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Bike Commuting Tips: Road Rules

Today is the first day of the Bike to Work Challenge!  If you aren't on a team yet and want a little cycling motivation, join my team, the Columbus Catch-Alls. Alex and I have shared a car for four years now.  Whichever one of us does not have the car typically rides a bike to our various destinations.  Alex is more experienced, often biking 22 miles round trip to his office.  My trips are usually shorter but involve towing Lil in a trailer hooked behind my bike.  In fair weather, we regularly forgo the car and ride as a family to events around town.

In the beginning, bike commuting was difficult and uncomfortable.  Through experimentation, we have learned a lot about how to make riding more appealing.  Today I'll write about our Road Savvy tips and tricks, followed by Equipment next Monday.

  • Develop a routine.  Ours is that bikes, helmets, and glasses are in the garage with a lock always attached to the bike.  We simply get dressed, put on cycling shoes, grab a water bottle and we're ready to ride.
  • Inflate your tires.  At least once a week, pump your tires.  Under inflated tires increase the risk of a pinch flat and make your riding experience less smooth and enjoyable.  An upright pump is handy for this.
  • Follow traffic signals.  Not only are you legally required to follow traffic lights and signals, doing so keeps everyone safe.
  • Ride like a car.  Go as fast as you can on busy streets to maintain regular traffic flow.  Ride to the right of the far right lane.  In heavy traffic or when crossing lanes, 'take a lane' by riding in the middle.
  • Use a water bottle.  Obviously staying hydrated is healthy.  Water is useful to wash off glasses or a small wound.  Splashing water at a barking dog is a good technique to get them off your heels too.  And while I wouldn't ever advocate violence, it does comfort me to know that my metal water bottle could be an effective projectile.
  • Avoid the sidewalk.  Sidewalk riding is slow, risky for falls and flats, and disrupting to those using the sidewalk for its intended purpose: walking.
  • Be aware.  Sure, my legs are sore after a long city ride, but my mind is tired too.  There are so many things to keep track of: cars, pedestrians, signals, directions, etc.  Be hyper vigilant about cars in front of and behind you so that you can predict their moves and avoid accidents.  Especially look out for drivers getting out of just parked cars; collisions with opening car doors are very common.
  • Seek out bike friendly routes.  A bike friendly route to me is one that is low in car traffic, frequented by other cyclists, pavement is relatively clear of potholes and debris, traffic signals are set to be tripped by bikes, and is under 40 mph.  Bike paths are great for quick chutes through a city.  I personally use Indianola, Summit, and 4th frequently here in Columbus.
  • Communicate.  Signal turns with your arms.  Maintain eye contact with cars, particularly when you are turning in front of them or waiting for them to stop at an intersection.  Don't hesitate to talk (or yell) at drivers when they are confused or unaware.  Be prepared for pedestrians and drivers to talk to you, too, particularly at intersections when they are looking for directions.
  • Get rid of the ear buds.  I think riding while listening to music should be illegal.  Your sense of hearing tells you whether and how fast cars are approaching from behind.  When you listen you are more able to avoid collisions.  In ipod-land you may be so engrossed that you miss turns and ignore traffic signals.  While we're on the subject, expect pedestrians to be wearing earbuds and not be able to hear you coming.  It's annoying.  Maybe earbuds should be illegal for everyone. ;)
  • Enjoy the wind, the hills, and the neighborhoods. Never more than when riding do I notice wind direction, speed, and elevation.  I meet people and see houses.  I feel like because I bicycle, I experience an intimacy with the city I would not have otherwise.

Sometimes the biggest bicycling challenge is to just start.  If you are local and want a riding buddy to help guide you for the first few rides, contact us and we would be happy to help you hit the road.

Also, I'm hosting an informal family friendly bike ride next Monday morning, the 17th.  Meet us at Clinton/Como park at 10:30 am.  We'll ride to Whetstone for picnic and playtime at the lower playground and then ride back to Clinton.  There is parking at the end of Lakeview for those who might come from around the city.  Kids, trailers, individuals are all welcome!