Welcome To The Street: A Guide For New Riders

Written by Boston Biker on Apr 08

This post was written a couple of days ago, but in light of the resent crashes I thought it might be a good idea to post it now. Please chime in on the comments with additional tips.

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Today I got stuck in bicycle traffic, I approached a red light and in front of me sat 10 cyclists dutifully waiting for the light to change. It was awesome! I have never seen this many people on bikes. The streets are overflowing with cyclists. Perhaps the rainpocolypse (part 1 and part 2 “son of rainpocolypse”), or winter cold kept them inside. It doesn’t matter really, all I can say is WELCOME!

I am so very pleased to see so many (obviously) new riders plying the streets of Boston. The more people that ride, the less people that are driving. Also the more people who ride, the more people who do drive will be alert and look for cyclists. I have read several studies that show that there may be a significant increase in safety when more people cycle (or at least that danger does not go up). So not only are all these new riders saving money, helping the environment, and getting fit, they might actually be helping to make the rest of us safer. Thanks!

All that being said, there are a couple things I want to talk to you new riders about. I have noticed a couple of things, that…lets say are not so good. I have broken them down into two general categories, things that are annoying to other cyclists, and things that are going to get you hurt (or worse).

Annoying:

Like everyone else I was very confused when that glowing orb in the sky appeared. It hurt to look at, and frankly seemed to make everyone act a bit nutty. After a week or so, I remembered that it was the sun, and got back to normal. It would seem however that a lot of new riders took that period of wackiness as an example of how to act. I am here to tell you it is not. Here are a couple of helpful reminders to keep in mind.

If you are going to run red lights, please be fast:

Nothing is more annoying, than watching someone slowly creep across the intersection, only to get back in my way (I being the person that simply waited for the light to change green) to go very very slowly to the next red light, where the process repeats itself again. This happens more often than I care to mention. If you are really in such a hurry that you can’t wait a couple seconds at the red lights, might I suggest putting a little more effort into pedaling faster in between your bouts of daring do. I would assume that if you really need to run that red light, then you will be huffing and puffing. Not to mention, running red lights can be dangerous, and also annoying to other road users.

Please oil your chain

I know you have not taken your bike out since well, maybe ever, but that squealing creak of your chain makes the baby Jesus cry. You can buy a bottle of chain lube at any bike shop, and they will even show you how to use it, it takes about 1 minute and you will be good to go for weeks.

Ride on the correct side of the road

Seriously, going the wrong way down the street is not only dangerous, but it pisses off all the cyclists going the correct way who have to swerve around you. Don’t do this.

We are going to work/school/etc, not racing in the Tour De France

You might think you need head to toe spandex and a $2500 racing bike to commute to work, but I promise you don’t. We are all just going to work here, no need to have a Lance Armstrong moment. You don’t need to zip past me at 30 miles per hour nearly clip a pedestrian as you blow through a cross walk, dodge a car pulling out into the street and then run that red light. Take’r easy haus.

Let people know when you are passing

A simple “on you left” (you should pass on the left), or a “passing”, or a ding of your bell, is all you need. This lets the person in front of you know not to suddenly swerve into you. Before passing be sure to look in behind you for cars, AND look in front of you to make sure you will not be putting yourself in any danger.

Smile!

We bikers stick together, if you see another biker give them a smile. Or a head nod, or a wave, or a ding of your bell, spread the joy of cycling around! The moment we all start acting grumpy and sullen is the moment we should all get back into cars.

Dangerous:

It is true, you never forget how to ride a bicycle. It is also true that you can forget how to ride your bicycle safely in traffic. Is it that biking has become too safe? Do people feel the need to “jazz it up” a bit by doing stupid dangerous things? Don’t do the following.

Running red lights

Hey new guy, you can barely balance on that thing, don’t you think you might want to give the red light running a rest till you figure out the whole going in a straight line thing? Also could you please not run the red light right in my path as I legally cross the intersection, I know you might think it is fun to smash your face into things, but I don’t. I have talked about this before, (here and here) and the conclusion of many is that running red lights doesn’t really make you faster.

Swerving

Bicycles offer the freedom to travel just about anywhere, on road and off. That doesn’t mean that you need to physically touch every inch of the road surface with your bike. Please for the love of Pete ride in a straight line. It makes it easier for cars to predict what you are going to do next, and keeps you from running into me. If you can’t ride your bicycle in a straight line you need to practice until you can.

Stay out of the door zone

Bike lanes are great, but you really need to get out of the door zone. “Whats the door zone?” You say? Read this and this.

Gets some lights

Most people can’t see in the dark, most reflectors are crap, get some lights for your bike if you are going to be riding at night. Red in the back, white in the front, just like the cars. Make sure they are visible, make sure the batteries work, make sure you have them on. it is damn near impossible to see a cyclist at night unless they have bike lights. By the way being invisible is a bad thing.

Wear your helmet properly

Good! You have decided to wear a helmet! Great! However you must know that they only work if you put them on correctly. I see people all the time wearing what is in effect a funny looking hat. There is a right way and a wrong way to wear your helmet. If you are not going to wear it properly then you should really just throw it out, because it wont do any good. The helmet should be level on your head (when you look up you should see the edge of the helmet). The straps should meet in a V under each ear (not hanging down around your chin). The buckle should be buckled (seriously why wear a helmet if you are not going to buckle it?!) and it should be tight under your jaw that that when you open your mouth the helmet wiggles a little. While we are at it, that helmet you bought in the 80’s it isn’t good anymore. Helmets only last a couple of years, after they have been left in a hot car, after they have been in a crash, or after a couple years of being stuffed into your backpack they are not good anymore. Get a new one.

If you are going riding with your kid wear your helmet

This is a related note, I see parents going riding with their kids all the time, the kids almost always have a helmet on, but often the parent does not. What kind of example are you setting for the little one? Kids do what their parents do, if you want them to wear helmets, put one on yourself. Also the above instructions go for them as well.

Hopefully if you follow these simple rules you will be on your way to enjoying a fine year of cycling. As more and more people move towards the bicycle as their main form of transportation it will be even more important for us to have fun out there in a safe way. I welcome all the new riders, and hope to see even more in the coming months!

I am sure that I have not gotten all the many things that annoy/endanger people listed above, so feel free to make additions in the comments.


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24 Responses to “Welcome To The Street: A Guide For New Riders”

  1. By Marianna on Apr 8, 2010 | Reply

    I am greatly exasperated by people who ride on the sidewalk when it’s “faster” and then plop into the street when THAT’S faster etc. etc. I also frequently cringe when I see people riding with their heavy locks or full grocery bags dangling from the handlebars. If you’re feeling cheap, a backpack costs like $3 at goodwill, and no goodwill bag can possibly make you look stupider than riding like that does.

  2. By Katie on Apr 8, 2010 | Reply

    Annoying:

    Two riders side by side in the bike lane, chatting. Not only does this make themselves more oblivious to their surroundings, it makes it harder for us to pass them.

    Dangerous:

    Talking on your cellphone while cycling. If we don’t want drivers to do it, then we probably shouldn’t do it either, right?

  3. By Spooky on Apr 8, 2010 | Reply

    Just because you can ride without holding the handlebar doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Yes, you clearly have amazing balance and we all think you look cool while merrily pedaling away with your hands in your pockets. But when that “Oh crap” moment arrives, you’ve just increased the amount of reaction time you need to avoid an accident by having to get your hands back to where they belong.

  4. By J on Apr 8, 2010 | Reply

    -Always cross train tracks at a 90 degree angle. Anything else can result in getting stuck and falling.

    -Be extra careful with tracks + rain.

    -Riding on the sidewalk IS legal outside business areas.

    -If you’re reaching a red light, and there are cars waiting, there’s no need to pass them on the right to make it to the front of the line. It just makes things more dangerous when they all pass you.

    -LIGHTS LIGHTS LIGHTS. If you dont understand why, drive in the city (or be a passenger when a friend drives) and realize that it’s very hard to see a cyclist without lights on.

    -Have a bell with you. They’re awesome. Ding ding ding.

  5. By i love espresso on Apr 9, 2010 | Reply

    I double-agree with stay out of the door zone. My daily commute involves Mass Ave in Cambridge during rush hour. Often a bike will pass me then hug the right-side of that silly Mass Ave “bike stripe” smack in the door zone. I cringe, thinking of a door opening, them falling, and me not able to get around or stop in time b/c of rush hour traffic.

    I was driving with a non-bicycling friend at dusk when she barely avoided a bicyclist with no lights (dressed in black) on Somerville Ave (which is pretty well-lit). Just because YOU can see the road and other vehicles does NOT mean they can see you without lights, fool!

    Oh yes and to that moronic woman who passed me on Mass Ave on the RIGHT just as a bus was passing on our LEFT – sorry I screamed “YOU IDIOT YOU COULD HAVE KILLED US BOTH” but really, you could have.

  6. By William Furr on Apr 9, 2010 | Reply

    I wish I could find a way to stop being annoyed by cyclists who blow past me while I’m waiting at a red light. My yelling at them does nothing except get my heart rate up and make me grumpy. :(

    Can we get some cops with tickets out here please?

  7. By 100psi on Apr 9, 2010 | Reply

    i agree its annoying when someone squeezes between me and waiting traffic at a red light. but what’s the point of yelling at them? just pass them without looking when the light turns green.

    and you want cops to ticket other cyclists? who’s side are you on dudley do right?

  8. By John W. on Apr 9, 2010 | Reply

    I think you meant to say “Ride on the correct side of the road,” yes? “Ride on the right hand side of the road” means something else entirely, and isn’t necessarily a good idea.
    As for light-runners, yeah, they’re annoying, but being forced to travel to work on poorly and dangerously designed streets that favor motor vehicle traffic above all else is what grinds my gears. Improve bike-ped facilities–not talking about new two-foot wide bike lanes– and I’m sure we’ll see better behavior from all road users.
    Thanks for the great work you’ve done on this site BostonBiker. See you on the streets.

  9. By Boston Biker on Apr 9, 2010 | Reply

    John I do mean that and have edited the post thanks.

  10. By Lukas on Apr 9, 2010 | Reply

    I’ve been riding in Boston for just 2 weeks now. I would say that I have seen maybe 2 people wait for a light with me, while 100+ have run them. I thought I was the one missing out on something here. You guys actually stop at lights, if there are no cars coming? Now I don’t feel so alone.

  11. By J on Apr 9, 2010 | Reply

    If there are no cars coming, then I dont wait. Do you wait as a pedestrian when it’s painfully obvious that you can cross?

  12. By teeheehee on Apr 9, 2010 | Reply

    I don’t speak up about this too much because it seems that many “experienced” riders treat stopping at red lights as a sort of grey area. In MA red lights are not an invitation to stop, they are a legal obligation, and this makes sense as running red lights (in Boston in particular) is considerably dangerous. Seasoned veterans may find that there are traffic patterns and driver mentalities that can be learned in order to make other drivers’ behaviors more predictable, perhaps lowering the risk of an accident if you bust a red – but getting used to riding with this type of behavior can lead to a far more lazy attitude and false assumptions about dynamic road conditions.

    For those folks who feel they are well equipped to take the extra risk, you do so in a way that may work most of the time (okay, let’s even say all of the time for argument’s sake) – at the same time you do this you decrease credibility for all other cyclists on the road regardless of their approach to reds. There are some places (Illinois, I believe – fact check?) where cyclists are allowed to treat red lights the same as stop signs – they have to stop at the light but if it appears safe to proceed they may do so. If you want the same right then you should petition for a change in the laws, simply breaking them doesn’t impress anyone and leaves a bad taste in vitriolic mouths. It’ll be a hard sell to change the laws, a lot of them are there to protect humans and it’s a stretch to say stop-and-go red lights for cyclists would continue or improve safety.

    I’m not going to yell at you if you bust a red while I’m there waiting for it to turn green, I feel that you’re the one taking the risk for yourself (and others) and it’s not my responsibility to change your behavior, that’s your responsibility – bringing this point up when it’s happening would be more dangerous than typing it up on an online forum. If you are one who runs reds and are reading this I have to repeat that you’re also damaging my credibility in the eyes of drivers and pedestrians who unfairly assume I am a jerk just because I’m on a bike and I probably am too self-righteous to follow the rules. This is blatent conjecture: perhaps you don’t care to be courteous to others, which includes helping to bring a positive image for the cycling community. If that is the case it makes sticking up for you that much more difficult if-and-when the need arises. Another conjecture: maybe you don’t know that it’s jackassery to do that, or feel straight-up that there’s nothing at all wrong with it like it’s some special benefit to riding a bike; well, that would be denial. Sorry to break it to you.

    Boston has a bike culture, it isn’t a bike culture. Pedestrians and motor vehicles deserve more consideration in these grey areas. It becomes incredibly delusional to point fingers at them when they can just as easily be pointed right back.

  13. By ironhorse on Apr 9, 2010 | Reply

    Thanks for this post it is really good to have this type of awareness and education material out there. I have not seen an improvement in pedestrians or cyclists behavior. It blows my mind that pedestrians and riders ignore traffic lights at what I consider 4 very complicated intersections in my way to and from work – One of this intersections is the one were an accident took place recently (Charles St and Beacon St).
    One of the peculiar things I’ve noticed is that pedestrians don’t even bother pressing the “walk” button on the traffic light! – This sometimes makes the traffic lights skip pedestrian cycles all together. Pedestrians rather look for enough room to cross instead of pressing the button and waiting. Go figure.
    In anycase, be safe out there.

  14. By J on Apr 11, 2010 | Reply

    Ehm, you’re blaming the pedestrian for a terrible light design that requires pushing a button? How many buttons do car drivers have to push on ther way across town?

    You want more pedestrians (and cyclists) to respect red lights? Fix the pedestrian signals. I know my neighborhood. I know that at a certain intersection, the pedestrian counter reaching zero means I have 7 seconds to cross. I know that a block later the counter reaching zero means I have no seconds to cross. Do other people visiting the area know this? No. They will get pissed off after the first intersection lies to them and ignore the countdown on the next block.

    Can you imagine the city allowing yellow lights to be variable (apart from the standard speed limit and intersection width considerations)? Imagine if half the yellow lights in the city lasted 25 seconds and the other half lasted 3 seconds. The result would be people endlessly running the red lights because the yellow would suddenly be meaningless.

  15. By Scott on Apr 11, 2010 | Reply

    “I see parents going riding with their kids all the time, the kids almost always have a helmet on, but often the parent does not. What kind of example are you setting for the little one?”

    Perhaps it’s because, through years of experience, the adult has mastered the art of balancing and controlling a bicycle, while the child has not. Do you still ride with training wheels?

  16. By matt on Apr 11, 2010 | Reply

    was glad to see that this post recommended wearing a helmet (properly).

    the cyclist killed by the bus apparently was not wearing one (http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2010/04/09/bike_safety_efforts_in_spotlight_after_fatal_crash/), though I’m not sure whether a helmet would save you from being hit by a bus…

  17. By Marianna on Apr 12, 2010 | Reply

    Scott, even if that weren’t an illogical and unnecessarily snarky response, do you really think that “do as I say, not as I do” is a good strategy? Kids notice their parents’ actions. Any parent who really wanted to do the most they possibly could to get their kid to wear a helmet would be wearing one themselves.

  18. By J on Apr 12, 2010 | Reply

    I think kids can understand the concept of having to do something an adult doesn’t have to. I’ve never seen an adult skiing with a helmet, but I do see lots of kids with them. Another example can be rollerblading with kids. A 5 year old would probably have knee and shoulder pads. An adult, unless planning on doing tricks, would not.

  19. By Scott on Apr 13, 2010 | Reply

    What J said. As we age we gain more experience and no longer need to do things the same way as when we were children.

    I don’t understand how my first post was “illogical and unnecessarily snarky”. Training wheels help you stay upright on a bike — obviously a good thing. So why don’t adults use them? Because they have enough experience riding a bike to no longer require them. The same applies to helmets.

  20. By William Furr on Apr 16, 2010 | Reply

    I don’t know what’s with you folks about helmets. It’s not a big inconvenience and if I screw up badly or something happens to me unexpectedly, they will keep my brains inside my skull where they belong.

    Just because you don’t wobble around on your bicycle anymore doesn’t mean you’ll *never* crash or get run into and hit your head on the pavement. Wow.

    @teeheehee: re: red lights, thank you. That’s a perfect summation of how I feel about it. Where I differ is in enforcement mechanisms. I can’t trust other cyclists to obey the traffic laws; I can’t trust police to enforce the traffic laws; so I’m left with public shaming and advocacy, which is what I’m doing here and what I do at red lights when I yell at people. The best part is when I catch up to them after the light turns green and glower.

    @100psi: Why are there “sides”? Why do I have to pick one? I want bicyclists to be treated the same as every other road user. That includes privileges, like using lanes when appropriate, and responsibilities, like stopping at red lights.

    @Lukas: Keep up the good work. By example, we can show others what they’re supposed to be doing.

  21. By Boston Biker on Apr 16, 2010 | Reply

    Scott, J others who think adults don’t need helmets: It is true that as you age and gain more experience that you will not crash often, but that doesn’t mean other less experienced (or drunk) motorists/cyclists/pedestrians will not crash into you.

    Physics will crack open your head no matter how old you are, in fact the more mass you gain, and the higher you are off the ground the worse it gets. Children don’t just do what they are told, they are mimickers, if you want kids to wear helmets you have to wear them.

    Monkey see, monkey do.

  22. By Andres Salomon on Apr 16, 2010 | Reply

    @teeheehee: First, a lot of it is about context. If you’re already waiting at a red light, then it’s completely unnecessary for other cyclists to run that red light. Given multiple cyclists, you’re a lot more visible to cars. I will typically wait patiently behind another cyclist at a red light.

    On the other hand, if I’m the only cyclist at a red light, you can be sure that I’m going to go once it is safe to do so (either through the red light, or when the parallel pedestrian walk signal lights up; ie, when the light is red in both directions). As the only single cyclist on the road, I have low visibility, and getting ahead of the waiting cars gives me a much higher probabilty of being seen and safely passed (versus either unsafe passing, or cars turning right and not seeing me). You can argue all you want about proper cyclist behavior (should one filter up and go into a bike box area? should one sit behind cars and not attempt to move up?), but the reality of the situation is different at each and every intersection. We’re not on a nice clean city grid, we have drivers that love to go too fast, and many of whom barely know the rules of the road (much less how to deal w/ cyclists).

    I say this as someone whose *only* bike/car accident (in 3 years of biking in somerville/cambridge/boston) has been being right-hooked at an intersection. I did not filter up to the front, I was riding *with* traffic; and yet, due to various factors at that intersection (lack of blinkers, car turning left and blocking traffic, everyone else being too impatient to wait for said person and swerving around them, etc), it still put me in a position to get hit. Given the options, I’ll take running the light if it’s possible to do safely (and after fully stopping).

  23. By teeheehee on Apr 20, 2010 | Reply

    Whoa, been paying attention to the forums and not this thread; looks like I missed a few responses here.

    I prefer personal responsibility over legal impositions. I also try to be an ambassador of biking while on the road, as I don’t want to give motorists an excuse to hate me beyond what their own character would already supply.

    @Andres: thanks for your points, and I agree with pretty much all you said as sound, adult riding style. I just wish we had laws in the book that better supported handling of intersections. Sorry to hear about your getting hit, best wishes on that never happening again.

    I’ll echo @BostonBiker on helmets. Other forces are at work against you, and no matter how awesome you are at balancing there’s a whole lot more to deal with when riding on the street or even a bike path. I fell two weeks ago while slowing down for an intersection with no cars around, I simple missed seeing an oil slick in the road (looked like regular old oil stains until I could see it with the light coming from the right direction). Last time before that was two years ago when a jogger on the Storrow Path cut me off carelessly and I over-applied my front break. My accidents haven’t been because I can’t stand up with two wheels below me, rather they’ve been just that: accidents. They happen, and when they do that’s what helmets are for.

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