How to Avoid Getting Killed Riding Your Bike to Work
I have biked to work regularly for the last twenty-five or so years. I have biked in all kinds of conditions, everything from a foot of snow to 110 degrees. Admittedly, my hometown is very bicyclist friendly, but I've ridden on bike paths and in pretty busy traffic. Not getting killed while riding a bike among cars really is a skill. One must always pay attention and always assume that people in cars don't see bicyclists and will always make the most insane driving move imaginable.
My current practice has me throwing my bike in the back of my minivan, dropping my kids off at daycare, then parking nearby and riding about three miles to work. I ride a single speed Felt with a fairly large front ring that forces me to stand up a lot. Honestly, I'm probably not strong enough for it and need to buy a smaller ring to make it easier for me to go up hills.
I've seen a lot riding my bike to work. I've learned a lot riding my bike to work. Fortunately for me, I've never been hit by a car or been in a wreck with another bicyclist. However, I've had some close calls and I've fallen a few times riding in bad weather.
There are a lot of great things about riding a bike to work every day and there are a lot of things that a person needs to be careful about. Here are a bunch of things I've learned riding my bike to work every day for the last twenty five or so years.
- Never assume that a car without a turn signal isn't turning - Riding a bike in traffic usually means that cars are on one's left if the bike lane is on the right. When approaching an intersection, I never assume that any car on my left isn't going to turn. That means that turn signal or no turn signal, I never ride up on a car at an intersection with an intent to pass because I assume the car is going straight. This has saved me from injury and possibly death countless number of times. Some people signal a turn. Some people don't. Assuming that any particular car isn't turning just because their turn signal isn't on will get a biker killed. While driving myself, I have seen numerous bicyclists who have assumed that a car wasn't turning and it turned anyway and the biker either had to leap over the hood of the car or slam on his or her brakes.
- Never assume that a car with a turn signal is turning - This is particularly useful when one is turning across traffic, like making a left hand turn on a two-way street. I've seen drivers with their turn signals on suddenly swerve back into the right lane and continue on straight. Basically, never turn in front of a car just because you think it's going in a different direction.
- Never assume the weather won't change - I'm amazed at the number of people I see riding in the morning in shorts and short sleeve shirts. Then after the temperature drops forty degrees, I always wonder how they got home. I always bike with a backpack that contains, at the very least, a pair of rain pants.
- Always have a rain suit - Getting wet sucks. Be prepared.
- Buy a fender - I always have to laugh at people who don't have fenders who get that wet streak up their back. When you have that happen to a few times, particularly if you ride your bike to work, you buy a fender.
- Biking without gloves in cold weather is stupid - I cannot count the number of times I've seen people riding in below zero degree weather who ride without gloves. Nothing freezes faster than fingers. I like me fingers. I especially like them to work.
- Never assume that drivers see you - I drive as well as bike. There are times where, even though I try to be very aware of my surroundings, I don't realize there's a bike near me. I try to give drivers the benefit of the doubt. Drivers have a lot going on. A lot of them are talking on their phones, for instance. Never assume a driver sees you. It only takes one wrong assumption for you to get hit.
- Riding to work every day will wreck a geared bike in about three years - I was never too good at maintaining my own bike. I did lube the chain and the components reasonably often, but not much more. What I discovered is that a bike isn't that much different from a car in that preventative maintenance is a good thing. Over time, I've gone from a regular geared bike to an internally geared bike to a single speed. After a few years of riding to work regularly, my bikes would need so much work - all gearing replaced - that it just made sense to buy a new bike.
- Talking on a cell phone while riding a bike = trouble - I've done it. I admit. However, it's stupid. One would think it's a dumber thing to do in a car, but I think trying to talk on a cell phone while biking is even dumber. I had a friend who avoided an accident with somebody who was biking and talking, but she crashed and broke something. Anyway, it's best to stop and do your talking while not actually peddling.
- Biking in icy conditions isn't worth it - I used to bike to work in every imaginable condition - from twenty below zero to two feet of snow. However, after awhile, I stopped biking in certain conditions. Ice is the worst. I just don't want to fall anymore. The last time I fell, I hurt my shoulder. I'm committed to commuting this way, but when it's icy, I ride the bus.
- Always be alert - My general observation when riding my bike is that every time I turn my head or daydream or whatever, somebody around me is trying to get me killed. Whether it's a car doing something unpredictable or a pedestrian walking into the middle of the street or another biker riding to close to me. The second I let myself slack in the mental acuity department, something happens.
- Biking drunk is better than driving drunk - There are places where the cops will give you a ticket biking drunk. And really, this point depends on how drunk. I'm kind of referring to being buzzed more than being falling down drunk. I just find that biking while slightly intoxicated is rejuvenating and creates a sense of alertness because you've usually got a wind blowing in your face. It's just too easy to relax in a car. Biking gets your blood flowing.
- Biking to work 20 minutes each way will keep you incredibly fit - I'm 45 and am the same weight I was in high school. I find that the simple act of riding my bike to work each day keeps me incredibly fit. As an added benefit, I can pretty much eat anything I want. Life is good when you bike to work every day.
- Wear a helmet - I ski too. I'm always amazed that people don't wear helmets when they ski. Helmets are just accepted as proper bike attire these days, but still people don't wear them. If you bike regularly, they're a necessity. Unless you don't like your brain.