I say this with all due respect, and as being a fellow bike commuter myself. Sometimes, we can be a real bunch of idiots. Sure we are out there, pedaling away for environmental justice, sticking it to the big oil companies, reducing obesity, and generally being awesome. But unfortunately, we are still in the major minority of commuters and do not rule the road, and so we’ve got to stop biking like we do.
So here are a few of my kind suggestions for all you bike commuters out there. Because sometimes I drive a car too and know what’s really, really annoying.
1. Don’t bike with no hands
Biking with no hands is acceptable in one instance, and one instance only. When you are crossing the finish line at Le Tour de France. Otherwise, it’s unacceptable.
Now, trust me, I know it’s cool. I mean I can only do it a few yards and when I’m on a mountain bike. So I’m really, really proud that you can bike miles without using your hands at all. But I kinda wish you would just get a unicycle.
For whatever reason, people LOVE to bike without their hands in my neighborhood. You’d think there was an epidemic of handlessness devastating the University District. But assuming there is no limb-eating virus out there, I’m guessing people just do it to look cool. That, and to keep their hands warm, but since gloves are a thing, I’m gonna guess it’s to look cool.
And while it is cool, it slows your reaction time. You may not believe me and can tell me all about your cat like reflexes, but having biked behind you while you were failing to use your hands, take my word for it when I say it does. You can’t really swerve to miss those potholes/children running into the street/oncoming car ’cause you are wrong lane of traffic ’cause you aren’t paying attention and just thinking about how cool you are/more potholes when your hands are in your pockets.
So please, let’s just all use those handlebars. Unless you are a member of the Flobots.
2. Don’t use a mobile device whilst biking
This is really a subset of number 1. To reiterate, your hands are for biking, not texting/calling/playing angry birds.
3. Turn off the iPod
This is one of the ones that really gets my goat. Take out those earbuds. Please. Ingrid Michaelson will be there waiting for you whenever you arrive at your destination. You are more vulnerable while biking than while driving, so it’s a little more necessary to stay on top of things and be aware of your surrounding. Your sense of hearing is what lets you know that some truck is about to fly through the uncontrolled intersection without stopping, or that there is a car behind you and maybe you should move over to the right side of the road before it just gives up and decides to bike over you instead of around you.
4. Don’t bike through campus.
Those bike racks are for you to park your bike and walk through campus like everyone else. If you are going to insist on biking through campus during class changes, get off the sidewalks and don’t go against traffic. And definitely don’t do #1, #2, and #3 while doing this. Though I’ve seen someone do that.
5. Move right, but not too far right.
Bikes go on the right side of the road. Not the left, not the middle, but the right. Now trust me, I know it’s awesome to fly down the middle of some empty street, and that’s fine as long as you are paying attention (by not doing number 3) and are willing to move over when another car comes. On the other hand, don’t go too far right as to endanger yourself. If there isn’t enough room for you, parked cars (if applicable), potholes, and a moving car to all be in the same lane at the same time, move over so the car behind you knows not to pass until you get to a safe spot to move over. There’s no reason for you to endanger yourself by squeezing between a parked car and a moving one while trying to avoid opening doors and gravel, but you don’t need to have the whole lane to yourself either.
6. Learn the rules of the road for your city
Every city has different ordinances. In Spokane it was illegal to bike on the sidewalks, but here in Missoula, it’s not.
7. Learn your hand signals.
Pointing to the right doesn’t equal “I’m turning right.” When I see someone pointing right I think “are they making a left hand turn signal and are confused or are they turning right?” Why do you signal with your left hand? Because other drivers are to your left. They might be able to see what you are doing with your right hand. As a mini refresher course: Left arm at a right angle equals turning right. Left arm straight out equals turning left.
8. One blinky light at night does not a visible cyclist make.
I’ve been guilty of this on more than one account. And I didn’t really think much of it until I got in a car and happened upon some cyclists biking down the street sans lights. It’ll scare the $#!% out of you as a driver when you realize, “Hullo! There’s a person there!” If you don’t want to get hit, light yourself up like a Christmas tree. Trust me, you are a lot less visible than you think you are. Your night time cyclist eyes have adjusted to the dark and so it’s easy to think that since you can see everything around you, everyone can see you. But cars get accustomed to only seeing what their headlights are shining on, which probably won’t include you until it’s almost too late. So head lamps, reflective clothing, or even actual Christmas tree lights, whatever you have to do to light yourself up like it’s the fourth of July.
Better yet, be like the guy I see biking to work occasionally wearing this:
9. Bike like you are driving a car.
So everyone should respect us bikers because you know, we are awesome and saving the world and all. So naturally the world should just yield to us and make way. The truth is most people haven’t seen the light and so that’s just not what happens. So we are left doing what we are supposed to be doing anyway, following the rules of the road.
Biking like you’re driving a car is probably the most important thing you can do to save your behind while biking. Drivers freak out when they see bikes cause they have no idea what that bike is about to do. Are they suddenly going to swerve? Leave the sidewalk and enter the road mid-block? Are they going to go through that stop light? I HAVE NO IDEA!!! And so they freak out and start sweating bullets and drive nervously in your blind spot for the next few blocks praying that they don’t kill you.
Do cars do this every time they see another car? Of course not. That’s because we have a reasonable expectation of what cars will do. They will follow the rules of the road (with some exceptions like speeding) but in general they don’t just suddenly decide to squeeze into another cars lane, go the wrong way on a one way, or drive up onto the sidewalk. I mean, I’m sure it’s happened but you don’t drive around expecting it. Where as with a bike, you do seeing as how we’re all biking around like a bunch of idiots, thereby destroying our credibility and making it more dangerous for ourselves in the long run.
10. Wear a helmet.
Just do it. You don’t look that cool without one anyway. Plus, when you use a helmet you can carry it around with you when you get off the bike so everyone knows you were cool enough to bike there. I mean seriously. You bike to work one day and unless people notice that you “happen” forgot to roll down your pant leg, no one will know you biked. If they see that helmet on your desk all day, they will think “wow, that person is infinitely cooler than me because they biked. Damn.”
*Split infinitives are no longer considered incorrect grammar according to the Chicago Manual of Style. This world is going to pot.