In The Beginning – Spring 2015
I stared ahead at the long chaotic road of Bay Street in Toronto, ready for my first city cycling experience. The situation looked dire with maniacal cab drivers and cyclists swerving aggressively around parked cars and potholes.
“OMG am I supposed to ride through that?!” I said to my cyclist friend beside me. Decked in the tightest neon gear from head to toe, he looked like he was wearing an adult diaper with his padded shorts.
I looked down nervously at my purple hybrid, a $299 gem I picked up on sale at Canadian Tire. My friend and I were supposed to go for a “leisurely” ride around the city, but as soon as we hit the heart of downtown, I wasn’t so sure if I was going to survive these hell-fire streets.
“Maybe I should be the one wearing a diaper,” I thought.
Before I even realized what I was happening, my legs took over and started pedaling. Pedaling back towards my own home.
Flight or fight ma’am?
One Year Later…
Time passed, seasons changed. A Kardashian got robbed and Beyonce turned lemons into lemonade.
Here we were once again, at the beginning of prime time biking season.
I gazed at the window, watching a man wearing a blue suit with a brown leather bag strapped onto the back of his bike ride away.
“Will I ever learn to survive city cycling? It seems like everyone can ride but me! ” I thought wistfully.
Looking at my purple hybrid chained up on my front porch, I felt like a fraud.
Now, all I could hear were Ross’ words from Friends in the episode where he tried to get Phoebe to ride her bike:
“The bike wants to be ridden. If you don’t ride it, you’re killing its spirit. The bike is dying.”
“Please don’t die” I whispered back to it.
So I developed a game plan.
Since it was the weekend, my goal would be to ride it on Saturday morning, when there would be less traffic.
I vowed to:
- Map out my route ahead of time.
- Ride on roads with designated bike lanes.
- Only ride for 15 minutes.
- Try not to freak out.
The next morning, bright and early, I put on my helmet and hopped onto my bike. I was ready to re-enter the world of city cycling.
As I started meandering through the quiet residential streets, I began to feel a sense of calm as I breathed in the fresh morning air. Few cars were around.
Turning the corner, I headed towards a busier road. A couple of cyclists whizzed by me, so close that we almost touched elbows.
“No biggie,” I thought to myself. My main concern was to just bike slowly and concentrate on the road.
I’m pretty sure that’s the same thought process grandmas have when they’re driving along a highway.
As I neared a parked car in the bike lane, I rang my bell and maneuvered around it.
“Geezus people are blind these days, aren’t they?” I muttered to myself. I heard another cyclist behind me tell the driver how many f-words he thought he was for blocking the lane.
Things were starting to get hectic.
Eventually, I veered off the busy road and headed back onto the quiet streets. I had enough for one day but at least I had survived!
8 Tips To Survive City Cycling
Over time, I transitioned to riding on busier roads and eventually I became comfortable riding around the downtown core.
So here are 8 of my tips to survive city cycling, besides the obvious ones like wearing your helmet, having lights on your bike at night and obeying the signs. Above all, just be a defensive rider!
1. Zero Assumptions.
First things first- assume drivers do not see you. Don’t assume they’ll stop for you, don’t assume they’ll smile at you, don’t assume anything. Always proceed with caution. We’ve got a bad rep on the streets, so it’s really up to us to make sure we stay safe.
2. Zig-Zagging No No’s.
Don’t zip around cars on the road. Cars are made of 4,000lbs of steel and you, my friend, are not. Therefore think twice if you’re going to zigzag through the streets like a hyperactive trick or treater.
3. Patience is key.
Stay back from cars trying to turn right. I’ve seen many cyclists whiz by as cars are turning because they are impatient to make the light. So unless you have a death wish, just chill out for a sec.
4. Crossing the intersection.
Watch out for cars turning left. Cross the intersection slowly and make sure the driver sees you. Don’t be shy to make eye contact!
5. Racing is for races.
You’re not riding in the Tour de France. Heck, if you were that good you wouldn’t be reading this blog post. So, take it easy and remember that there’s no need to race against other cyclists to see who can get to the red light first.
6. Bells aren’t just for school.
Ring your bell furiously at cars illegally stopped in your bike lane and check behind you before going around them. You don’t see me leaving my bike in the middle of the road, so ring your bell to let the driver know that their car doesn’t belong there.
7. Keep your distance.
The fear of getting doored is real. Last year in Toronto there were 209 “dooring” incidents. So, try to make sure you ride at least 1.5 meters away from parked cars to be safe or consider attaching a pool noodle to your bike to gauge the distance.
8. Hand signals.
No, not the ones you use if you encounter a crazy driver. Learn the basic hand signals for the road, mainly for turning right or left.
Go For It, At Your Own Pace
To this day, I still need to mentally prepare myself for each excursion. City cycling really does requires you to concentrate all of your attention on the road. You can also check out the Bicycle Safe website for additional tips on how not to get hit by cars.
Nevertheless, if you do it right, it can be extremely rewarding. Suddenly, you have a new found method to get around your city- whether it’s to work, to run errands or to meet up with friends.
So bravo. You’re now free as a bird. Fast as the wind. Most importantly, shaving off those Krispy Kreme calories.
And bonus- think of all the money you’ll save on gas money and public transportation.
So, before you write off biking in the city completely, take a deep breath and try again. It takes time to gain confidence in a new activity, just like anything else.
Do you have your own city cycling experience to share? Are you interested in starting to cycle in your city? Let us know in the comments.
Editor’s Note: Since writing this post, my purple $299 hybrid is now in the hands of a bike thief, most likely interning for the Wet Bandits. I should really edit this post to include Tip 9. Don’t cry too much if your bike gets stolen, it’s part of the city cycling experience…