Essentials for bike commuting I: Not what you’re expecting

This series of posts isn’t what you think. No mention of helmets, lights, reflective/high-visibility clothing, fenders for rainy days.

Instead this is my take on the other essentials for bike commuting: the mental ones. It would be too long as one post so I’m going to stretch it out over several days to get your brain all warmed up for Bike to Work Week May 16-22.

Willingness to take some risks. I’m not talking about deliberately playing in traffic or riding the wrong way on a one-way street—no stupid risks. I mean the willingness to swallow hard and take the lane when the road narrows and you need to keep going.

The drivers behind you can wait. They’re supposed to—it’s the law.

They’d have to wait if you were a big truck using both lanes to make a right hand turn, a bus stopping to let off or pick up passengers, someone in a wheelchair crossing the street.

We all need to get over the notion that being in traffic somehow guarantees you the right to an unimpeded flow from starting point to destination. Never has, never will.

Traffic is a game of physics—or maybe pinball—with people bouncing around like particles pushed by various forces. Whether it’s a string of red lights as people jam on their brakes because of an accident, or a cyclist slowing down on a steep hill, traffic will always move more like an accordion than like an arrow.

Trustworthiness. This is the flip side of risk-taking. I already blogged about this at Cycling Spokane but it bears repeating: You’re safer when drivers, pedestrians and other cyclists can trust you to behave consistently.

Are you predictable? Can I count on you? If you’re biking in the right-hand tire track of the lane (a good position much of the time) will you stay there and not veer into the parking spots that are empty for a block, then dodge back out into the flow of traffic? Will you stay in the lane and not jump up onto the sidewalk for a stretch, startling pedestrians and disappearing from the driver’s view until you pop back out at a light?

Think about how can be as trustworthy as possible for other travelers around you. You’ll be safer and so will they.


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  2. Well stated. I might add tolerance for of those on the road or in your work place that don't understand why you would be "crazy" enough to bike.

  3. Good article. I've always wanted to bike to work. I'm a bit of a green freak. Any tips on how to arrive at work (during the summer in Texas) not drenched in sweat?


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