I want to start biking in the city, but am a scared newb. Please help!

So I live pretty close to work in a residential neighborhood, so I’m thinking buying a bike to ride to work would be cool. But I was a farm kid, and haven’t ridden a bike since those long ago days in the lawlessness of the fields. :wink: I’ve looked at the bicycle guidelines for my city and everything, and I know from other people that they don’t really enforce the bylaws. I’ve got a simple route planned out and there’s at least one place I’m going to walk my bike as a pedestrian instead of being a vehicle.

But there are always those special rules that you don’t know about until you do it yourself, and hidden tricks and that, so any wisdom from my fellow Dopers would be appreciated. I am going to get a helmet because I don’t want to brain myself.

Spare tube(s)
Patch kit
Simple toolkit/bicycle multitool
The knowledge to use all the above.:smiley:

Eh, it depends on how far you are biking. I don’t have any of that stuff, and I do just fine. Really, if you are riding on paved roads, I don’t think your bike will break down as long as you maintain it otherwise.

Absolutely wear a helmet. I eschew most of the gear but the gloves I find are really important - makes a huge difference. And if you’re a girl, a padded seat. Boy? One of those seats with the gap for your junk, I hear, makes all the difference.

Get a basket or a rack so you can carry a change of clothes; I do so, and other than that, go for it! Over time you will discover more things that you need. I got a bell and a basket and a rack to go in the back, and it came with water bottle cages but like I said I am no “pro” biker and never will be.

Oh, and I obey all traffic laws. Other bikers can do whatever they want, but it’s for your own safety after all - I never understand bikers who run lights or stop signs.


You are right to be a bit scared. Out in traffic, it’s just you on a bike versus 3000 lb cars with drivers applying makeup and eating waffles. The biggest thing is don’t assume people will see you, or will follow traffic rules, or respect your right of way, or act in a rational manner. You must ride defensively.

For me, that means scanning cars parked along the road for anyone in them to be prepared for a door opening into the bike lane. Always know how much room you have on your left to avoid an obstacle or door. Keep a close eye on kids and dogs (and pedestrians) that might wander into your path. At intersections, always look for turn signals and try to make eye contact with drivers that could turn in front of you. Put lights front and back and wear a bright yellow vest/jacket if you’re going to be riding at night.

But once you get a hang of things these will all come naturally. I’ve had a few close calls but I’ve never been hurt in the last few years of biking on Cambridge/Boston city streets.

Yeah, I pretty much refuse to ride at night. That’s just too scary. A guy was hit running across the street that I cross every day a few weeks ago. It was his fault - he ran in front of traffic - but it was night, and who knows if it had been daytime?

Telemark gives some good advice. I would add - don’t be foolish. If you think you can’t cut across traffic to make a left somewhere, plan your route to make a right and cross somehow. Takes longer, or whatever, but it’s YOUR LIFE. I try to go to lights whenever I can.

I’m only 12 blocks away, so if something actually does happen, walking the bike to work or back home isn’t the end of the world. I’m more worried about doing something stupid that will make people road rage on me or something.

In traffic, there’s a fine line between assertiveness and fear. Always look ahead and be aware of what the cars around you are trying to do. If traffic isn’t too heavy, by all means go ahead and claim the center of a lane. It’s actually safer there than right at the edge, where doors will be opening, pedestrians will step out, and cars will turn in front of you and cut you off. I go by the “don’t be an asshole” rule here: claim the lane if it won’t inconvenience the traffic around you excessively. Still, the car has Right of Momentum, so don’t start a game of chicken.

Plan your routes ahead of time-- try to find the small roads with light traffic, even if you have to go a mile or two out of your way. When you do have to deal with traffic, plan your moves well in advance. You can’t suddenly decide to turn left like you can in a car. I’ve got a few big nasty intersections on my commute, which were scary at first, but aren’t too bad now that I know the sequence (turn right on the signal, quickly move to far left lane so I can make left turn two blocks ahead, after left, move back to right lane to go continue straight, etc.)


The best thing to avoid getting cars pissed off at you is to be predictable. Keep a steady speed, don’t weave in and out, wear something bright and obvious. Don’t hug the curb when there are parked cars you have to weave around. Also obey the traffic signals, and give and take right-of-way as necessary. Signal both with your hands and big obvious glances over your shoulder.

But sometimes the best thing to do is force car drivers to see you and respect your right of way. For example, many roads have such narrow lanes that it’s impossible for a bike and a car to share a lane safely. On such a road, if you ride very close to the curb it just invites car drivers to share the lane unsafely - i.e. pass you with only inches to spare. Better to “take the lane,” i.e. ride in the middle of the lane and force the car to wait until it can change lanes to pass you, or to wait for a break in oncoming traffic. Taking the lane also makes you more visible to car drivers on side streets and parking lots. Taking the lane is perfectly legal in situations where, in your judgment, riding any closer to the curb poses a danger.

Bright clothing and front and back lights. Always. Even if it’s the brightest day ever, you want to be as visible as possible. People just don’t see bicyclists, and then they hit them. I know some people who even wear those construction-worker neon vests when they ride.

Be aggressive but not stupid. Sometimes you’ll need to take the lane. I still find it tempting, but you should never ride right up against parked cars or the curb, because then you don’t have an ‘out’ if someone gets too close to you. If someone gets irritated and honks at you, that’s there problem. On the other hand, don’t be a jerk. Don’t cut off cars (they’ll win). Signal your turns. Always make eye contact with cross-traffic before going through a stop sign or making a left without an arrow, and if you can’t, go ahead and yield.

If you’ve got any tricky intersections to get through - left turns especially, but anything that makes you go “ohshit”, hop off your bike and now you’re a pedestrian. No shame in it, and it’s much safer. Once you learn your route you’ll be fine, but there are plenty of place in town I’d walk through when I started riding.

You need to be aware of a lot more when you’re on a bike. Just like driving you need to know what all the cars around you are doing, but the consequences of not can be a lot more significant - bikes don’t get fender benders at 4-way stops. You also need to be aware of people opening car doors, of pedestrians stepping into the road right in front of you. Be very careful to watch for potholes, sewer grates, and general Stuff In The Road. You cannot ride right over it like you would in a car.

Most importantly, don’t forget to gloat just a teeny bit when you show up to work feeling energetic and refreshed, even in the winter, and your coworkers are shuffling around trying to wake up.

If you’re that close, why are you even bothering with a bike to begin with?

Biking is more fun than walking! I hate walking, it’s so fucking boring. Biking - you get the wind in your hair, and there are periods you can coast, and periods you can pedal really hard, and plus you get to outfit your bike with fancy accoutrements.

As opposed to walking, otherwise known as plodding. Yuck.

I, thankfully, don’t have to worry about cars - most of the places I ride are places that people are not allowed to park. In exchange, I have a busy road to drive on! :slight_smile:

Short answer, read this: Bicycling Street Smarts

But to boil it down:

The hardest part about cycling in traffic is that our brains are hard-wired to be very scared of loud things behind us, and so riding a bicycle with a car behind us is very frightening on a visceral level – we feel that we’re about to be run over at any moment.

Now, thinking rationally, we know that in reality automobile drivers don’t drive over things that they can clearly see in front of them, and statistics bear this out: very, very few car-bicycle collisions occur on straightaways with the car and bicycle going in the same direction. Collisions happen at intersections, often when the car driver doesn’t see the cyclist.

So objectively, clearly the safest place to ride is where drivers can see you – in the middle of the lane with other traffic. But because of our instincts it’s hard to convince ourselves that’s where to be. The most important thing you can do is to feel OK about taking your proper place in the middle of the lane, even if that means making a car driver wait to pass you.
A couple logistical points: if you’re only going a couple miles, you don’t need to carry a repair kit. If you get a flat, just lock up your bike, walk in to work, and come back later to fix it.

For clothes, because of the wind, it’s colder on a bike, especially your hands, so you’ll need gloves even in fairly mild weather. On the other hand, after a half mile, you’ll be building up a lot of heat in your torso, so you’ll need fewer clothes there than you think.

If you want to do simple maintenance yourself, I recommend Anybody’s Bike Book for starts.

Oh yeah, don’t forget the gloating.:smiley:

Exactly! Walking blah, Biking fun!

You’ve gotten good advice so far. Lessee, go for some good biking gloves - your hands will be much happier.

I’d advise riding your route a few times on the weekend before you try to commute. While it’s not so busy, you’ll be able to pay more attention to the environment and spot possible hazards or difficulties before you have to deal with them in traffic.

Learn when to take your lane.

DO NOT assume that just because someone sees you, even if they make eye contact and everything, that they won’t run you over to make their turn/cross the street/whatever.

The SO has been biking to work for years. He’s never had a serious accident, but he’s had quite a few close calls. My favorite recent story was the older lady waiting at a cross street who made eye contact with him and then turned RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM. He had to slam on the brakes and still almost hit her. She took off, but it’s a street with a lot of lights, so he caught her up. Rode up, she and her (presumably) husband studiously ignored the SO, so he knocked on the window. When she timidly rolled it down, he pointed to one of her tires and said “ma’am, your tire is very low, you ought to get that checked right away”, smiled and rode off. (It was absolutely true and that’s just how he is, he’d rather kill 'em with kindness.)

One of my fave books recommended the opposite of “assume the cars can’t see you”. No, no, assume they CAN! Assume that you’re in a day-glo uniform and any motorist that takes you out wins a million dollars! :wink:

I want to endorse this.

Generally, just don’t be a jerk but don’t be afraid to mildly inconvenience people. Other traffic in cars mildly inconveniences other cars, so don’t be afraid to take the lane when necessary and appropriate. Don’t do dangerous things for three seconds of your time. In the city, you’re usually better off waiting behind a line of cars than riding up the side between the cars in traffic and parked cars unless there’s a bike lane or an open shoulder on the other side of the intersection.

Have fun, it really isn’t that dangerous if you’re a careful and conscientious rider who has a helmet, and the math tends to hold that on net the added exercise will extend your life more than the small risk of being killed or injured in an accident.

This sitehas some good safety guidelines, I think. Complete with diagrams!

In my opinion, what happens often is that the motorist sees the cyclist, but thinks there’s plenty of time to pull out before the cyclist gets there.

I can see it almost every time I ride: I see a driver ready to pull out, see them look me right in the eyes, and then I swear I can actually see their brain process going
“Oh, it’s a bicycle. So it’s a stationary obstacle by definition. So no need to determine how fast it’s going. Great, I’ll just pull out now.”

Like others have said: definitely wear a helmet, obey the traffic laws, and watch out for all the knuckleheads. And there are knuckleheads riding bikes as well as the ones driving cars! I live in a college town and am always amazed at the number of people riding bikes on busy streets at sundown or at night, with no lights on the bike, wearing dark colors, not obeying the traffic laws… it’s like they WANT to get splattered!

Also chasing girls, looking at girls, I hate it.

The other day I saw this funky weird bike. Lemme see if I can explain it.

It’s a regular bike frame. Where the seat would be, though there is a sort of stabilizer and the seat itself is actually twice as high as a normal seat. Underneath this extra high seat were a pair of smaller pedals, meant to operate the larger pedals on the bottom.

This person was NOT familiar with the controls, and I was fucking pissed at her that she was riding on a main thoroughfare instead of a bike trail, riding erratically at that, slowly, and swerving in and out of the lane. giving all us bikers a bad name. GRR!

One thing you might want to do is do the ride on a Saturday or Sunday morning when there’s little or no traffic so you can get the hang of it before venturing out into real traffic. It’s fun riding on weekend morning anyway.

Use your senses to your best advantage. I see people all the time riding with iPod earbuds jammed into their ears. I love my iPod, and I listen to it almost all the time. But I rely on my hearing a lot while bicycling to know when cars or faster cyclists are coming up behind me - can’t do that with an iPod. Maybe they’re just more confident than I am on a bike, but it seems crazy to me.