Bike Riding in the City at Your Own Risk

Bike riding is a day trip and a fun-filled and healthy exercise. The air wafting through your hair, or across your bare head, or helmet, as the case and local law may be, and the drone of bike wheels as you coax your old-bone legs for more speed and extra hill power. Your gloved hands tightly welded to the handle bars as you wriggle from here to there. The feeling and fear you sense in the self-survival control of your muscles and an unknown destination. It’s the best of times.

But, oh yes, there are some knee-scrapping no-nos that should be aired out at the beginning, especially if you ride in a city. The elusive and constantly narrowing curbside bike paths along the city streets; the verbal and sign-language interaction with motorists, especially those imposing on your space with a right cross to make a free-right turn; your respect of traffic laws (or lack thereof); intervention by helmet police; car doors casually opening in front of you as you squeeze along the right side of the right lane; mud puddles along the curb; and asserting your right to the road with a 20-lb bike vs. a 2-ton truck. This is some of the hair-raising fun you can expect.

Don’t tailgate behind a city bus unless diesel fumes are your eclectic taste for dizzy-spell city air. That’s not fun. Don’t kick back at the chasing canine trying to retrieve your leg for lunch. That’s not fun if the mutt attaches teeth into your pant leg or ankle bone.

However, there are ways to combat the biking traffic turmoil tragedy. A rear light blinking on your bike night and day, a reflective vest or a safety triangle on the back fender, also night and day, are a couple of subtle lifesavers. Choose wide or slow streets or even back streets on weekends and navigate the city by traversing through neighborhoods, the slower a car is going, the more time the driver has to take aim.

Get a mirror to check your rear, but don’t use it to dab on your lip gloss or check your teeth while coasting down a hill. Don’t hug the curb but allow yourself a little space in case you see a large vehicle in your mirror approaching without moving over far enough to avoid you, or when you see that mud-puddle abyss oozing from a drain in front of you so you can veer around it. Watch out for those narrow cracks in the road, or old RR or trolley tracks that can grab your front wheel and turn your bike ride into a rollercoaster ride over the handle bars to ow-ow land.

Oh yes, again, there are risk-free places to pedal and coast your two-wheel, 21-speed magical horse. Through a city park, tracing a river, canal, lake, ocean or creek side, along an old railroad track converted to recreational use, or even along an old, closed lumber road. These are called city greenways which are linear open spaces that link parks and communities and provide public access to green spaces or a waterfront. No cars allowed, but other bikers and countless pedestrians slowly stroll along and do create minimum hazards, as well as again those occasional snapping canines that streak from behind trees to play dodge-the-dog tag.

A bike rack on the car, a clean straight back-country road, a high sunny and a lot of energy and curiosity day. These are the ideals for a day trip in the country. But be forewarned, there’s nothing more exasperating than being miles from cover when a rainsquall drenches you and your plans and tries to propel you from your bike.

Most of the safety rules and cautions for city driving apply. Autos and pickups are just as nasty and big in the country air as they are in the city haze.

Mountain biking is another day-trip opportunity for the healthy, strong hearted and insane. It can be dangerous, so it should be approached carefully like feeding a hippopotamus. Imagine a Beetle Bailey cartoon picture after the Sgt. Snorkel has finished verbally and physical chastising him for being the laziest Private in the army. That’s what you could look like after challenging a mountainside. You must have the correct bike with sturdy tires that ride over sand, gravel and Mother Nature’s roughest terrain. Careful planning is a must or you may end up on the 6 o’clock news as a lost person.

It can be fun, but remember you are a second-class citizen because bike taxes don’t pave the roads or build the greenways, big machines do. Around 44,000 people die in car crashes in the U.S. each year and about 1 in 54 is a bicyclist. WATCH IT!

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