“I could never do that!”

Photo: Ryan Lovin

The best thing about my job is that I get to ride a bicycle, obviously. But the next best thing about my job is that I get to talk with people about bicycling. I get to share my own experience incorporating bicycling into my life, and I get to talk about the experiences of the hundreds of people that I teach and work with throughout the year. People ask me a lot of questions. Here is the second most frequent question* I hear:

“Drivers are crazy! Aren’t you scared riding your bike in traffic?”

My answer to this question is simple: yes, sometimes. Most of the time I’m on my bike, I am enjoying myself, but sometimes I encounter situations that terrify me. In both cases—when I’m just cruising along, and when something unexpected and dangerous happens—I know that I can rely on my training and experience to get me through. And that’s one of the most rewarding aspects about what I get do do at WABA: our Everyday Biking classes and rides can give you the same training and experience that helps me feel safe, and we can even make it fun! Here are some of things we can help you do to feel confident on your bike:

Plan a route that’s comfortable, or even fun

Why choose roads that make you uncomfortable? One of the best things about biking is that there’s almost always a better way to go. Choose trails over roads, and choose roads with bike lanes over roads without. Choose shady roads in summer and sunny roads in winter. Choose roads that go by your favorite coffee shop, scenic views, or your grocery store. Choose flat roads when you’re tired and hilly roads when you’re looking for a challenge or some exercise.

Be predictable, be alert, and be lawful while riding (#BEaPAL)

I’m a rolling billboard for Bike Arlington’s PAL Ambassador program. Predictable riding helps me keep my space on the road I’m sharing with drivers and pedestrians. Staying alert means I’m constantly scanning my surroundings for the next hazard and trying to anticipate what’s coming. It also means riding at a slow enough speed where you can assess what’s happening around you. Riding in a lawful way means stopping at stop signs and red lights, yielding to pedestrians crossing the street, and riding in the same direction as traffic. Following the law helps bicyclists stay visible and prevents some driver mistakes.

Center yourself (in shared travel lanes)

One of the biggest mental shifts I had to make when I first started riding on streets was minding where in the lane I was riding. The best place for me to be is in the middle of lane By doing that, I stay out of the door zone and out of all of the sand, gravel, branches, animals (gross but true) and trash that collect on the right-hand side of the lane. Riding in the middle of the lane also generally affords me at least three feet of space when drivers pass me. If the driver is going to have to cross the double-yellow line to pass, then they usually move even farther over to give me more space. Finally, riding in the middle of the lane provides me with the time and space I need to react to something happening in front of me.

Get familiar with your bike

Get to know how your bike looks, sounds, and feels when it’s working right, so that you’ll know when something seems off. Before I set out, I check my bike using the ABC Quick Check method: check that your tires have air, your brakes are working and not too worn down, and that your chain is clean, oiled, and moving smoothly. I also double check to make sure my phone and lights are charged, just in case. Finally, I inspect my helmet and grab my lock. So there you have it, the easy steps I take to feel more confident riding in traffic! Choosing a great route, riding as a PAL, maintaining my space on the road and making sure my bike is in working order help make my commute the best part of my day. But sometimes I’ll find myself in a situation I don’t like. When this happens, I take a deep breath, stay calm and rely on my skills and experience to manage through. If you’d like to refine some of your skills and feel more confident on the road, join me at a City Cycling class or one of our Community Rides. Our instructors will teach and reinforce some of these skills so you can find your biking bliss and ride happier during your commute.
* Stay tuned for my answer to the first most frequent question: “Why don’t bicyclists stop at stop signs?”