Thursday, March 18, 2010

On my soapbox

Spring seems to have finally sprung in Boston
I say seems because it's not uncommon in these parts for mother nature to get us all excited about longer and warmer days, only to slap us down with a week of 33 degree rain.

Thanks to the time change, I got to ride home in daylight for the first time in what feels like forever:

I stopped at the regular grocery store for Gatorade for the Scientist who has the Stomach flu- hopefully the 24 hour kind.  Then I went to Trader Joe's where I bought a case of wine.  The stock guy was overly solicitous- worried that I couldn't carry it to the front of the store.  I wanted to tell him- honey, I'm about to carry it 2 miles home on my bike, so if I can't get it to the front of the store, I have other problems!

I think this is about the limit of what I can reasonably carry on Robert.  I was super wobbly at low speed.

The nice weather and the time change have brought an influx of new or newish riders out of hibernation and back on the streets, to which I say "Hooray"

However,  I'm also seeing a lot of dangerous, and, quite frankly, rude behaviour from some people excited about riding again or for the first time.

So some suggestions from my soapbox:

1)  Smile!  You're not in a car-  relax, enjoy the ride, take a couple of deep breaths of spring air.  Biking is supposed to be fun and enjoyable, not just about getting there as fast and furiously as you can.

2)  Practice the Golden Rule/ be polite.  This has a lot of applications in biking as in the rest of life.    You hate it when cars come too close, don't yield when you have the right of way or otherwise make you feel vulnerable- don't make pedestrians or other bikers feel the same way.  You may feel like you're giving pedestrians enough space, but maybe the guy who nearly hit you with his mirror felt the same way when he buzzed you.  Additionally- practice it with cars.  If you're on a narrow road with a lot of traffic, and people are having to wait to pass you safely, maybe you shouldn't blow past them at the next stoplight and make them do it again in the next block.  If there are other drivers stopped at a redlight or a stopsign, how hard is it to stop and wait your turn? If there's really truly no one around, it's like a tree falling in the forest as far as I'm concerned, but otherwise it's illegal, and more importantly, rude.

 3) Don't put yourself in danger.   I see a lot of new riders threading through narrow gaps in the blind spots of busses and trucks.  Your life is worth the extra 20 seconds to wait and go around.  Not only are they probably not expecting you to be passing,  but they probably can not physically see you.  I personally extend this to never passing moving cars, or cars that might possibly start moving while I'm passing.  A moving car can veer into you so quickly that you can't react, and it won't be expecting you to pass it in what is really a single lane.  
I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest to even new cyclists that you need to learn about vehicular cycling and consider trying to implement it.  I understand that when you're getting started the cars are scary, and you feel like you're moving slow, and the natural tendency is to pull as far over as possible.   But that puts you at risk of dooring, and unfortunately it encourages people to try to squeeze by you when they really don't have enough space.  I understand that it's challenging,  and it requires a certain amount of fortitude to make the cars wait to pass you,  but all I ask is that you learn about it and start trying it out.  Try it on less busy roads and see how it works.  I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at how cars actually give you more respect and space and you will actually feel safer.
Finally I'm going to include biking the wrong way down a one way street in this one.  This is one of the leading cause of accidents.  I know that it often feels like a good shortcut, or a way to avoid a busier road.  But people won't be looking for you, so they're even less likely to see you.  And if you come down the bike lane the wrong way, you're in violation of #2.  The advantage of being on a bike is that you can go a couple of blocks out of your way pretty quickly.  If it's just a block or so,  it won't kill you to get off and walk on the sidewalk.   

4)  Ride in your regular clothes.  Because if you have to change your clothes to ride your bike, unless you're super hard core, you're less likely to ride your bike.  If you're riding less than 5 miles and at less than 20mph,  you can almost certainly ride in your normal clothes unless these are your normal clothes.  Honestly, unless you're built something like Lance Armstrong, or are riding some serious distance or at impressive speed, you're gonna look a little silly riding in the 100% lycra getup.  I'll try not to laugh if I see you at the streetcorner, but I can't guarantee what anyone else will do.
I'm not a super fashionable girlie girl, despite the blog title, but I manage to ride in just about anything I wear to work.  Pretty much any sturdy shoe will work (heel height is not an issue unless you plan on pedaling with your heels).   I wouldn't wear Manolo Blahniks ( if I owned such things) unless you don't mind possibly ruining the heels, but clip in pedals aren't necessary for city riding either unless you want to take up tap dancing on the side!
I do try to test ride a skirt before I take it out on parade,  and if it tends to billow up, I take precautions.  I have a couple of pairs of mostly cotton "workout shorts" that come almost to the knee and ensure modesty with fuller, floatier skirts.

5) Get lit.    You're going to have so much fun riding, that sooner or later you'll be out after dark.  For your own sake, for the sake of other bikers,  for the sake of drivers,  you should have at the very least a small (blinky) white light in the front  and a red light in the back that is not hidden by your backpack or your bag or your coat.  Thanks to LEDs there are tons of small, cheap, long lasting options out there, so there's no excuse for being a ninja.

6)  Consider wearing a helmet if you bike in the city.   This is  a personal choice and gets a lot of flame wars going.  Please do not write in with vigorous arguments for/ against.  When I ride in Europe or on a limited access bike path I often don't wear a helmet.  I understand that if a multi- ton vehicle hits or runs over me, the helmet will not help me, etc etc.
However, probably the most common accidents in a city like boston are dooring,right hooks, and hitting a bad pothole, all of which are cause to stop short and fly over your handlebars.  Although I try my best to avoid putting myself in a position for them to happen,  I like to give my head a fighting chance if it hits the pavement at speed.


  1. Amen! This is a great list and advice. I, too, have noticed scads of new cyclists who don't follow the rules and I worry about their safety. This should be required reading.

    p.s. Yay spring!

  2. Great post! I'm especially with you on the ninja comments. As somebody who does ride at night much of the time (I'm not off work until 8:30 pm!) I HATE seeing people bicycling without lights. If even I can't see them... you can bet the cars can't either.

  3. A well-reasoned, sensible and helpful list of suggestions. I'm guilty of some of the misdeeds listed and infuriated when I'm the victim of others... I'm going to try to put these in action!

  4. You were brave to lug that case of wine home. As far as the soapbox, it's your blog and you can say whatever you want. The politness and safety points are fine, but when you get rigid about clothing you are veering off into Bike Snob NYC territory. Clothing varies by bike and purpose. When I'm out on my road bike for a group ride, I'm not going to put on a tweed suit. (I don't own one anyway.) I clip in all my bikes because I like to, and SPD cleats work fine when I want to walk around. If what you are saying is that a lycra singlet may not flatter every new cyclist, I agree, but they are entitled to their Giro fantasies too.

  5. My husband and I ended up in the ER because of a particularly virulent stomach bug that's going around Boston. Best wishes to the Scientist to feel better soon.

  6. Jefe, I'm not trying to be rigid about clothing- I did mention that if you were riding a long distance, or at high speed (which I'm assume you do when you're going on a road bike on a group ride) spandex makes sense. But obviously I feel strongly that people could be riding transportationally for short distances, and that that kind of riding is easily accomplished in normal clothes.

  7. You definitely are way more open-minded than Tony Kornheiser on ESPN. He didn't stop at the clothing, but suggested motorists "tap" cyclists to show their displeasure. Lance Armstrong has called him out and Kornheiser is muy remorseful, to prevent a hemmorage of more fans and sponsors.

    Sorry, I wasn't comparing your qualm with that.

  8. I'm sensing that the winter has toughened up Cycler a bit. IMHO, uniformly excellent advice. And, actually, YOU CAN ride in street clothes considerably further than five miles, though it may not be much fun on those days when it gets over 100F.

    Clipless pedals also provide benefits for those of us that have a long haul to ride to work. For moderate distances, my own preference is for toe clips, which allow the cyclist to use sensible street shoes.

  9. I am so very envious that you guys are finally experiencing Spring. Here in Vienna it is still cold and nothing is blossoming. And with the BA strike, I am beginning to have doubts that I will ever get home!

    Regarding cycling the wrong way: It is so weird, because in Vienna those streets that do not have paths and lanes but "sharrow" markings, actually instruct cyclists to cycle against traffic. Granted, these streets are small and the speed limits are low, but it still feels dangerous and of course counterintuitive to me after Boston.

    Regarding helmets - It's difficult not to respond when you state your own opinion in the form of a recommendation to readers who are new cyclists. I also discourage helmet discussions on my site, but then I don't make recommendations to my readers not to wear helmets. Anyhow, I will just go so far as to say that I do not agree with that portion of your advice.