I started biking last summer after a hiatus of, oh, half my lifetime. Like anyone born-again, I always want to talk about it.
“Do you bike?” I would ask. “Do you have a bicycle? Let’s go on bike rides!”
Midnight biking, rain biking, city biking and trail biking – a whole magical world was revealed in one single purchase. Half hour walks turned into ten minute cruises! My calves looked awesome! My cab budget remained untouched for months! I stopped waiting for buses!
If I needed to be somewhere, I could just go!
Meanwhile, the main response to my vehement bicycle-evangelism that I received from non-bikers was, in fact, the same response I myself had been giving just months before: “I don’t know. Biking scares me. I don’t think I know how any more, and certainly not in the city. Biking is dangerous here, right?”
But my bike salesman had been tall, dark and handsome. When I recited my usual litany, he smiled to reveal reams of paper-white teeth. “The nice thing about bicycles,” he said, “Is that they’re like learning how to ride a bicycle. Really. You don’t forget.”
And it’s true. Really. You don’t forget.
I picked out something shiny and blue, fitted it with a basket and a kickstand, and soared out of the store, high on childhood happiness.
Objective One: Don’t Die
First of all, you want to be safe. No one wants their brains scattered on a sidewalk or their arm dangling limply at their side, and no one wants to be that oblivious biker making the rest of us look bad, wearing headphones and weaving through traffic. You want to follow the rules, for your own safety, the safety of pedestrians and drivers, and even for the general predictability and thus safety of bike riders everywhere.
I can see that I’ve worried you. The good news is, it’s ridiculously easy to be safe. There are no new rules to remember, nothing that is inconsistent with your basic instincts. There are two basic scenarios with a bicycle:
1.) Are you riding your bike?
Because if so, you’re a car. Think like a car. Be the car. You have the right to the full lane (although it’s polite to stay to the right so that cars can easily pass you, if there’s enough room for them to do so). You need to stop at stop signs and red lights, and signal your turns (the most basic way to do this is simply by pointing where you intend to go). You can’t go the wrong way down a one-way street. In some zip codes, it’s acceptable to ride your bike on the sidewalk, but a good general rule is to stick to the streets. When in doubt about anything – for example, it is actually illegal to drink alcohol and then bike – ask yourself “would I do that if I were driving a car?”
Another thing to keep in mind is that in an accident, a helmet can be the difference between a scratch on the arm and a scratch on the arm combined with, well, brain problems. Maybe life versus death problems. Unlike car-riding, on a bike you aren’t surrounded by an impact-absorbing shield. The upside to this, of course, is that it’s what makes bike riding incredibly fun. Flying down a well-paved street with the summer breeze on your arms and the smell of the bakery down the road just can’t be beat. But a helmet will protect the essential – you.
If you happen to be traveling outside the US, you may even be able to pick up one of YAKKAY’s hat-disguised helmets in fabrics like tweed and corduroy:
Are you walking your bike?
Then you’re a pedestrian. You can take advantage of crosswalks and wander wherever you like.
That’s it. Really, that’s all. Now you’re a good, law-abiding bicyclist. High five!
Objective Two: Look Rad
You’ve seen those bikers. The ones in neon spandex, layers of Patagonia and REI branded spacesuits, clip pedals with special shoes, rain gear, snow gear, lots of gear gear gear, all breathable and water resistant and moisture-wicking and all kinds of copyrighted, high tech things. These people are intense. And, probably, also practical, for what they’re doing. Maybe they biked forty miles before you saw them fly by your window.
But just because you’re on a bicycle, doesn’t mean you need to look like a professional athlete. Wear what you want.
Me, I bike five to twenty miles total, in a day. And I want to wear skirts.
You’ll want to avoid tighter, pencil-style skirts and go for something more roomy (especially around the groin – let’s just say the long, narrow front of a bicycle seat defined against a tight skirt tends to look unfeminine). Anything that falls too long past the knees can get caught in the chain on your left, but you can clamp this side up a bit with a hair clip if necessary.
Here’s a cute, short number from Anthropologie, perfect for an August afternoon:
And something that admittedly stands out a little less, but paired with a bright top would make one perfectly street-visible and bike-comfortable:
You’d think that a skirt could potentially ride up your legs to indecent levels while biking, but somehow this is just not the case. Up hills, down hills, calm days, calamitous windy days, long skirts, short skirts…nature and physics are mysteriously on your side.
You can also cute-up the bike itself. It’s good to keep your arms and hands completely free while you’re riding, anyway, so If you’re just transporting a light purse or tote bag, you can go with my personal favorite, the wicker basket:
Again, safety doesn’t have to mean dorky. To stay visible in the nighttime, you can shimmy down the streets like John Travolta and pair your headlight and rear light with the BikeGlow Safety Light. Stayin’ alive!
Personalize your bike with a copper or sterling silver design – your initials if you like – hand-hammered to fit your headtube by artist Laura Crawford at Tangerine Treehouse. My personal favorite is the bicycle mustache. Via The Epicurean Cyclist:
Objective Three: Arrive Jazzed But Unfazed
One of the great things about biking to work is that before the day has hardly begun, you’ve gotten your exercise in. You enter your office and endorphins are flying. Let’s get this party started! Hello, Excel spreadsheet!
But what, you ask, about that shower I took this morning?
I’m not going to lie. Unless you live just a couple of miles from work, or your commute is mostly downhill, on warm days you’re going to arrive sweaty. And potentially, helmet-haired.
I like to arrive a little early and duck into a bathroom. It may make more sense to leave the house makeup-less, to rinse your face and apply makeup at your destination. You may also want to keep a spare stick of deodorant handy. If you wear your hair down with a helmet, it’s actually fairly easy to remedy afterwards with a couple of barrettes or high updo. Beware that recovery odds from the combination of helmet plus low ponytail, on the other hand, may be slim to none.
A quick wipe-down with a wet paper towel, some face powder and mascara, and you’ll look as fresh as a daisy, especially with that becoming flush to your cheeks.
There. Economical, adventurous, and even good for you. Why squish into a crowded train or stare into highway traffic, when you can fly?