Tag Archives: biking to work

How to Conquer Your Cycling Fear: Tips for Beginning Cyclists

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.

Dottie’s Nutcase Helmet

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!

Don’t let the fear-mongering culture fool you—bike paths are a good thing!

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.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Stop, Collaborate and Listen

Yesterday morning, I fell in with a group of cyclists commuting to work, about six in all. Half-way to work I lost them, as they ran all the red lights and I stopped for all the red lights. As I was waiting for one red light by myself, the group already far ahead, three guys on bikes zipped by me, barely pausing for the light. A woman in a small SUV waiting beside me (about my gram’s age) said, “It’s so nice to see one bicyclist follow the rules of the road – and look so cute doing it. I love your basket!”

My gut reaction was to protest and stick up for cyclists. I could have said, “And it’s so nice to have one driver be nice to me.” But I did not want to be snarky with the well-intentioned woman and, really, there was not much I could say in defense of bicyclists, given the display witnessed moments earlier.  Instead I answered, “Thanks!  I wish more cyclists would.”

We as cyclists need to shape up. There are too many of us in Chicago to continue ignoring traffic laws, especially red lights. I understand the argument that sometimes it’s safer to jump a light instead of idling among trucks, and I’m not going to pretend that I never treat a red light as a stop sign (and don’t even get me started on stop signs). However, there are too many safety, legal and PR reasons not to ignore red lights and general traffic regulations in the city.

On the bright side, lots of bicyclists ride safely and conscientiously. This morning’s commute was totally different from yesterday’s, as the mini-pack of female cyclists I fell in with stopped at all red lights and fostered a calm and happy atmosphere. However, the bad apples are the ones who stand out the most, be they bicyclists or motorists.

What do you think about your city – is it reaching a critical mass where lawless cyclists are embarrassing? Is it time to start putting more pressure on other bike riders to embrace both the rights and the responsibilities of the road? And if so, how do we avoid playing into the hands of the crazed, mouth-foaming masses who use cyclists’ red-light-running to excuse the most abhorrent driving behavior?

Will it ever stop? Yo, I don’t know.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 43 other followers