Commuting 101: Essential Tips For New Riders

…or, Father Knows Best.

So, I got the call a couple nights ago: “Dad, my car died.” Yep, looks like my eldest son is about to join our ranks. He actually came up with the idea of commuting by bike before I did. As a parent, I immediately launched into a lengthy, one-sided conversation regarding my experiences. I hope he absorbed some of it.

Anyway, as long as I was on a roll, I thought I’d share my list with you. As always, please feel free to comment. Bear in mind, the following is a list of suggestions for someone I care about. You may not agree with some items on the list, and that is fine, but I don’t want to see you hurt either… Now, where did I put my cardigan?

The List:

Wear a helmet!

A bicycle is a vehicle. Follow the rules of the road.

Be visible. Wear bright colors in daylight hours. At night, wear something reflective – or – at least wear something white. Use front and rear lights and reflectors.

Be predictable. Make eye contact. Ride on the correct side of the road, not against traffic. Look behind you before you make a turn or lane change, that lets drivers know you’re up to something. Use hand signals (not THAT one) and don’t wobble around. Don’t weave in and out of the lane when parked cars are spread out.

Plan your route. Your drive to work went straight down the busiest street in town. You’ll add about a mile and a half to your bike commute by heading down to the next street down that crosses the highway with a nice over-pass. Believe me, it is more than worth the extra 5 minutes. (You’ll then be able to pick up part of the bike path and get out of traffic completely. Girls in Spandex use this path for jogging. I’m just sayin’.)

Bike/hike paths are great – but remember – Don’t ride on sidewalks!

Ditch the headphones. I like the fact that you enjoy the iPod we got you for Christmas. Don’t use it while you’re cycling in traffic.

Take the lane: Don’t be afraid to get out in the middle of the lane in stop-and-go traffic, when changing lanes to make a left turn and to avoid being “doored.” You WILL be tempted to blow past a line of cars queued up at a stop light; don’t, just take your place in the middle of the lane and take your turn.

On the other hand, when the going gets really tough, there is no shame in moving off the road for a minute to let a long line of drivers go past you.

Speaking of “winning the door prize,” make sure you look through the windows of parked cars. You’re looking for people in the car that might be trying to exit and also for people who are stepping out into the road in between parked cars.

Glare can blind motorists. If the sun is in your eyes, the people driving up behind you DON’T SEE YOU.

Bells and horns are a great way to get the attention of people on the bike path; in traffic you’re better off yelling at the top of your lungs. This is not to say you need to be rude to drivers. You only yell to catch people’s attention, not to express your displeasure.

And, finally, the three most common causes of drivers hitting cyclists:

  • Driver turns left in front of an on-coming cyclist who is going straight through an intersection.
  • The driver doesn’t stop at a stop sign.
  • Driver passes a cyclist and turns right, directly across their path.
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