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Beginner Commuting In a Big City

Commuting Bicycle commuting is easier than you think, before you know it, you'll be hooked. Learn the tips, hints, equipment, safety requirements for safely riding your bike to work.

Beginner Commuting In a Big City

Old 02-23-15, 03:45 PM
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Diaz
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Beginner Commuting In a Big City

Hi,

I'm thinking about commuting to my workplace as it will, in theory, cut my journey time significantly. Obviously, there are also financial and health benefits. My workplace has good bike storage areas, lockers for storing clothes, etc, and showering facilities.

I haven't regularly ridden since my childhood (23 now), but I'm competent enough when I do cycle, although I've never been on a road bike.

I can't drive, and quite frankly, I don't really want to right now. It's expensive to learn, vehicles are expensive to buy, run and maintain, they're bad for the environment and promote laziness.

I'm always happy to jump into new things, but the fact that I've no experience on the road is slightly concerning, especially given that I'd be commuting on very busy roads at rush hour.

I've been thinking about buying a road bike (assuming this is the best type of bike for me as I'll purely be riding on roads) and using it in my local area when it's not quite so busy for experience.

Basically I'm just looking for any advice/input experienced commuters have for me. I'm quite an impatient, sometimes reckless person, to be honest, but I don't want to cause any accidents or get hurt too badly.

Thanks
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Old 02-23-15, 04:21 PM
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Congratulations on your resolution! I suspect that once you get going and get your system figured out, you may well find that it makes lots of things about city living much more convenient.

The best thing you can do to start with, if you're nervous about riding in traffic, is to read up on the specific laws relating to bikes in your area, and also on some general good advice for riding in traffic. There are lots of good sites for this, such as the League of American Bicyclists and whatever advocacy organizations are local to your area. Also, look up John Allen's Home Office Home Page for an in-depth pamphlet called "Bicycling Street Smarts" (which you can read on the site for free) for specific stuff about how to handle specific maneuvers like left turns, traffic circles, etc. Another good site is Bikeyface which is a webcomic about biking in the city and has cute, funny cartoons with sensible, down-to-earth advice.

But in a nutshell, the first rule is to obey the rules of the road. You're a vehicle too, so stop for stop signs and red lights, etc. Always ride on the right side of the road (unless you live in one of those countries where they drive on the left) and don't go the wrong way down one-way streets. Ride defensively. Use hand signals to make your intentions clear, especially when turning left or changing lanes, and ride predictably.

Some of the most common and easily minimized types of urban bike-car collisions (aside from going against a one-way street) are car doors, "right hooks", "left hooks", and getting t-boned at driveways. To avoid car doors and driveways, make sure that you always ride a safe distance from parked cars. That should also give you and anyone pulling out of a driveway enough time to see each other. If you're hugging the right side of the road, you're not only in the door zone, but you're also effectively invisible to anyone pulling out of a driveway or even stepping off the curb to get into a car.
"Right hooks" are when you're on the right side of the road (even in a bike lane) and a car on your left decides to turn right. You'd be surprised at the number of people who have had every opportunity to see you while they were overtaking you from behind, but turn right across your path anyway because it just didn't occur to them to put those two things together. So if you're approaching intersections where people can turn right, get in the middle of the right lane if you can. Watch for which direction wheels and heads are going, because people don't always use their turn signals.
"Left hooks" are when you're going straight and someone coming the opposite direction turns left and hits you in the middle of the intersection. That may be because they thought thhey saw a gap in traffic and decided to scoot through it, only it was someone on a bike instead. To avoid this, try to position yourself so you can see oncoming traffic; don't tailgate the righthand corner of a large vehicle, because someone coming the other way won't see you.

Always use a red tail light and a white, non-blinking headlight when riding at night. Keep in mind that while lots of people like blinking lights under the rationale that they get attention, humans also have more trouble judging the distance and speed of blinking lights, so using a steady one as well is a good idea. Especially with some of the extra-bright headlights, sometimes a blinking headlight looks like it's farther away than it really is. Needless to say, that's not a good thing. Reflective gear is a good idea, too. It doesn't have to be a vest that makes you look like you work for the highway dept, but keep in mind that surface area is what counts and you want to be visible. So don't go riding a black bike in black clothes in a dark neighborhood.

You might consider looking into the classes that the Bike League offers ("Traffic 101" I believe) or other programs in your area.

Good luck, and have fun!

Last edited by Coluber42; 02-23-15 at 04:35 PM.
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Old 02-23-15, 04:56 PM
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How far will you be riding and what condition are the roads in ? (smooth, full of potholes, cobblestones, etc).

What I would do is find a bike shop that would let you try a wide variety of bikes. Once you get the list narrowed down it would be great if you could rent a bike similar to the one you're thinking of for a whole day or even a weekend. Try out your commute during non-rush hour times.

There are different types of road bikes. Some are designed more for racing while others are for "touring". There are cross bikes which are road bikes designed for racing on off road trails. They can make good bikes for commuting because they take wider tires which smooth out the bumps. That's also true of touring bikes.

Or you may find that you like a completely different type of bike.
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Old 02-23-15, 05:08 PM
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Great advice from both of you, thank you. I'd actually never thought of renting a bike first of all - seems a silly oversight now.

I often hear people complaining about all the potholes in our roads here.

This is great to get me started. Thank you guys!
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Old 02-23-15, 09:18 PM
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We have lots of advice for newbies in this forum but we don't follow all of it ourselves and there's no one right way. A lot depends on you: your preferences (which change), your location, your fitness, your circumstances at either end of the ride. Go test-ride some things and see what you like.
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Old 02-24-15, 07:21 AM
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Good advice on the posts above, I find safe to commute by going through neighborhoods instead of the main busy roads. So maybe you can come out with an alternated route for your commute, wear bright color clothing, buy a set of lights for your bicycle and a helmet. To ride on pavement fully rigid bicycles are probably best, with tires that aren't too wide, nor too knobby.

If you see the opportunity to learn how to drive take it too, it might open up more jobs opportunities for you, even if you are not planning to drive to work.

Good luck to you.
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Old 02-24-15, 07:35 AM
  #7  
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It may be possible to find some "road cycling 101" kinds of classes or clinics nearby, perhaps through a local bike shop or advocacy group, or even an independent cycling instructor. You can find some good resources through the League of American Bicyclists at their website (including lots of videos with helpful tips and advice).
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Old 02-24-15, 08:24 AM
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Use google maps and a select the bike option to map a route to your office. Chances are your city has a big enough network of bike lanes to minimize the time you have to spend riding on a busy road. Do a practice run on the weekend not only to familiarize yourself with riding on the road but also to get a feel of how long it will take; I find that google maps tends to underestimate the time by about 5 minutes.

Also if you haven't ridden a bike in a while I suggest riding around your local park loop first to build up some bike handling skills; being able to ride a bike in traffic is a different skill from just being able to ride a bike. You need to be confident riding with one hand in a straight line (you need to use the other hand to make turn signals) and be comfortable looking behind you without making the bike swerve in the direction you're looking.
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Old 02-24-15, 08:39 AM
  #9  
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right on man!

how old are you? what is your fitness level? what is the distance?
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Old 02-24-15, 08:50 AM
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There is a lot of advice on bike commuting and on riding in traffic. I even used to teach classes on riding in traffic. There is a lot to learn, as some things are counter-intuitive. I don't know where to point you other than to recommend the book Effective Cycling by John Forrester. The book and its author are controversial, so take it with a grain of salt, but I happen to like it. Forrester is opposed to special cycling infrastructure and believes bikes belong on roads only. I used to agree, and I have good nerves and can survive fine on all kinds of roads, but now having enjoyed bike paths and trails, I think they have a place, too.

There is a term "vehicular cycling" which you should read about. You ride (or really drive) your bicycle as if it is a vehicle, because it is a vehicle. You have the same rights and responsibilities as other road users. When the lane is not wide enough for a motor vehicle to pass you safely in the lane, it can be safer to "take the lane" and discourage the driver from doing so. Taking the lane can also make you more visible than slinking along the road's edge. There is a fear of being hit from behind, but it is usually not justified. Most car/bike collisions don't happen this way. When I am on a narrow rural road that turns to the right, I move to the center or left of the lane so I can be seen from behind.

These are just a few points. There are many. Do web searches of "bike commuting" and "cycling in traffic." That should turn up a few good articles.
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Old 02-24-15, 11:29 AM
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You may be new to bike commuting, but you have the right attitude. You can be safe and have fun. This forum has been invaluable to me in achieving a safe, enjoyable bike commute, and I had been bike-commuting for decades before finding bikeforums. Road bikes aren't for everyone, and while two of my bikes have drop bars, being upright helps you to see around you. Consider lights, a mirror (or mirrors) and a bell for pedestrians, and maybe a horn for cars.
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Old 02-24-15, 12:59 PM
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Originally Posted by rumrunn6 View Post
right on man!

how old are you? what is your fitness level? what is the distance?
I'm 23 today, my fitness level is probably not too great right now due to a few health problems I've had, but I'm used to being fit and can usually get it up to a reasonable standard quite quickly. The distance is around 9 miles or so.

Thanks again for your replies.
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Old 02-24-15, 01:20 PM
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Happy Birthday! Go buy a bike! :-)
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Old 02-24-15, 02:57 PM
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Go for it! I started commuting in downtown Boston during rush hour, right down Massachusetts Avenue... after not riding a bike for about 7 years. You learn pretty fast what works and what doesn't. Find a system that gets you out the door fast, rather than spending an hour getting dressed. You may do well to look for a well-built used bike that looks pretty crappy, so thieves may not find it as enticing (and also get a lock). If you're turning left, take the left turning lane. Don't run over people, etc...
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Old 02-26-15, 10:11 AM
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Expensive to learn to drive.... are you in Europe by chance? They practically give away driver's licenses here in the US.
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Old 02-26-15, 10:27 AM
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Get a bike, watch out for traffic, obey all traffic laws, and just start doing it. Be determined enough to give it a couple of months before deciding whether you like it or not.
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Old 02-26-15, 01:12 PM
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The ideal urban commuter needs to be quick, light, practical, not to expensive or flashy but with enough quality to be durable and reliable.
If drop bars are appealing, I would recommend a cyclo-cross style with disk brakes and full set of threaded eyelets ( for rack and fenders). A more conventional roadbike can work, but I would still look for eyelets and a generous tyre clearance.
If you prefer flat bars, a similar spec non-suspension disk "hybrid"
You need a gearing system suitable for your fitness and terrain.
Accessories: lights, fenders, rear luggage rack, lock, helmet, gloves, puncture-resistant tyres, repair kit, luggage.
Use your local bike stores (LBS)
Route-finding is key to a quick, safe commute. Don't assume that the driving route is best. Identify and avoid if possible, dangerous roads and intersections. Trial and explore you route at the weekend.
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Old 02-26-15, 01:28 PM
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Keep your options open as to route that works for you, safety, traffic etc. Take a test run( or 2) not on a work day. That way you are not in a hurry and can take your time to observe traffic patterns and signal timing.
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Old 02-26-15, 07:26 PM
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I always have a sunglass mounted rear view mirror.

I can scan all the way across the road behind me with just a short turn of my head. It's way easier to merge into another lane if I can time my lane change to gaps in traffic. (But just before the move, turn your head and check anyway.)

And I'll move over to the left tire track in my lane if there's no cars within a few hundred yards. Then I have a little more room when someone darts out from between parked cars or a car pulls out without looking.

Street Riding
I liked this Bicycling Street Smarts web site.

From the chapter Where to Ride on the Road:

"By riding a safe distance from roadside hazards, you increase your safety. When you ride correctly, the motorist in the driveway (a) sees you; the motorist overtaking you (b) will not take the easy way out and skim by your elbow; and the car door (c) is no threat."


And a couple of videos that emphasize taking the lane when needed.

The Rights and Duties of Cyclists


How to Ride Your Bicycle in Traffic. This rider avoids filtering up on the right, since cars often make sudden right turns without looking. (Turn on youtube annotations.)

Last edited by rm -rf; 02-26-15 at 07:43 PM.
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Old 02-26-15, 09:01 PM
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Make sure you dress like you are a serious and responsible cyclist. It's already uncomfortable enough for a motorist just to see a cyclist in front of him. He doesn't want to have to deal with a road warrior dare-devil type cyclist breaking traffic rules and weaving in and out.

So wear a helmet. Get lights, reflectors, a bell or horn and mirrors. Behave and most of the time you'll get the respect you deserve.

Last edited by Daniel4; 02-27-15 at 07:45 PM. Reason: insert spaces between some words that didn't have spaces
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Old 02-27-15, 04:35 AM
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As a decades-long, year-round urban commuter in notorious Boston, I can't say enough about a rearview mirror, but I try; I wear two, left and right.
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Old 02-27-15, 08:59 AM
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John Allen's Bicycling Street Smarts and the CyclistLorax YT channel are both excellent resources. However, from seeing FB posts by John Allen himself, he would probably say that it's better to be directly in front of that blue car in the top "Right" image. That way they MUST change lanes to pass. That's how I do it and it works extremely well.
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Old 02-27-15, 10:46 AM
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Another thing I think is useful, whether you use a mirror or not, is looking over your shoulder. Aside from seeing who's behind you, humans respond subconsciously to other humans turning to look at them. I've noticed that drivers often slow down some or pass more carefully or respond to me like I'm another person when I turn to look, where I'm just an inanimate road obstacle otherwise. Same goes for signalling right turns. You kind of don't really need to do it, but it does help show people that you're something they should pay attention to rather than something they can ignore (this assumes you're visible, and is independent of how much hi-vis you're wearing).
So I make a point of looking over my shoulder sometimes, even if I obviously can't turn around and make eye contact or anything. Also, use lots of hand signals and polite gestures. If someone yields to let me make a left turn or something, I always acknowledge them with a wave.
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Old 02-27-15, 11:34 AM
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Originally Posted by Jim from Boston View Post
As a decades-long, year-round urban commuter in notorious Boston, I can't say enough about a rearview mirror, but I try; I wear two, left and right.

Originally Posted by Coluber42 View Post
Another thing I think is useful, whether you use a mirror or not, is looking over your shoulder. Aside from seeing who's behind you, humans respond subconsciously to other humans turning to look at them. I've noticed that drivers often slow down some or pass more carefully or respond to me like I'm another person when I turn to look, where I'm just an inanimate road obstacle otherwise...

So I make a point of looking over my shoulder sometimes, even if I obviously can't turn around and make eye contact or anything. Also, use lots of hand signals and polite gestures. If someone yields to let me make a left turn or something, I always acknowledge them with a wave.
Not to be contrarian, and I couldn’t find the link, but in one thread, I think regarding advice to a new commuter, was that even if you make seeming eye contact, the driver may not psychologically see (perceive) you, so don’t necessarily trust even eye contact. Probably the most certain signal from a driver is:

Originally Posted by Jim from Boston View Post
…Another useful tip is to look at the front wheels of cars to anticipate their movements, not to look at the car body or hood. …

Originally Posted by Stun View Post
...The best advice often comes from cyclists that live the closest to you …The exception here would also be Jim from Boston--anyone that can successfully commute around Boston has my full respect and probably knows how to deal with about every intersection imaginable!
PS: Another hazard attributable to eye contact was nicely described in this post:

Originally Posted by rholland1951 View Post
Amen to (1) . As to (2) there are alarming variations of that [overly polite behavior by drivers], e.g., stopping in one lane and waving the cyclist through while traffic in the adjacent lane continues to flow unabated, and drivers in that lane have their line of sight interrupted by the hyperconsiderate driver's car. In some circles, persons practicing behavior (2) are referred to as "niceholes".
FWIW.

Last edited by Jim from Boston; 03-01-15 at 10:44 PM. Reason: Added PS
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Old 02-28-15, 11:35 AM
  #25  
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Originally Posted by Coluber42 View Post
Another thing I think is useful, whether you use a mirror or not, is looking over your shoulder. Aside from seeing who's behind you, humans respond subconsciously to other humans turning to look at them..
Can't stress that enough. Regardless if you've already looked in the mirror, look over your shoulder too and signal. You should do the same thing driving BTW. The action of a cyclist looking over the shoulder makes a big difference between the impression of behaving responsibly or cutting the driver off.
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