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
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.
- Further essential reading: How to Not Get Hit by Cars
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.
- 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.
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Photo by Mikael Colville-Andersen