A Biking to Work Primer

1209400591Now that it’s spring, Bostonians with chutzpah are remembering the bikes they’d left rotting in garages and basements. That coupled with the imminent environmental crisis makes this a perfect time to share a few riding pointers to ensure that you have a safe and pleasant trip. Here are my quals: I’ve been bicycle commuting for about 15 years in Boston and in Philly, daily distances ranging from 5 miles to 22 miles roundtrip, from 22 degrees to 102 degrees.

So let’s jump in!

1. Bike Head: If you’re on the street on a bike, you’re at the mercy of every idiot behind the wheel. So don’t mess around. Before you even mount your bike, focus on the ride ahead, know your route, and stay away from combat zones (like Central Square).

12094005982. Death Traps, Part I: A confused driver can be lethal, so avoid places where pedestrians leap into crosswalks, further distracting drivers from their precious cell phones. Avoid buses; treat them like that sting ray that killed Steve Irwin. Avoid cozying up to parked cars, because they have a tendency to lunge at you or smack you with their powerful steel wings. And don’t assume that anyone’s going to stop and look before gunning around a right hand turn.

3. Death Traps, Part II: Stay away from ambulatory humans! Along the river are some lovely stretches of sidewalk that attract people of greatly varying intellect. But few bikers are dumb enough to jump into Memorial Drive traffic. So what’s a two-wheeler to do? In general, regard any upright biped like a scared squirrel. He may continue on his trajectory, or he may stop suddenly, or spin, or run abruptly to the left. Or flail his arms, or fall down, or wander listlessly into oncoming traffic (at that point, not your problem). A bell is a very useful accessory. So is a banshee-like scream.

4. Clothing: Okay, I’m experienced, but I’ve still made serious apparel errors over the years. Here are a few things I’ve learned. A long coat will get caught in your spokes. A handbag will also get caught in your spokes. A bug will magically get sucked into your eyeball unless you wear sunglasses. Shoelaces become boa constrictors when they get near pedals. A cell phone in your breast pocket, hip pocket, or flapping coat pocket will take a swan dive onto the sidewalk, shattering into dust. Low rise jeans and a hiked up shirt will expose your thong, and that can distract drivers.

5. Equipment: Boston streets really, really, really suck, so do yourself a favor and don’t buy a bike with high-pressure super skinny road tires. I made that mistake once and spent the year patching tubes. Don’t get the big fatties, either, because they cause serious drag. I’ve got a cyclocross bike, that I love. Its frame is just heavy and tough enough, and the tires are somewhere in between fat and thin. It happily attacks dirt, mud, and pavement, all of which can be found at any time in Boston.

6. Equipment, Other: Get a goddamn light. Scratch that—get a bunch of lights for your back, your front, anywhere you can fit one. Imagine that you’re a Christmas tree… now who would want to mow down a Christmas tree? Wear a helmet. Use clothing or bags with reflector strips. This may seem obvious, but for those black-clad midnight riders, it is clearly not. Spread the gospel.

7. Respect Other Riders—or at least cut them a break: We’re all fighting the same battle so be kind whenever you can. After all, you’re on a bike! Say hi at red lights and don’t tailgate. Smile. Exchange clever quips. Give them room. Peace out.