3 tips for confidently riding in the city

Two years ago if you were to tell me I would be riding my bicycle alone in the city I would have thought you were nuts. I was afraid to just go around the block in the very small town I lived in. I couldn’t even fathom riding in Cleveland. When Jeff asked me to join him and some friends on a bike ride back in April of 2014 I was terrified! I’m embarrassed to admit that at one point in my life I might have even told you that bikes don’t belong on the road. I didn’t know anything about bikes, how to safely ride, and deep down I really really wanted to which caused me to have this calloused attitude about it.

Obviously things have changed since then. I take every opportunity I get to gush about how much I love my bike and try to convince others to hop on the saddle. Recently I’ve gotten some questions asking how I found the confidence to ride in the city on the road with traffic. While I definitely don’t claim to be some all knowing bike guru, and I still get a little freaked out riding in the city from time to time, it’s honestly not as bad as you may think. I’ve shared a little bit before about why I love biking and I honestly can’t express enough how great it makes me feel. I would love for others to find the same joy in it I do so here are a few things that helped me to feel confident on my bike in the city…

Learn bike safety! I’m not here to tell you whether or not to wear a helmet, that’s your decision but I will tell you that too much emphasis is put on cyclists wearing helmets as opposed to cyclists knowing how to safely ride. You can wear helmet and think you’re oh so safe but if you’re biking up the wrong side of the road… Ai yi yi

I’ll be the first to admit it – cars are scary. A great majority of motorists feel that bikes are in THEIR way on THEIR road but knowing your rights, and how you’re supposed to act on your bicycle is so so so important! Read up on your state’s laws. Learn which side of the road is the correct side to ride on. Know the common ways accidents happen and how to avoid them. (This article! Good for both folks on bikes and in cars!) Make sure you have a headlight, and tail light – even during the day. Do your research.

A resource to look into would be bike co-ops. Many offer safety class for cyclists of all abilities. The Ohio City Bike Co-op even has a traffic skills class! You are never too old to take a class, I promise. There are lots of little things you may not think of that someone who is experienced may tell you that could save your life.

Ride with people who are confident on their bicycles. Riding with Jeff, and Jason is where I feel I learned the most. Watching them on the road and around traffic showed me exactly what to do on my own.

Obviously not everyone has friends that ride or maybe you’re all wanting to learn together as a group, you are not out of luck. I will take every chance I get to talk about how much fun Critical Mass is. Nearly every big city has one, google “Your City + Critical Mass” to get the details! Because the group of cyclists is so large we normally don’t obey all traffic rules which isn’t exactly great for beginning cyclists but I still think it’s a great opportunity for two reasons…

One – you get to ride on the streets without the stress of traffic. There are cars around but you’re safe with so many others around. It’s a great way to get, for lack of a better phrase, your sea legs. You get to feel what it’s like to be on your bike in a place that you’ll hopefully be cruising around on your own in the near future.

Two – I’m gonna blame it on the fact that biking makes people feel good but dude, the people at Critical Mass will be some of the friendliest people you will ever meet. It’s a great way to connect people who have the same interests as you. Ask them about group rides that aren’t Critical Mass, chances are they know of one and will invite you! I’ve lived in Cleveland for a little over a year and half now and I’m seriously still finding rides I didn’t know about.

Practice often! After learning basic bike safety the next big step is getting out there! As someone with anxiety I understand the frustration of someone saying “Oh, just do it. No big deal” I get it, sometimes little things are a HUGE deal but I can also tell you from experience the only way to get over those things is to face them. You don’t have to get out there and crush thirty miles by yourself, not now and not ever if you don’t want to. Set small goals. A ride around the block can be terrifying (as noted by old Kaylah!) but when you finally do it it will feel SO awesome.

Ride often, pushing yourself a little bit more each time and eventually it will be easy. There are still routes that scare me and roads with a little bit more traffic than I’d like but each time I face them they get slightly less scary.

Those are my three tips for learning to ride confidently in the city. I honestly have no idea how many other people out there reading are in similar situations to what I was in but I’ll be a happy little lady if this helps just one person get out there on a bike.

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  • I know you've heard it a million times but I still have to say it. Wear a helmet!!!! My dad always said people who don't wear helmets have nothing to protect. I think you do, so I wish you would. End of rant. Sorry.

    • While I appreciate the thought, whether or not I wear a helmet isn't up for discussion. I'm not much for debating, it's not something I enjoy hence why I've never really brought the subject up here. I've done my research. Perhaps in the future I'll change my mind but for now I'm happy with my decision.

      I will say that this passive aggressive "people who don't wear helmets have nothing to protect" idea isn't helpful. It simply shifts the blame.

      This article is worth a read: http://bicyclesafe.com/helmets.html

    • I kind-of agree with Kaylah, it isn't that helmets aren't important, it makes people ignore other important things about biking safety that is a little harder than putting on a helmet. If motorists know the rules for bikers and bikers know the rules for using roads it make things better. In the burbs I get cars stopping to "let me pass" and they are trying to be nice, but they have the right away, then on the flip side I will have cars blow through stop signs because they are only looking for cars. It is easier to say "put on a helmet" than "learn a bunch of rules, and make sure other drivers know what they should to do too!"

    • Thank you for that! I'm in no way encouraging others not to wear a helmet, I'm just saying that it's not the only thing to be concerned with safety wise.

  • This post happened at the perfect time! My husband got me a bike last weekend as an anniversary present and I am so excited but also very scared! I have zero experience riding around cars and traffic but I really want to be able to ride downtown with him.

    • I feel like I just keep missing them! I always find out after they happen. …not that I actually have anything to wear to them.

      Last year I found out about a zombie ride as it was happening and I was SOOO sad. Really hoping to get to that this year.

  • I think some other great ways to get into biking would be to practice biking at night… well if your city is well lit! I lived in Philly and some of my favorite times to go biking was a night when there weren't many cars out and about. There were lots of street lights and I would wear bright clothes so I felt pretty safe. I did avoid areas that wasn't as well lit.

    Also if you don't have a bike yet, check out bike rentals or bike share programs. That way you can get practice before spending a few hundred-thousand bucks. I know Philly has a bike share program, and so does New York City. Take a look around. It might be better do bike rentals since you will probably get a small breakdown of biking safety (if you go to a good place)