One of the simplest things you can do to improve your health is replace car trips with bike rides. Driving is a stressful, dangerous activity known to increase blood pressure and anxiety. Commuting by bike, however, provides an outlet for stress and an opportunity to build physical activity into your daily routine. If you have to commute, why not enjoy the ride?
Switching to a bike commute can be daunting at first, but if you take appropriate steps, you will be coasting down the road with a smile on your face before too long. Below are a few tips for getting started and for riding confidently in an urban setting.
Start simple. Don’t make commitments you won’t keep. If you’re not ready to bike every day, pick one day of the week to sub out your car for your bike. As you gain experience and confidence, start expanding the number of days you ride.
Map out your route online. The best bike route is not often the most direct. In order to avoid major hills or dangerous street design, you may have to go a little out of your way. Online tools such as Google Maps can help you identify safe routes with bicycling infrastructure.
Practice riding your commute on a day off to anticipate problems and to hone your route. Time how long it takes you and note that increased traffic during weekday rush hours may require you to adjust.
Maintain your ride. Bikes are cheaper and easier to maintain than cars. With a few tools and a little knowledge, you can keep your bike road ready and can avoid costly trips to the shop. Learn how to fix up your bike by watching DIY videos online, or by taking BikeWalkKC’s Maintain Your Ride class, offered quarterly. http://bikewalkkc.org/education/adult/
Install a rack on your bike to haul your stuff. This will make the ride far more enjoyable than it would be if you were loaded down with a heavy backpack.
Try out bike share. If you’d rather not maintain or store your own bike, BikeWalkKC’s Kansas City BCycle has a network of more than 40 stations and more than 240 bikes to help get you around town. Annual passes are inexpensive and grant the user unlimited 60-minute trips on bikes that are continuously and professionally maintained. https://kc.bcycle.com/
Safe riding habits can make the difference between an enjoyable commute and disaster. Remember that you are a vulnerable road user in the middle of a chaotic network of speeding missiles. Following the best practices listed below will help keep you safe.
Know your rights. Bicycles are considered vehicles under Missouri and Kansas state laws. This means that bikes are subject to the same rules of the road as cars, and can travel anywhere they are not expressly forbidden (e.g. highways and business-district sidewalks).
ABC Quick Check. Look your bike over every time you’re about to ride. Check the air pressure, brakes, and chain, and ensure all quick releases are secure.
Ride predictably and in a straight line. Signal all turns and stops. Don’t make other road users guess where you’re headed or what you’ll do.
Ride on the right side of the road, always. Most car-versus-bike collisions occur due to wrong-side traffic, and riding on the left side can double or triple the speed differential between you and an approaching car.
Take the lane. Ride in the center of the lane when it is too narrow for a car to pass you safely. By doing this, you are signaling to motorists that you know you are where you belong, and if they wish to pass they will have to wait until the lanes ahead are clear. If you stick as close to the curb as possible, not only will you have difficulty avoiding obstacles, but motorists will be more likely to attempt to squeeze past you with insufficient passing distance.
Increase your visibility. Ride with a friend or with a group to increase your visibility on the road. Wear bright colors during the day and reflective gear at night to alert road users to your presence. Equip your bike with lights for riding in the dark.
Avoid the door zone. Ride wide of the door zone found next to parked cars. Swinging doors can appear without warning and will stop you fast.
Stay aware. Scan your surroundings constantly. The configuration of traffic on the road changes rapidly. Imagine the roadway as a giant chessboard and try to anticipate where each piece will move so you will have ample time to react.
Practice and expand your skills. Learn and practice all of these skills and more at BikeWalkKC’s Confident City Cycling, offered quarterly in co-ed and women-only formats. http://bikewalkkc.org/education/adult/
All photos courtesy BikeWalkKC
About the Author
David Hansen is a BikeWalkKC Education Specialist.