Orange You Glad to Ride Bike on the Streets?

The health benefits of cycling outweigh the safety risks by a factor of 20 to one. -Hillman, M., 1992

Have you ever wanted to bike on the road, but feared being squashed by a monster SUV?

Living in Green Bay, Wisconsin, road biking can feel frightening at times. There’s a level of ignorance about biking laws that can make even the most seasoned biker take to the sidewalk to avoid a truck with roaring pipes. I’ll never forget a bike trip to the farmer’s market when a woman thundered by in a truck and screamed: “There’s a sidewalk for that!”

No, not really. I’ve found sidewalks are too uneven and bumpy to be safe for biking. In fact, most biking experts would argue that sidewalk cycling is riskier than street cycling. It endangers pedestrians using the sidewalks, too.

Taking my bike to the streets.

This summer, I want to use my bike as a serious means of transportation. Here are a few errands I plan to handle by bike:

  • Bank trips
  • Groceries (light)
  • Drugstore needs
  • Visit friends
  • Rent and return movies
  • Library

It’s much faster and easier to share the road for these errands. If you feel nervous about street cycling, as I did at first, here are some tips to help you move forward:

Rule #1: Don’t get hit by cars.

Think about your experience from the other side – as a driver sharing the road with bikers. Personally, I cringed over my biggest pet peeves … Bikers that:

  • Are hard to see. Some ride in dark clothing or travel at night without a flashing light.
  • Ride the wrong way. Hugely dangerous! Ride with traffic, never against.
  • Dart from the road to sidewalk and back. This always confused me, as I couldn’t guess their next move.

Your main goal on the roads is not to get hit by cars. That’s why I’d recommend wearing a reflective orange vest – arguably my best safety gear – whenever travelling by bike. You could also wear bright clothing as a hip alternative, but with a minimalist wardrobe, I opted for the vest.

Rule #2: When it doubt, pull over and think for a second.

Recently, I made a snap decision by bike. I can even prove my stupidity by showing you the huge bruise that’s (still!) on my thigh. (Long story short: My bike cannot hop curbs. Not at all.)

I should have stopped cycling to think about my route. I could have avoided a dangerous route change.

  • Try it: Next time you feel anxious about a street obstacle or unexpected detour, pull over and consider all the options before you pedal on.

Rule #3: If possible, ride at low traffic times.

Avoid the busy streets if possible and don’t ride during rush hour. Click the bike symbol on Google Maps to find optimal biking routes.

  • Try it: Look up some of your typical destinations using the map feature and see how your route could be simplified by bike.

Rule #4: Use a mirror.

I purchased a handlebar mirror for under $8, and it’s my second best piece of safety equipment (again, arguably). Now I am aware of the traffic behind me and can merge much more safely.

  • Try it: Get a bike mirror and head out for a ride. Do you feel more comfortable riding on the streets with the mirror?

Lovely reader tips.

Thanks to the readers that responded to my bike advice question on Facebook and Twitter. Here there’s what they suggested:

  • Hold your line. Weaving in and out of cars parked on the side of the road to always be “out of the way” makes it more likely a driver won’t see you until you are weaving out again.
  • Wear a helmet.
  • Plan your trip in advance so you don’t get caught after dark without lights.
  • If riding with “clip-in” pedals, practice, practice, practice off-road before riding in any kind of traffic.
  • Learn to be industrious with your bell.
  • Give thanks when someone shows you respect as a cyclist.
  • Keep track of all motorists, some are driving very naughty.
  • Take good care of your bike.

Smile and wave.

Not all motorists will be happy to see an orange-vested vixen cycling down the road, but not all will be angry either. Be friendly and courteous on your bike. Don’t get hit by cars. With a plan in place, biking can be enjoyed by everyone sharing the road.

My friend Tammy Strobel wrote an excellent ebook on cycling called Simply Car-free. Check it out! Her content is always fresh and honest, which is why I am an enthusiastic affiliate of her work.

If you liked this post, cycle it out on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo by Mikael Colville-Andersen

Check out Arrows by Melissa Gorzelanczyk, coming January 2016 from Delacorte Press/Random House. Visit her author site here.

{ 11 comments }

1 Megan Swicegood June 14, 2011 at 8:23 am

You’re safest when you are visible and be predictable! You’re the exact same as a slow moving vehicle when you’re on the road so act like you’re driving a slow car. Follow traffic laws and don’t weave around (such an important tip that you included!). It’s okay to take up a lane sometimes too – if that’s what let’s you go in a straight line because of debris or other things in your way, just make sure to scoot back over as soon as you can.

Another tip: when riding down a row of parked cars, check for signs of them moving. Use their mirrors and look in their back windows to anticipate a driver pulling out in front of you. I’ve had the misfortune of having to suddenly stop (aka T-boning) because someone parked at the curb wasn’t looking for a cyclist and didn’t see me so they pulled out in front of me.

2 Melissa June 14, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Hi Megan,
Excellent tips. I think many cyclists don’t feel courageous enough to hold the line, even if it’s for their own safety. It’s okay if the cars behind you don’t understand. Better to be safe!
Thanks for stopping by,
Melissa

3 Alyssa June 14, 2011 at 1:21 pm

Thanks for the post! I’ve been wanting to start commuting to work via bike, but haven’t taken the plunge yet. This is further encouragement!

4 Melissa June 15, 2011 at 9:48 am

I’m glad! I gain a whole new perspective on life when I bike with purpose (running errands, meeting friend, etc.). If you try it, you’ll be hooked.
Enjoy!
Melissa

5 Anna Barlowe June 14, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Timely post! I just started cycling a bit recently for the first time in many years, and it is kind of scary! I did insist on helmets for both myself and boyfriend, though. And I’m definitely all about not getting hit by cars. Still in sidewalk mode at the moment, but there are plenty of them around here. 🙂

Thanks for the great tips! A mirror is a good idea – I’ll have to pick one up.

6 Melissa June 15, 2011 at 9:46 am

Hi Anna,
It gets less scary over time. I think confidence has a lot to do with it. I will use a sidewalk sometimes, but that’s only about 10 percent of the time. I think the number one thing I always go back to is, “don’t get hit by a car.” So if I feel the sidewalk is safest, I have no problems breaking my road rules.
Enjoy your cycling rebirth!
Melissa

7 Jody June 14, 2011 at 4:57 pm

Great Post! Three years ago when I got my road bike, I actually took a 5 week cycle safety class (I think the city offered it). Just like defensive driving for your car, but it teaches you to be a defenses biker. Excellent class.

I have been trying to take my bike to work more often too, and actually did today. Bikers have a right to be on the road, so take up your lane, be bright, wear your helmet, and have fun!

8 Jody June 14, 2011 at 4:59 pm

ps… this class also taught me how to change or fix a flat bike tire, skills I have had to put to work! Felt awesome to be able to fix it myself!

9 Melissa June 15, 2011 at 9:45 am

That’s awesome, Jody! I don’t know how to fix a flat yet … I should learn about that. YAY for riding to work! I took a long ride yesterday and I’m amazed at how much stronger my legs are after cycling this spring. I never have to use first gear anymore.
Hope to see you soon!
Melissa

10 Dangerous Linda June 14, 2011 at 8:42 pm

Your photo illustrating this post shows a person dressed absolutely inappropriately for any type of cycling activity. High heals, no helmet, drab colors … gotta give you an “F”.

11 Melissa June 15, 2011 at 9:43 am

Hi Linda,
I thought about that when I chose the photo. She is wearing black, which is probably the worst biking color imaginable. But she’s sexy, and I like the photo. 🙂
Take care!
Melissa

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