[This topic was vigorously discussed at both Commute by Bike and Let’s Go Ride a Bike. It isn’t my intention to “beat the dead horse” by bringing it up again, but I thought my readers who missed the original discussion might find it interesting and useful. —Alan]
A couple of weeks ago, Commute by Bike published a guest article by Josh King of Single Speed Seattle titled, 10 Rules for Urban Commuting. The article caused a bit of a stir and even triggered a response from our friends over at Let’s Go Ride a Bike. Josh gives some very good advice in the article and, perhaps, some not-so-good advice, suggesting such things as running red lights, rolling through stop signs, etc. In my opinion, the overall tone of the article implies that bike commuting is more daunting and difficult than it actually is, and for those of us who are working hard to get more people on bikes, anything that paints an unrealistic picture of bike commuting as extreme sport comes across as counter-productive. On the other hand, anything that gets people talking and thinking about these issues is a good thing, and we thank Josh for that.
As a friendly, and partially tongue-in-cheek, response to Josh’s original list, I thought I’d create my own “Kinder, Gentler, 10 Rules” list. Each item in my list is a response to the corresponding item in his list; in other words, the list items don’t accurately represent what would be included in my list if I was to put one together on my own. In fact, and even though I’ve attempted such things in the past, I’m a bit skeptical when it comes to definitive how-to’s on riding technique — urban, rural, or otherwise; there are simply too many variables at play to codify into a short list what will work for everyone in every situation.
If you’d like to view Josh’s original article, open it in a new window by clicking here (for some reason, the original article has been pulled from Commute by Bike, so this link is to another copy hosted at Baltimore Spokes). This will allow you to compare and contrast my list with the original. Here are my “Kinder, Gentler, 10 Rules”:
- The rules of the road are there to foster predictability and communication between road users; do your best to adhere to them.
- Chart a route that matches your comfort and skill level. If that means going out of your way to ride only on separated bike paths, bike lanes, and quiet back streets, that’s fine; you have nothing to prove.
- Make eye contact with other road users and ride with an attitude of caution and cooperation. Bicycling is inherently a relatively safe activity, but a bicyclist will never win a physical altercation with a motorist.
- Bike buses are a good way for commuters to make their presence known on the road. Work to organize group commutes in your neighborhood to increase safety while sharing the joys of bike commuting.
- Personal motivation is key to long-term bike commuting. When it becomes all too easy to sleep in for an extra hour and take the car, consider changing up your route to add a little spice to your commute. Perhaps plan a stop along the way for a pastry and coffee at your favorite coffee shop.
- Familiarize yourself with the hand signals commonly used in your area, and always strive to make your intentions known to other road users. Communication is an important component of safe riding.
- Know the rules of the road and the laws that govern your local jurisdiction. Only by understanding our rights and responsibilities as bicyclists can we effectively exercise our right to be on the road.
- Educate yourself regarding the important distinction between vehicular and infrastructure based safe-cycling. Each rider has a different comfort level; some will be comfortable taking a lane, while others will choose to ride in bike lanes or on alternate routes.
- Educate yourself regarding lane placement and be aware of motorists’ blind spots. At intersections, place yourself in a position that prevents motorists from turning right into your path.
- Make intelligent and informed choices regarding safety equipment. As statistics have shown, bicycling is relatively safe when looked at in comparison to other common activities. Educate yourself, and decide what type of safety equipment is appropriate and reasonable for where and how you ride.
How do you feel about urban bike commuting? Does it warrant an aggressive approach? Do you feel we’re doomed to be perpetually at odds with motorists, or is there a reasonable middle ground that is both safe and lawful?