Things you need to be able to commute by bike safely
Bike commuting not only helps the environment and saves gas money, but it can also help you stay fit, healthy and burn a few extra calories. Not to mention, the coolness of the bikers riding to their office with their cool outfits and accessories, their cool bikes, their careless played attitude and their cool everything, exactly what you don’t have, being stuck in traffic for the rest of your life.
Despite the obvious reasons to ride your bike to work, there never seems to be a good time to start. So why not start now? Even if you commute only a handful of times, it's better than none at all. To help you get rolling, here are some tips to get started.
Plan your route: If you're new to cycling, knowing where you're going in advance will save you time and keep you out of dangerous situations. Less experienced cyclists should plan a route with bike lanes and less-trafficked streets, and avoid construction and busy intersections.
Consult maps of your city for the best route: Google maps gives the option to display directions for cyclists. If you're participating in a bike-sharing scheme, check out the official website for routes and station maps. Some bike-share programs even have their own apps for your phone.
Start with an achievable distance: If you live only a few miles from work, it is conceivable that you can commute both ways on the first day. If you live several miles away and the commute will take you 45 to 60 minutes or more, consider hitching a ride with a co-worker to get to the office, then ride home. Make the distance doable for you; don't worry about what other people might be doing.
Start with an achievable frequency: Of course, it sounds good that you're turning over a new leaf, and you have grand plans to commute to and from work every day. But is that goal achievable immediately? Begin by setting a goal to commute one to three times per week. After you can consistently achieve success, add more commuting segments or days.
Consider Non-Traditional Gear: The discussion of weather usually leads to the next logical topic; commuting gear. You can choose the fashionable commuting threads from lots of websites, they are very helpful, but they aren’t the be-all-and-end-all of the fashionable commuting gear. When the weather takes a turn for cooler days, definitely consider out-of-the-box options offered by motorcycle or snowboarding apparel outlets, and when the mercury begins to rise, consider swim wear and yoga clothing to round out your commuting wardrobe. In areas like New York City, commuters like me endure the extremes of very hot summers and very frigid winters, so investing in products offered on these non-cycling sites can significantly add to your comfort, style, and commitment to riding year-round.
Look ahead for road hazards (e.g. potholes, sand/gravel, glass, drain grates) so you have time to negotiate around these.
Keep it safe! As a commuter, your primary goal is to arrive safely to your destination each and every time. To achieve this goal, remember that crashes are most likely to occur at intersections, or when riding too close to parallel parked cars. To avoid these types of accidents, brush up on some advanced safety techniques for bicycles.
Basic cautions that keep you safe:
- Stay visible, never assume a car sees you, give them every opportunity to see you.
- Signal your turns to avoid surprising a driver and getting hit.
- Trust and verify a driver’s next move, which requires slowing down to trust that a car signaling to turn is actually turning by verifying its wheels are turning the direction it indicates.
Use hand signals: Biking in a predictable manner can go a long way to keep you safe on the road. If people behind you (other bike riders, cars, etc.) can predict what you’re going to do, they can better plan their movements around you. Just as drivers who don’t signal cause crashes, so do people on bikes. Use hand signals when you’re turning or stopping to avoid unnecessary confusion. A bent left elbow, fingers raised skywards, means turning right, while pointing your arm straight out to the left indicates a left-hand turn. Pointing your fingers down with a bent left elbow signals that you plan to stop.
Make yourself visible: Use bicycle lights when riding at night to be more visible to other road users. While the usefulness of helmets and other safety-wear for cyclists remains a contentious issue in the cycling community, the use of lights is hard to argue against. Motorists can’t look out for you if they can’t see you!
Now who’s the coolest biker in town?!