We get occasional emails from first-time or beginner cyclists, asking us for advice on conquering their fear of sharing the road. In the past, we’ve doled out bits and pieces of advice on this issue, but have never really consolidated it all into one step-by-step post for those who are just starting out on a bike. Here are my recommendations for how to become confident in sharing the road (just stop before you become one of those reckless bike messengers who are giving us all a bad name!).
First: It’s homework time. If you don’t know the rules of the road, learn them! Learn how to signal a turn. Learn what your rights are in your city: is there a three-foot rule? Are you allowed to take the lane on all roads? Under what circumstances? Check out this hideously ugly but extremely informative site to find out what errors are most likely to lead to a car/bike accident, and do not make them! If there’s a bike safety class in your area, take it.
Second: Get a helmet. I am not taking sides on the helmet debate here (please, Internet, I mean it), but studies show that if nothing else, they make you feel safer. This is important for beginners. Also, purchase lights, especially if you will be riding after dark. The brighter, the better. Use them.
Third: Take your bike out! But don’t ride to work yet. Choose a greenway or bike path near your house, or a quiet side street, preferably with a bike lane. Any street with minimal traffic or some sort of separation from cars. If you absolutely do not have bike lanes or greenways or bike paths nearby . . . cry, and then write your city council or Congressperson. Or move. Or, for the less proactive/drastic personalities, just get up early on a weekend morning and ride. Guaranteed traffic-free!
Once you have done all these things, and feel completely comfortable puttering around the neighborhood on two wheels, it’s time to try your commute—but not on a workday. Remember those magical weekend mornings when no one is driving? Pick one of them, and head to the office. (Painful, I know, but you don’t have to actually go in!) Google Maps has biking directions for most cities, and while they are not perfect, they’re a good jumping off point if you’re not sure what route to take. See how long the trip takes. Figure out how to deal with any complicated intersections or disappearing bike lanes. Find a place you can lock your bike near your office. If you didn’t feel comfortable on the ride, repeat this step, or alter the route to go around any spots that are keeping you from feeling comfortable. It’s OK to take the long way!
Finally: Bike to work for the first time! Revel in your accomplishment, and enjoy your time in the fresh air. Feel, for once, that you have earned your happy hour beer.
I know most of our readers are well beyond the beginner stage—what tips helped you build your bicycling confidence? Share in the comments.