In a previous post I spoke about how biking was the way forward in urban commuting. But here is the big disclaimer. The biggest issue that people have with biking in the city is safety.
Biking in the city definitely comes with its own risks, and from my own anecdotal experiences, probably far more than walking, driving, etc does. But does that mean you shouldn’t do it?
Absolutely not. There are plenty of extreme activities that countless numbers of people engage in everyday. By extreme, I don’t necessarily mean it has to come up on your youtube fails search, nor does it have to come with a soundtrack of aggressive rock music. It just means that the risks are higher.
With biking in the city, the risks are higher. This is a fact. Toronto, and many other cities that are not bike friendly, do not have the infrastructure to support the safest forms of cycling. But, arguably, cycling infrastructure comes with demand and not the other way around. The more bikers demand it, the more likely it is to happen.
Pro-biking propaganda aside, the best thing you can do as a biker is to be aware of the risks. It is this awareness that will save your life. Always, better too cautious then too careless.
So what are the risks and how do you overcome them?
- Doors. People in parked cars not checking and opening up the doors into bikes is a huge risk. Being “doored” as it is commonly referred to is not entirely avoidable, but it can be prevented. First and foremost, avoid busy streets that allow for parked cars. Second, pay attention to the tail lights, if they are on, someone is in the car and you must must ring your bell and warm them. Third, if someone is in the car, try to make eye contact. If you are still not sure, move over (safely of course) and give them enough room to potentially open their door.
- Streetcar tracks. So many of my friends have fallen victim to these terrible things. Your wheel gets caught and you fly off the bike. Best case, a couple of scapes and bruises, worst case.. you don’t want to know. Most important is to know the size of your wheels. Can they get caught? Most road bikes have thin wheels and they do pose a risk on the tracks. Avoid, and never ride too close if you are parallel to them. If you must cross do so head, and do not cross them at too much of an angle. Note where the tracks make turns, especially if you also have to make those turns
- Taxis. So unpredictable. They will cut you off for a fare, make unpredictable u-turns, and make your overall trip a nightmare. Take note of taxis around you, ring your bell. I have found them to be most receptive to the bell, they know what it means, they are on the road all the time.
- Right hand turns. Cars making right hand turns often forget to check for bikers. If you see a car making a turn, stop, do not take the risk. If you can go around them, do that but do it safely. The cars behind them may not be aware of your intentions to overtake and they may also proceed to go around them. Bells and whistles. I have said it before, and I will say it again, you are better off to cautious then too careless. Don’t be afraid to be the person who is always ringing their bell. This is your safety we are talking about.
The bottom line here is definitely awareness. You can ski, surf and mountain climb, but you cannot do it carelessly. Same goes for biking in the city. Above all else, wear a helmet. I cannot stress this enough. There is no reason in the world for you not to be protecting that brain of yours.