Our region is more bike-friendly than ever, but lots of people still doubt whether riding a bike is a safe or viable form of regular transportation. The truth is that riding a bike is a great way to get around. I’ve written some tips for getting started.
Stay aware and be considerate
When you’re on a bike, a heightened state of awareness and increased consideration for those sharing space with you can help make life better for everyone involved.
How can you stay aware and considerate when on your bike? Here are a few suggestions.
- Be predictable at all times. Don’t stop suddenly if you don’t have to, and try not to turn unexpectedly. Signal when making a turn, especially if someone behind you might be coming straight.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Know when other people are riding behind you, and make space for them to pass if needed. Be aware of cars and keep in mind that you might not always be as visible as you think you are, even if you have done everything right.
- Claim your space on the road with confidence. There are many areas where you will need to share space with cars, and bikes are legally allowed on the road. It can be tempting to provide as much space as possible for cars to pass in the same lane, but it is safer for bikes and cars alike when people on bikes claim the full lane.
- Remember that it isn’t a race. It can be tempting to go faster than is reasonably safe, especially given the ease at which a bike can navigate around obstacles such as stopped vehicles and pedestrians, or through narrow spaces between moving cars.
- Don’t attempt to overtake another person on a bike if there is limited space to do so.
- Don’t ride the wrong way down streets or dedicated bike lanes (otherwise known as salmoning).
- Don’t pull in front of a person on a bike, or a line of them, stopped at a red light (otherwise known as shoaling).
- Don’t pull into crosswalks when waiting for a light to change.
Plan your route before you start riding
Before making a trip on your bike, take a few minutes to study the best route to your destination.
Make a mental note of where you will be turning, and prepare ahead of time for any areas that are more challenging to navigate along the way, such as busy/complex intersections, gaps without bike lanes, or traffic circles.
If you are planning to start commuting to work on a bike, do a few test runs over the weekend so that you know the route better, and are able to make better adjustments if needed.
This will prevent the need to stop/slow down when en route, or to pull your phone out and look at it while on your bike. It will also help ensure that you aren’t holding up other people riding bikes who might be sharing the space with you. Finally, this will allow an increased focus on your surroundings, as opposed to the distraction of not knowing where you are going.
A nice byproduct of planning ahead is that you can have a much more enjoyable experience, as you can take in the atmosphere you are lucky enough to be immersed in when you’re riding a bike.
Take advantage of helpful resources and events
Outreach events, educational opportunities, and social activities centered around riding a bike were key components of bringing me into the bike community, and keeping me here. They help increase safety awareness and instill a sense of community. These are a few powerful ingredients when it comes to encouraging more people to ride bikes.
Here are a few:
Washington Area Bicycling Association (WABA). WABA offers a wealth of events and information, like educational classes/events, information on DC-area bike laws, and seminars and resources for new cyclists.
There are many free social rides that occur regularly. Group rides are a great way to both meet other people who ride and become acclimated with cycling in DC in a low-key and pressure free setting. Area bike stores such as BicycleSpace offer frequent social rides.
- Similar to social rides, area stores such as BicycleSpace offer free classes on basic bike maintenance.
Invest in basic (but important) equipment
When new to biking, the thought of various equipment needs can be daunting. Fortunately, there is not a need for overly specialized equipment if you are going to be bike commuting in an urban setting.
Consider the following basic equipment needs for essential safety and comfort.
A U-lock. U-locks come in varying sizes, some small enough to fit in your pocket. They are significantly more secure than cords, which can be easily compromised with a pair of wire cutters.
A set of headlights and tail lights for your bike. Keep them on at all times in overcast weather or during non-daylight hours. Simply put, you’re way less likely to have a run-in with a vehicle if you have lights on.
A helmet. Helmets are not required by law in the District, but are a strong common-sense safety measure despite what the law says.
Backpack/messenger bag. There are many reasonably priced backpacks and bags designed specifically for bike commuting. Ensure you have compartmentalized space for your various essentials, such as a change of clothes, a laptop/tablet, and a lunch bag.
- A rear fender (either fixed or removable). Fenders are a lifesaver when riding on wet pavement. They’re cheap, and will prevent the need to change and/or wash your clothes after riding.
It’s easy to overcome lots of the barriers to riding a bike. Being aware of the risks/discomforts, and doing everything you can do mitigate them, is an important step to adopting riding a bike into your life in a sustainable fashion.
Biking in the District is both accessible and enjoyable, and with a critical mass of bikes on the road, it is only going to get better.