I’ve bike commuted regularly, with greater and lesser frequency, since 2006. Sometimes I’ve commuted on pleasant, lightly trafficked country roads; other times along a busy highway. Sometimes I’ve had a kid in tow; other times I’ve navigated through complex city infrastructure. And, of course, I’ve been a certified biking instructor and taught classes on cycling safely.
In this time, I’ve learned a few things.
Who to Trust
- Old people.
- Squirrels, rabbits, and other wildlife, including off-leash dogs.
- Tech bro shuttle buses, especially between South Lake Union (Amazon) and Fremont (Google, Facebook).
- Priuses in downtown Seattle – 99% are ride-share drivers likely to swerve toward the sidewalk unpredictably. The other 1% are taxi drivers.
- Pickup trucks with big supplementary smoke stacks, or any pickup truck in rural areas.
- People riding e-bikes, electric scooters, electric skateboards, or any other battery-powered person people mover.
- Anyone driving on Dexter.
- Anyone walking/cycling near the UW.
- Community Transit double-decker bus drivers.
- MAMILS focused on getting in a workout or maintaining a certain pace even on crowded multi-use trails.
- Nobody. Not even yourself, because some time you’ll make a mistake or a bad choice that leaves you in danger.
Wear what feels comfortable and practical. Don’t worry about what other people think and pay no attention to ads promising clothes that are waterproof.
Accept that you will get wet if you commute consistently, and focus on staying warm even when damp.
Clipless shoes and pedals really do help, but only if you’re riding more than a few miles.
Leave a pair of shoes at work so you always have something dry for your feet.
Use front and rear lights even in daylight. Wear neon colors.
Use fenders. Except when it’s sunny and you’re riding bonus miles on the way home.
When you use a backpack, your back gets hot and it’s uncomfortable to carry heavy loads. When you use panniers, it feels like you have a headwind all the time and you think you’re dragging an elephant.
Carry and know how to use a flat kit, but keep a backup plan handy. It’s no fun changing a flat in the dark, in the rain.
I mentioned that, in my past, I taught cycling safety classes. None of what I’m about to say falls into “safety” in any way, do don’t take this as advice. That caveat done, here’s what I’ve learned riding through traffic.
Follow the rules of the road… Except where it makes no sense for bikes.
Lane splitting in downtown works. Just make sure there’s a red light at the front of the line. Never lane split with traffic moving on either side of you.
Drivers tend to leave more room between themselves and the car next to them than between themselves and the curb. This means it’s easier to pass cars in the right lane on their left side.
Watch pedestrian signals for a clue on when a light will change.
Traffic lights change in waves, with big blocks of them linked together. This means that it’s worth sprinting through the last light in a group of linked lights to get into the next batch of lights.
Some intersections take a thousand years to wait though. It’s worth riding aggressively to get through those.
Be polite to other cyclists and pedestrians. You never know when you may need help. Always say, “on your left.” If you can’t do that politely, get a bell and ring it. This is especially helpful when riding on a bike path with lots of different users.
Establish a regular route and get to know it. Watch for patterns in traffic that you can exploit. Know where drivers turning back things up and proactively avoid those lanes. Learn bus stops and avoid getting stuck behind buses, especially double-decker buses — buses have the engine in the back, and are exceptionally loud up close from behind.
Take the lane.