Etiquette for the Conscientious Cyclist
Ask the Advice Pedaler
Dear Advice Pedaler:
I started commuting by bike on Bike to Work Day. It seemed like a good thing at the time and I rode regularly every day. I've been advocating for more bike lanes, biking to work and the store. But the rain changed all that. I guess the bike is a limited form of transportation in this climate. How are cyclists expected to ride in the winter?
Dear Fair Weather: First of all, many countries where the bike is king have colder and wetter weather year round than San Francisco-Denmark and Holland, for example. There are two main ways to deal with biking in the rain: the minimalist and the maximalist methods. The minimalist wears very few clothes so there is less to get wet-just a t-shirt and bike shorts-but carries a change of clothes in a plastic bag. The maximalist is outfitted completely in waterproof and reflective materials (raincoat, rainpants, galoshes, a plastic bag over the helmet, and fenders on the bike) and simply removes the soggy layer upon arrival.
You can choose any method in between. With the right gear, you can feel comfortable in the rain, knowing that you'll be visible to cars and other cyclists and warm and dry at your destination. Bike shops are full of all types of rain gear designed for cycling, but you might find that regular rain gear is more suited to commuting. The Advice Pedaler at least brings a small hand towel (to dry off exposed skin) and a change of socks when it rains. She also has a clean rag in her tool kit to dry off her bike if she's bringing it inside at her destination.
Riding in the rain requires some extra caution. Be especially careful if it's the first rain after a long time: the oil that cars have dripped on the street gets suspended by the water and creates an extra slippery surface. You are also more likely to get a flat tire in the rain, so bring your repair kit (see page 7 for an explanation of this phenomenon). Heavy rain diminishes visibility, so you'll need to be extra careful around other cyclists and cars. Make sure you keep your bike well-maintained and make sure your rims are kept clean for good braking.
Dear Advice Pedaler:
Please settle a dispute between me and my partner: She says that the bike is legally a vehicle, and that we have to follow the same rules as cars. I say it's ok to ride the wrong way down a one-way street. Besides, it's so much easier to get to the grocery store if we use the one-way street as a short cut.
Dear Wrong: Whether or not it's convenient, one of the statistically more dangerous activities for a cyclist is riding against traffic, whether on the wrong side of the street, or on a one-way street going the wrong way. There are several factors contributing to this danger: drivers are looking behind them for moving vehicles when they pull out of parking spots, they're not looking ahead. Since it is expected that everyone on the street is following the traffic laws, drivers are looking for objects that are going the same direction as they are. This is especially important wherever a car may turn: intersections, driveways, parking spots. Also, a wrong-way cyclist presents a danger to any cyclists who are going the right way. Finally, a head-on collision between two vehicles is more damaging than a collision between two vehicles going the same direction. (Contra-flow bike lanes are one solution for the one-way dilemma. See page 1.)