the 30's. The behind-the-head kind like 180s even fit under your helmet straps. Also consider rain booties, or gaiters, to cover your shoes. They provide enough wind break to keep your toes from freezing, especially if you wear wool socks as well.

  • Christine Stefano

    Remember that neither your arm nor your voice will stop another vehicle. Wear a helmet every time you ride. Be visible -- wear bright colors (not white). Use a headlight and taillight (i.e., don't rely on reflectors). Be careful -- and have fun!

  • Tiffy

    Ride like no one can see you, and always wear a helmet.

  • Brooke Candelaria

    ALWAYS wear a helmet. Our friend was just killed this week and was not wearing a helmet. And if you feel unsafe and the sidewalk is open, I think it's ok to travel on it (even where some local regulations prohibit it).

  • LynSouth

    As an oldtimer (over 65) but still a biker and driver, I'd like to offer a few thoughts to keep us both from having an accident.

    I try to watch for bikers out there while watching everything else as a driver - but you are often hard to see. PLEASE wear lots of reflective and/or lighting gear on your back and bike (my husband has to ride at nite sometimes and has added those wonderful blinking battery lights to various parts of his bike and also one on the back of his helmet). Remember that from a distance a driver might only see a tiny pinprick of light if you only have a small reflector tail light --- that doesn't come close to signaling you are up ahead on a bike!

    Don't pass me on the right at a stop light/stop sign. I may be turning right just at the point you are coming by - this has happened many times to me, especially for a biker who expects to get up front of the cars on the right side at a red light. As a driver, I can turn right at that red light! There's an old driving tip (for cars) that says pass on the right on a highway with extreme caution - the same is true for bikers.

    Think in terms of how you'd feel if you were the driver in a long line of cars behind a biker taking the lane. I'm happy you are commuting and keeping cars off the road. I'm not happy you won't give way when you are much slower on that uphill and we are 20 cars deep behind you at 10 miles per hour. You wouldn't like it either - move over and let us pass, please! And I'll give way for you every time I can too!

    Finally, don't assume we see you! Especially in urban areas with lots going on! We try. We're getting older. We hear lots of road noises out there. And there are lots of distractions all around us. And we really don't want to be part of your accident even if we technically aren't responsible for it!

  • tloconnor

    Find a bike community... or make one! Especially if your city isn't necessarily bike-friendly this is a great way to stay safe and have fun.

    Also, be sure to know the basic bike laws in your area. Some states require drivers to give more gerth between vehicles and bikes than others. In general I've found inner cities to be better biking destinations than suburbs because many people in the burbs aren't familiar with the fact that bicyclist do have rights on the road if a bike lane isn't available. It's not necessarily their fault, but a consequence of urban planning that doesn't take work biking commutes into consideration.

  • Carolyn Sams

    I think it's KEY to know where you're going, what turns you're gonna make long before you need to make them... So make sure to map it out before, because it's likely a different route than what you'd drive. It also helps to know a few alternate routes just in case, and (when in doubt) just pull over, stop and get out your phone to figure out a new route... That confidence about the roads and where I'm going gets me back on my bike again and again.

  • ilsevanloon0603

    Tip from Amsterdam:
    Make sure bell and brakes work extremely good

  • vita zus burwell

    Love your bike? Love your back! Bikers have strong and tight quadriceps, psoas, and hamstrings. All that pedaling shortens these muscles and puts loads of downward pressure on the pelvis. The pelvis stays in a tucked position and drags the lower back down with it. This prolonged rounding is super unhealthy for the lower back, shoulders and neck, and leads to compression, strain, muscle knots, and bulging discs over time.

    Yoga can help tremendously, but not if it's the fluffy kind. Learn how to practice yoga and move according to YOUR body type and flexibility level.

    • fleetingeyes

      Vita, is this true for step through bikes as well?

  • Todd Tyrtle

    I live in Toronto, which has a large number of cyclists, but also a limited amount of cycling infrastructure. There's a fair bit of tension between road users as well.

    One thing that I found works really well for me is to adjust my own attitude and routing when it comes to riding. (It's the only thing I can directly control, after all)

    I can choose my attitude when I walk out the door. Will I be viewing all drivers as hostile in an "us vs. them" way or will I be viewing them as large potential hazards but as individuals just the way I wish people (especially the folks leaving comments on cycling-related news articles) would view cyclists?

    I find that changing my expectations as to speed also helps. I'm a pretty quick cyclist and can maintain 25 km/hr or more and so I'm comfortable on major streets and will take the lane when I'm there. But what I find is that those major streets are where the *drivers* who are also in a hurry to get somewhere will be. And so we have the mix of impatient drivers and my own quick movement. There's definitely more likelihood of something frustrating happening like that Audi deciding to quickly pull out in front of me to get around the cab stopped in the lane. So what I've done recently is to change my own expectations. I don't expect to get somewhere as quickly as my legs can carry me. I slow down and relax a bit. And to that same end, I have really reduced the amount of time I spend on major streets. After all, I can go just as quickly down a laneway with no traffic as I can down that major street with traffic. And maybe trying to cross a major street at that laneway is stressful because there's no traffic light. And so I ride half a block down to the light, cross there, and come back to the laneway.

    Is it slower? You bet it is. I probably take 3-5 minutes more to get some places. But part of why I chose a bike is because I love traveling that way - the slower pace it brings and the ability to see things I wouldn't normally see by car. And if I am completely honest, 3-5 minutes per trip in the city is just about as much as I have been known to roll my eyes at drivers complaining about when opposing bike lanes on some streets. If they can take a little longer so can I.

    • jmossfeld

      I like your attitude-based approach. I myself have a Drivers Mind when I drive a car, but a Cyclists Mind when I bike. It's a bit like Jekyll and Hyde, but they know each other so I can see both perspectives. I've lately been trying to chill more in both modes so that I will not contribute to elevated tensions on road no matter what my vehicle is that day.

      • Todd Tyrtle

        I like that way of thinking a lot. I was a city driver long before I was a city cyclist and it is surprising just how much my driving changed after just a little bit of time on a bike. And like you say, having a driver's mind on a bike (or as a pedestrian for that matter) is also very good.

  • sarah.n.brice

    When locking up your bike, always use a u-lock and make sure you have locked the frame and the front tire to the rack. Not only does it prevent front tire theft (I've been there and it's inconvenient and expensive) but it keeps your bike from falling on the ground and getting banged up when somebody brushes against it.

  • Leigh Evanson

    A good windstopping jacket is worth the investment.
    Put the money you aren't spending on public transport or parking in a jar. It's a good motivator.
    I have been trying to use the word 'careful' when confronting someone endangering or annoying me (though admittedly it comes out as 'hey' too often)
    Learn what routes work for you. You experience roads very differently on a bike than in a car. The most direct route may not be the most pleasant.
    Embrace the Copenhagen left.
    If you get freaked out, you can always become a pedestrian.

  • lcjohansen

    -wear a helmet!
    -use your lights (front and back), even in the daytime. and especially at night!
    -stop at stop signs and obey normal traffic laws. in order to gain the respect of drivers, we need to earn the respect by behaving appropriately. plus, it's super dangerous not to.
    -commuter tip: keep deodorant, babywipes, and work shoes in your office. it will lighten your load, and allow you to freshen up for work! add in the endorphins from riding, and you're ready for a productive day. :)

    • Zachary Slobig

      love those commuter tips, lcjohansen. a couple of places I've worked have had showers (in part to encourage bike commuting), but babywipes are a smart addition to the commuter kit for sure.

  • mbmikels

    If it looks like you can't make it (beating the light, turning traffic, between a parked car and traffic in the lane), you probably shouldn't attempt it. Your safety is more important than getting somewhere a minute earlier.

  • Lauren Ipsum

    • Use your bell when passing other cyclists or pedestrians who look like they might step out into the street
    • Make eye contact with people (drivers, pedestrians, cyclists) so you know that they see you coming
    •  Behave in a predictable manner and use hand signals when turning
    • Check your blind spot: look over your shoulder for cars and cyclists

  • Nina Liggett

    I echo take the lane. The first time someone gave me permission to take the lane accelerated my confidence ten-fold.
    Have a bell. People may not always be able to hear it in their car with the stereo up, but I find it gets the attention of free-wielding taxi drivers, drivers exiting their cars and pedestrians standing in a bike lane.
    Know your route. If you have confidence in where you are going, you will have more confidence on the ride there.

    • Zachary Slobig

      Bike bells are key—I agree Nina. Plus there's something so pleasing about the sound of a bike bell bouncing off buildings in the early morning commute.

  • Zachary Slobig

    #1 It goes without saying, but always wear a helmet. I guess it doesn't go without saying, because I see it all the time.

    #2 Take the lane if you have to.