• Urban Cycling Lessons Learned

    Thursday, May 9, 2013 · Share

    I love living in the city. I love riding bicycles. Some times it seems difficult and scary to reconcile these two loves, but with patience, practice and skill it can be done, and in my opinion, should be done. Bicycling is the perfect way to run errands, commute to and from work, enjoy the outdoors and get a little exercise, too.

    I have been living and cycling in the Boston and Cambridge area for about 16 years now and, fortunately, have never had so much as a scratch or a bruise on the bike during that time. Yes, there may be a bit of luck involved, but along the way, I have gained some valuable skills that help to preserve me.

    Be aware. Situational awareness is vital. Take note of your surroundings using all your senses. Practice being aware of traffic in front of you, on the sides. Don't worry so much about what's behind you. Try to scan your surroundings and see activity at least 12 seconds ahead of you. Such awareness will give you ample time to react to sudden changes.

    Be visible. Wear a brightly colored helmet and bright clothing if possible. After an accident, when motorists are asked what happened, they always say, "I never saw the cyclist." Try to ride in a zone where drivers can always see you. Keep in mind their blindspots and try to stay out of them. If you can't see their eyes, then they can't see you.

    Be predictable. Motorist get nervous when they see erratic cyclist behavior, and rightly so. Regular, predictable movement helps to calm drivers when you enter their proximity. It makes drivers nervous and scared when a wildcard is introduced.

    Go slow. I can't stress this enough. Going slow gives you the greatest advantage of all--reaction time. Riding too fast just increases the risk overall. It heightens your anxiety and motorists' anxiety. The beauty of bicycles is that they bring a slower, more relaxed pace to traffic and life in general. It's not a race. If you want to race, there are certainly times and places for that, but not during your morning or evening commute. Keep this question in mind: do you have time to swerve in order to miss the car door opening into your path? And if you do collide with something, do you really want to maximize the pain of injury by going faster?

    Follow the rules. This goes hand-in-hand with being predictable. Legally you are obliged to obey all traffic laws, so you don't really have choice on this. Every day I see several cyclists blow past me while I am stopped at a red light. Some of them don't even slow down. How they survive makes me wonder. Intersections are by far the most dangerous places bikes, and moving through them illegally invites even more risk. It's important for cyclists to gain respect from drivers and law enforcement and pedestrians. Those who have no regard for the law or safety give the rest of us a bad name and do not help in furthering the cause of tolerance and peaceful coexistence with motor vehicles.

    Be safe out there, and enjoy your two-wheeled commute. It is often the best part of the day.

    Mark Boswell