Do you feel nervous about riding a bike? That's ok! Confidence is a common barrier for riders of all stripes, and we can help.
Being a more confident rider won't magically make an awful road into your favorite bike corridor, but it will help you enjoy more roads and more rides. The key is (1) knowing what to do, (2) practicing what you've learned, and (3) being able to turn to a network of people who will support you and stand up for you.
- Where am I supposed to be?? First of all, you probably shouldn't be in the sidewalk - it seems counterintuitive at first, but it's actually a lot more dangerous to ride on the sidewalk in most cases. Riding in the road can feel a bit intimidating, so start with a quieter neighborhood street with lower traffic speeds to get the hang of things. Don't hug the curb - hugging the curb means other vehicles might be tempted to overtake you when they shouldn't and puts you in the path of potholes, drains, and all the nasty debris that ends up at the side of the road. So don't skulk on the sidelines! It's usually best to ride about 2 feet away from the edge of the road and whenever you are approaching a junction, roundabout, queue of traffic or potential hazard you should adopt the 'primary position' or 'take the lane' by moving into the middle of it. This makes you more visible and means cars can't squeeze past you dangerously. You are not an obstacle to traffic, you are traffic: behave like it!
- How to ride. Once you're riding in the right place it's important to remember that in the United States bicycles are vehicles - that means you should follow all traffic laws, and everyone else should treat you the same. In many places there are extra laws protecting bicyclists too, so if you're not sure, ask your local advocacy organization or city government for more information.
- Be aware. Be attentive to what's around you, as well as what's in front of you. Knowing what's behind you means you can make informed decisions to keep yourself safe and be courteous to other road users. Being attentive is extra valuable in the off chance that another user isn't for some reason (say, they're distracted for a moment by something). Generally the best thing is to avoid wearing headphones or otherwise limiting your ability to see or hear other vehicles around you, so you have a strong handle on everyone around you.
- Signal safe. Make sure your intentions are crystal clear to other road users: signal early and decisively. Don't hold back from taking control of a situation if it means you will be safer. Remember that signaling with your hands is both a turn signal and a brake light for you, so it's extra important when riding in traffic. A quick hand out to the left or right will do wonders to help you effectively communicate your intentions and ride safely!
- Learn the skills of the Bike Ninja. Ok, it's not martial arts, but learning things like the rock dodge, quick stop, and other more advanced skills can make you really feel like a master of your bike!
- Once you've gained the knowledge, practice! There's no substitute for getting out on your bike and riding. As you ride more and in new situations, you'll understand why certain principles exist, apply them to new contexts, and feel even more empowered. Start with something easy, and slowly build your confidence in more challenging environments. If a road is too intimidating for you, that's ok - see if you can find another route (and if there isn't another route, tell your city or county that you want a Complete Street!).
- You're not alone. Remember, there are MILLIONS of bicyclists across the country (and an estimated 3 million people commuting by bicycle every day). There's always someone to ask questions, share your experiences with, or ride with - you just have to find them. If you're not sure where to start, come visit us at the PSU Bike Hub and we'll be happy to help!
- We are also going to be hosting Commuting 101 Clinics during April & May 2018 at the PSU Bike Hub - Follow us on Instagram or Facebook for the latest info and updates!