There are plenty of great reasons to bike to work: Commuters who ride save money on gas and car insurance, stay fit and help the environment (they don’t get stuck in traffic, either). And they even have fun — as long as they keep safety in mind at all times, that is.
If you’re just getting started on two wheels — or even if you’re a seasoned rider — it pays to be prepared. So, don’t just hop on your bike and hit the streets. Follow these tips to make your commute a smooth one.
(And drivers: We didn’t forget about you. Below are some tips to help you share the road.)
Plan Your Route
The best way to get to work on your bike may be different from the route you take in your car. So take a few test rides to determine on which streets you feel most comfortable. This will also help you gauge your timing.
If you need some help, stop in at a local bicycle shop to ask for tips. An easy way to find bicycle-friendly streets and trails is through Google Maps. Select the "Bicycling" layer, and the bicycle friendly routes will be displayed in green.
In general, when planning your bicycle commute, try to stick to streets with bike lanes and try to stay off sidewalks. Pedestrians may react unpredictably to your approach - and they frequently wear headphones, and may not hear you coming from behind. Additionally, you may be fined for riding your bike on a pedestrian-only walkway.
Ride With Care
Riding in the same lanes as traffic can be intimidating. But, you can make it less so by following the law (yes, traffic laws apply to bicyclists, too) and the best practices promoted by the League of American Bicyclists(LAB). Here are some of the organization’s tips on being a safe and responsible cyclist:
- Ride on the right. Always ride with the flow of traffic, using the rightmost lane while giving yourself room to maneuver. Don’t swerve or make sudden movements. Instead, when it’s time to turn, scan your surroundings, signal clearly and move into the lane that leads to your destination.
- Why should you ride your bike on the right? When you ride your bike with the flow of traffic, the relative speed of the vehicle approaching from the rear is reduced. Let's do the math: if you are riding at 15mph, and the vehicle is approaching from the rear at 40 mph, the relative speed of the approach is 25mph (40-15=25). Conversely, if you were to ride against the traffic flow, the relative speed of the approaching vehicle is 55mph! This increase in relative speed significantly reduces the vehicle driver's ability to react when approaching you. So while it may seem safer to be able to see oncoming vehicles, it is much more dangerous to ride against the flow of traffic!
- Use the proper gear for visibility and safety. A helmet, of course, is mandatory. It’s also a good idea to wear bright clothing during the daytime and reflective gear at night. You can also increase your visibility by using a white light on the front of your bike and a red light on the back, as well as plenty of reflectors. In inclement weather, you need a proper base layer to keep you warm, along with waterproof shoes, pants and jacket. You’ll also need to adjust your speed and riding style to account for slick roadways.
- Ride alert. Many motorists do not expect to see riders in the roadway, so it’s important to be vigilant. Always be aware of your surroundings and anticipate what others around you will do next. Watch out for vehicles that are turning, and give parked cars a wide enough berth to avoid being hit by an opening door. Don’t ride directly next to another vehicle unless you are passing, and remember, if you can’t see bus, truck or car mirrors, the drivers can’t see you.
Protect Your Bicycle
A proper lock – and proper usage of that lock – can help keep your bike secure when you’re not on the road. But, the fact is bicycles are easy to steal – no key required. So take these extra steps to help protect your mode of transport:
- Register your bicycle with your local police and with the National Bike Registry.
- Add photos of and details about your bike to the home inventory you keep for insurance purposes. If your bike is stolen, your personal property coverage from your homeowners insurance or renters insurance may come to your aid, assuming the bike cost more than your deductible.
- Consider scheduling a high-end bike on your insurance policy for broader coverage.
Share the Road With Bicycle Commuters
As harrowing as it sometimes is to ride in traffic, driving around cyclists isn’t always a picnic, either. The fact that your car is so much heavier and more powerful than a bicycle means that mistakes can be deadly.
Here are a few tips from Yield to Life, a cycling safety organization started by professional cyclist David Zabriskie (who has been hit three times while on his bike):
- Expect to see cyclists on the road. Treat them as you would any other slow-moving vehicle.
- Be patient. Wait to pass until it’s safe, and don’t tailgate.
- Watch the turns. Whether you’re going right or left, it can create a dangerous situation when a cyclist is behind you.
- Mind your doors. After you parallel park, check your mirrors and look behind you before opening your door.
- Finally, be respectful. Remember that cyclists have as much of a right to the road as you do.
We can’t guarantee that you’ll always arrive on time, whether you drive or bike to work. But making an effort to share the road will help ensure that everyone arrives in one piece.