Now, I’ve written time and time again how awesome biking is. It’s good for our health. It’s great for the environment. And, biking instead of driving says money. However, I was never able to push myself to hop on the biking bandwagon, in large part because the drivers in my town just aren’t used to seeing bikers on the road. I could see myself out on the main thoroughfare getting clobbered by a Chevy Silverado within seconds. So, I kept my bike in the garage, where it served as a useful housing development for spiders.
This summer, though, has been different. I dusted off my pink Roxy bike and, determined to start riding more, finally just forced myself to get on the road. And you know what? It’s been awesome. I’ve been using my bike to run errands all over town. And as soon as I get some baskets for the back of my bike, I’ll start biking to the grocery store too.
My newly discovered love of biking had to come when I was ready. Again, the biggest thing that held me back was fear. I didn’t know how to ride safely on the road, and I didn’t trust other drivers to watch out for me. If these same fears are holding you back from biking more, then here are some strategies that have helped me get on the road with confidence.
1. Get a Horn or Bell
Did you know that many countries require that bikes be sold with a horn or bell? This is so cyclists have a way to warn cars, and people, of their approach. You’ll feel safer with some way (other than your voice) to alert drivers and walkers that you’re approaching.
2. Learn the Most Common Collisions
There are traffic scenarios that cause bikers to get hit time and time again. For instance, take a look at the diagram below, which is courtesy of BicycleSafe.com. This is the most common collision for cyclists.
Basically, a car is coming out of a parking lot, driveway or side street, they don’t see you, and they plow right into you. Again, this the most common collision for cyclists.
How can you avoid this? Well, BicycleSafe.com states that most inexperienced riders ride where the “A” line is; that is, they stick close to the curb. However, it’s actually safer, and less riskier, for riders to ride further out in the lane, where the “B” line is. This forces drivers behind you to see you, and only pass you when it’s safe, and it takes you out of the side car’s blind spot. They’re more likely to see you if you’re further out into the road instead of hugging the curb.
You can also avoid this kind of collision by getting a headlight, honking at cars approaching you on the right, and by wearing bright colors, especially reflective coloring at night.
Here’s another common collision, which BicycleSafe.com calls “The Red Light of Death”:
Here’s the setup: you stop at a red light, right next to the first car. When the light turns green, you push ahead, and the car turns right. Right into you, that is. How do you avoid this? First, don’t pull your bike up next to the first car. They likely won’t see you, especially if you’re a bit behind, in their blind spot. Instead, pull up directly behind them. If you choose to do this, don’t zip around the first car when the light turns green; treat your bike just like you would a car, and stay behind them until they turn.
There are 10 major collisions, and what you need to do to avoid them, on BicycleSafe.com. I highly recommend you go there to learn how to ride safely; the site does an excellent job with diagrams and detailed instructions on how to ride safely and avoid getting hit. Going through this site has given me more confidence about riding.
Signaling with your arm feels weird at first. But, cyclists NEED to do this. After all, you don’t have blinkers! Signal your turning intentions strongly; the driver behind you needs to know if you’re about to turn left or right. Not doing this could get you hit.
4. Learn the Back Roads
I’ve only taken my first baby steps into biking more. I’m still not confident on busy roads, at all. Plus, my bike is a beach cruiser, not a streamlined ten-speed that goes like the wind. So, I mostly stick to the backroads and neighborhoods to get to where I want to go. Yes, this takes longer. But, it’s safer and far more relaxing. If you want to start biking more, especially to run errands, then map out a route through neighborhoods to get you there. This will ease the transition and making cycling more comfortable and enjoyable.
5. Get some Baskets
Another reason I haven’t used my bike to run errands is that I had nowhere to put stuff. I couldn’t go to the market because I didn’t have a basket or saddle bags. If something didn’t fit in my backpack, I had nowhere to put it.
Well, I still don’t have baskets for my bike, but I’ve been looking daily. I know once I have them, then going to the market (and any other store where I need to pick something up) will be no problem. As of now, though, I’m still carrying a backpack or messenger back out with me, so my errands have been limited to the video rental store, the drugstore, and the post office. But, I’m getting there! Baskets and saddle bags will definitely help expand my horizons.
I feel like I’ve discovered something wonderful by biking more this summer. In fact, I’m seriously amazed that it took me this long to start doing it. But I know why: I was just scared of getting hit by cars. However, learning the rules of the road, and how to avoid the most common collisions, has helped me feel more comfortable. If this sounds like you, then heading over to BicycleSafe.com will help you overcome the fear of biking, and it could possibly save your life while you’re out on the road.
If you want to learn more about using your bike to go car-free altogether, I highly recommend Tammy Stroebel’s book, Simply Car-Free: How to Pedal Toward Financial Freedom and a Healthier Life. Tammy writes the excellent simple living blog, Rowdy Kittens, and has lived car-free for several years now. Her book, at $9.95, is a bargain and will teach you a lot of insider tips on how to save money (a lot of money) going car-free.
Do any of you cycle regularly? Do you have any tips for riding safely, or forcing yourself to get out more?
(photo courtesy: striatic)