There always seems to be new tactics and tricks to learn when it comes to cycling safety. With bike commuting on the rise, now is a good time to review some of the basic tips needed to keep you safe and your bike secure.

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(Image source: Richard Masoner, Flickr)

(Image source: Richard Masoner, Flickr)

Whether you’re a beginning cyclist or a seasoned bike commuter, there always seems to be new tactics and tricks to learn when it comes to cycling safety. With bike commuting on the rise, now is a good time to review some of the basic tips needed to keep you safe and your bike secure.

I had the opportunity to speak with cycling enthusiast Ezra Rufino regarding the basics of urban cycling. Ezra operates the NYMBlog site, which offers readers insights and guides to bike commuting and culture.

Ezra Rufino

Ezra Rufino

Ash: What advice can you offer beginning cyclists for becoming familiar with the rules of the road? What are some great resources?

Ezra: When first beginning to ride, joining cars on the road can be intimidating.  The more that you know and the more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll become. And it becomes a lot more fun, too!

Knowing the basic laws in your area is a great start.  Most cities and states have fairly easy to find, clearly defined rules for cyclists. (Google is usually helpful with finding these.)

Take the time to plan your route when you first start out. Think of all of the different factors that may affect your commute. For example, do you want to take the shortest route, the one with the least cars, or more bike lanes? Maybe it is important for you that there’s a lot of street lighting, or no hills?

Map out a route that makes sense for you! Start on quieter streets and ease into the busier roads.

I think that the most important rules to keep in mind are the ones that will most directly impact your safety on the road.

  • Make sure you pick up a good set of bike lights — white for the front and red for the back — you’ll never regret this decision!
  • Learn your hand signals. Make eye contact with other drivers and cyclists, gauge their response and let them know what you’re next move is. This will help ensure your safety and that of others.
  • Just remember that you are sharing the road. Be respectful to all other road users the same way that you want to be respected on the road.  In most cases you have to follow the same rules as a car, so remember to stop at red lights, and for pedestrians.

These are a few of my favorite resources for learning the rules:

1. VirtuousBicycle

I’d keep my eye on this blog and the founder Lance. Extremely detailed and helpful posts geared towards learning the rules of the road in urban areas.

Lance from the VirtuousBicycle does free classes all over New York City, so I’d check the events page for information on that. Invaluable for city cyclists new and old.

2. League of American Bicyclists

The League of American Bicyclists is a national bicycle advocacy group and they have their ’6 Rules Of Road,’ which is a good, quick read.

More importantly though, if you really want to learn a lot, check out their bike education search engine. It lists all of the classes in your state being done by League Certified Instructors (LCIs).

3.  Your local bike shop

The local bike shop is usually a good place to start for any bicyclists. Ask questions. Find out if they offer classes, or just pick their brains. Most of the time they’re happy to help. Reward them with your business.

Ash: On your NYMBlog site, you offer tips for cyclists on properly locking their bikes. What are some of the most common mistakes cyclists make when locking their bikes? Can you explain the safest way to secure a bike?

Ezra: 

1.  Just locking the frame.

I see this all of the time. Someone leaves their bike with a U-lock securing the top tube and that’s it.  In most cases it’s just as easy to lock at least the frame and one wheel with the same U-lock, so why not take that extra step?

2.  Using cheap combination locks

Cheap combination locks are much more of a deterrent than anything else. And not really a good one at that. In most cases, they are easily broken and cut — not something you want in a bike lock.

Spend the money on a good secure lock. I always suggest U-locks or heavy duty chain locks. A good rule of thumb is to spend as much as you can afford on a lock, don’t skimp.

3. Locking just a wheel

Locking the wheel is a dangerous move. Even without quick release wheel pins you can come back to your frame being gone. The one exception to this is using Sheldon Brown’s lock strategy, but nothing is 100%. This can be effective and also easily done with only one lock.

The safest way to lock your bike takes many things into consideration. I don’t think it’s necessary to be too hardcore about it all of the time. Locking up shouldn’t be a chore. But, in any case, this is probably the safest way to go about it:

Make sure you lock your bike in a high traffic area, well lit, where other bikes are parked. Use two high quality locks, Kryptonite and Abus make good ones. Remember, no lock is perfect, nor is any technique.

Use the smallest locks possible, this gives thieves less leverage if trying to break your lock. Make sure whatever you’re locking to is extremely secure — it cannot be unscrewed, broken, or lifted out of the ground. Secure your rear wheel and frame to the bike rack using a U-lock. If the rack allows you to, then lock your frame and front wheel to the rack with a chain lock.

Carrying around a chain lock and U-lock is cumbersome, so I usually just use a U-lock and a double looped cable.

Ash: What’s the greatest challenge to biking in urban areas?

Ezra: The most challenging thing to bike commuting in urban areas is definitely just learning to bike in a safe way with all road users. When you’re in urban areas you have to watch for motorists, including buses, taxi drivers, and ambulances, other bicyclists and then lots of pedestrians as well. You have to constantly keep your awareness up and that can be very difficult and intimidating at first.

You have to learn to anticipate the movements of the people around you and also make your movements as predictable as possible.

I really like this video with a few tips going over some of the most common fears of urban biking:

Ash: Do you see the increase in cycling use as a fad or a continuing trend?

Ezra: This is a really great question and it’s one that I’ve asked myself a lot about bike commuting. When you look at a lot of recent statistics in the United States for example there was a huge jump in commuting around 2007 and it continued to climb slowly, eventually steadying out a bit around 2010-2011.

At first glance, that may look to some people as a fad. Everyone got into it and now its going to level out and things will be going back to normal soon. In my opinion, and many others think, that it is something else though.

If you see all of the great things happening all over the world to support cycling and the use of a bicycle for transportation, than you’ll see how this is certainly much greater than a fad.

Bike lanes are sprouting up, more bike racks, more bike businesses, and government is beginning to really get behind it too.  Complete streets policies are being implemented all over the United States, and money is being invested to support bike projects that will end up bringing much more into the economy.

Bike share programs are being implemented in cities everywhere — New York should be getting one in May (finally!). There is a lot happening, I could go on and on about the ways that we are moving forward with bicycling everywhere.

People are learning about the positive ways in which biking can increase their mobility, improve their health, the environment and economy, our communities, and more.

When you consider everything, this is clearly no fad.

Ash: For those who are looking to purchase a bike, what advice can you offer for finding the perfect bike for urban commuters?

Ezra: I don’t think that there is one perfect bike for all bike commuters. The length of your commute, your comfort level, style, and budget can all be factors when selecting a bike.

For urban bike commuters, it’s important to consider that a flashier bike will get your bike more attention by thieves. In a recent article I read a bike commuter covered his bike in hockey tape and painted it black to make it look undesireable.  A normal or dumpy looking bike is not always a bad choice!

The most important thing is that your bike is one that you want to ride. So try some bikes out at your local bike shop, or test out some of your friends.

Making sure that the bike fits you well is very important. Stand over it and make sure that you can plant your feet on the ground comfortably. Take it for a spin.

Many urban commuters prefer to ride single speed bikes. They are very practical because they have less parts, which means less parts to break and less to fix. They also tend to weigh less and this is important to people who have to carry their bike up stairs! In areas with a lot of hills they could be a bit more difficult to ride.

Test out road bikes and hybrids. See what you prefer to ride. If you have a longer commute you may prefer a road bike for its speed. I prefer a road bike, but, in many cases a hybrid will handle better in a larger variety of weather and terrain conditions. Mountain bikes don’t make a lot of sense in urban areas. Again, road bikes will be the lightest and easiest to maneuver in apartment buildings and the like.

Many urban commuters also prefer an upright riding position. This varies as well, so test out different handlebars, and see what you prefer.

I know that I keep saying, “test this test that,” but it’s the only way to find what out what you like.

The last thing to pay attention to is to make sure your bike can be fit with a rear rack. A rear rack will be important when you want to carry some things on your bike that won’t fit into your backpack or messenger bag. Maybe you’ll even want to throw everything into a basket or pannier! You never know, but it’s a great option to have.

So here’s the check list:

  1. Test bikes for their size
  2. Try out road bikes and hybrids
  3. Consider single speeds for ease of use and maintanance
  4. Try upright positioning vs. bent over positioning
  5. Consider rear rack compatibility
  6. Consider the weight of the bike
  7. Remember! The most important thing is that it’s a bike you want to ride!

Don’t be intimidated by making a bike purchase! Most bikes will work just fine. At first I just used my grandpa’s old hybrid, and I loved it! Especially for your first purchase, picking a used bike from a local bike shop or Craiglist is a great bet.

You don’t have to spend a lot to get a bike that will get you from A to B.