Cycling in the City

I’ve been riding my bike a fair amount this year, pushing 30 miles 2-3 times a week, from where I work in Beaverton to home in fairly far-east Portland. The route that I take has a variety of paved terrain, from busy suburban and downtown streets to cozy residential streets to dedicated bicycle (and other non-motorized activity) paths. There’s a lot of controversy around bikes this year, as more people take to the pedal path, they remain misunderstood.

Talking to people, there are many who would like to ride more, but a nervous about riding no city streets. Here are some tips to help with safety and hopefully enjoyment. There are a lot of tips here. They boil down to: Be prepared, be aware, be comfortable.

Relax Just keep pedalling and enjoy the ride. You’ll get there. If you are in a situation that makes you uncomfortable, pull over, get off, and walk until you are in a better place.

Be aware You don’t need a mirror if you can turn your head confidently. But it is important to know what other vehicles and innocent bystanders are doing, and where they are.

Signal Signalling on a bike is much like a car without blinkers, but you have an extra option. Signal when turning, changing lanes, or passing. For left, simply reach your left arm straight out. For right, you can bend your left arm upwards or reach your right arm straight out. The important thing is that others know what you’re doing. Tip: I turn my hand so the thumb is up and make a gun with my hands…it makes you a bit more visible (thanks Karrla).

Know your route You won’t always know where you’re going. But it helps. Bike maps,, word of mouth, and signage, are handy ways to know how to get there. Know the best paths for going cross-town. If there are good dedicated paths, know how to get to those. Waterfronts and freeway frontage are often available this way.

Take control The fewer cars that pass you, the better, so I try to travel at the speed of traffic. This is controversial (and illegal in many places), but I often get a jump on the signal by crossing before my light turns green. Intersections are more complicated than roads, so I prefer not to interact with cars there, and the early start helps me get up to speed as well.

Watch out for doors The car door is one of the greatest threats to riders. If you see a car park ahead of you, make sure you give clearance for a door swinging open. Places to be extra careful are parks and schools where parents sit in their cars waiting. Watch for heads and signs of activity. Be ready, be aware (in case you need to swerve). These are often on quieter roads, so just ride towards the middle of the road if you’re not impeding traffic.

Use a lane I try to maintain a positive relationship with autos. My goal is to get where I’m going with as little impact on others doing the same thing as possible. But there are times when you want to take up a whole lane. Do it with confidence. But please be considerate. Try to go the speed of traffic, and pull right so that cars can pass. If there’s a bike route nearby, consider going out of your way to use it.

Equipment is important Know your bike. If you just pulled it out of storage after years, consider a tune-up. Failures always occur at the least convenient time. Tire rubber will decay, so change your tubes and tires if necessary. Keep your distances short the first few rides. Buy lights: a rear red one and a white front one. Don’t leave them on your bike because they’re easy to steal. Carry a lock. My bike’s not fancy so I usually just use a strong coil lock. It’s up to you. Wear a helmet. They all meet safety guidelines, so the biggest differences are in airflow, weight, and fashion. Your brain is worth protecting.

Ask people The more cyclists on the road, the fewer cars, which is a good thing for cyclists. So most everyone is helpful. Ask a rider, stop by a store, go for an organised ride, ride with friends.

Have fun Keeping those pedals turning can be hard work. It’s great exercise. You’ll take new routes, and you’ll see a lot more. You’ll feel the wind in your face, and a thrill being so connected to your equipment.

The bicycle: Car or Pedestrian?

The debate has been serious this summer. From touchy questions on sides of buses to annoying comments on blog posts to occasional legal debate. The community has been vexed by this question: Is a bicycle a car or a pedestrian? To help shed light on this problem, beerdrinker has gone undercover, actually riding his bicycle most days, frequently more than 25 miles.

I’ve been thinking about this question for quite awhile, but it really came to a head (or mine) when Webtrends posted their controversial question on Portland’s public transportation: Should cyclists pay a road tax? The confusion was evident most clearly in a response to that question…”Cyclists should pay $.10 every time they change roles.” or something like that. But it’s been prevalent in conversation around the internet and reality for a long time.

With more people riding bikes due to higher fuel costs, better and/or more vocal communities, and peer pressure, the answer to the debate is becoming more pressing. Drivers are more frustrated, and more vocal. Bike lanes are taking up more precious road space. Green boxes are making colorful areas near busy intersections to the dismay of automobile owners. At some places, cyclists even have their own signals, and in others roads dedicated to them (and pedestrians).

Sometimes it becomes necessary to take a step back from the problem to really see what its inner workings are, and how they fit together. So I looked up the terms.

A pedestrian is a person traveling on foot.
wikipedia – pedestrian

An automobile or motor car is a wheeled motor vehicle used for transporting passengers, which also carries its own engine or motor.
wikipedia – automobile

Those are pretty clear, and pretty general. There are unfortunately vehicles that do not fit into either classification. In fact, the subject of this article does not.

A bicycle is neither a pedestrian nor an automobile!

Well, dangit. I guess we need to be asking a different question, like “where do cyclists belong?” But first, let’s continue the analysis to make sure we’ve covered all our bases.

A bicycle is like a car in many ways. It has wheels and a passenger (sometimes 2-3). It moves faster than pedestrians typically move. It will hurt a pedestrian if it hits them.

At the same time, there are a number of differences between cars and bikes. A car can accelerate and travel far faster than a bike. A car propels itself. Typically, cars do far more damage in collisions than bicyclists, and cars will universally win contests of strength. Like a turtle, cars have a crunchy, protective outside and a chewy center, whereas cyclists are a bit more like a delicious chicken leg with a hard lower part and a moist, fleshy upper portion.

Comparing a pedestrian to bicycle, we again see similarities and differences. They can both fit on sidewalks. They both weigh about the same. They are both self-propelled. Yet, bicycles can move faster than pedestrians and do have pokey hard parts. In a battle between cyclists and pedestrians, the cyclist would have the upper hand. In addition, they typically gain the element of surprise.

At this point, we have pretty much established that a bicycle is neither a car nor a pedestrian, having some qualities that are common to each, and some dramatic differences. In the future, I will explore how cyclists fit into a system that has difficulty seeing the grey areas.