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Tips to Survive City Riding on Bikeshare

If you're in an urban environment and have taken to the streets on a pedal bike, be it through a bikeshare scheme or on your own bike, you're going to get yourself killed unless you benefit from my decades as a devoted city-rider. My bona fides include a couple of years as a bike messenger in Washington, D.C., in addition to the 25 years I have been riding the streets of Washington, Portland and Berlin -- all without a helmet or any lycra whatsoever.

Keep your indignant rage in check: You're going to be cut off. People are going to "share" your lane. People will carelessly merge into you. The bike lane will be cut off. Other bikers will hurt your reputation by jumping lights, by riding contraflow, and there are always bike messengers out there to hurt your pristine bike-road-rule following-of-laws. You'll be fine as long as you let it go. If you play Indignant Chicken, "I will stay right here, this is where I am legally entitled to ride," you're going to eventually get squished.

On the street, you need to be grateful every moment that you're still moving forward, unmolested, and spend more of your time and attention reinforcing good drivers by smiling, waving, and saying "thank you" to them as well as to the pedestrians, as well, who clear the way for you and enable you to flow as opposed to squealing to a halt.

Assume drivers can't or don't see you: They can't or they don't. In Berlin and most of Europe, not only are there separate roads for city cyclists, there are bike stoplights, bike turn signals, and, especially, bike-awareness. Some day, enough drivers will know enough drivers who are in prison for running over a commuting cyclist -- then people will look for cyclists too. If it makes you feel any better, drivers don't or can't see motorcyclists either, and riders have lights, blinkers, and loud pipes.

If cars don't know how to see a motorcyclist on the road, they surely won't notice a 155-pound person on a 30-pound bike, even if it is red or blue or yellow, even if it has LED lights or even if you wear hi-viz and use the bell liberally. My BMW is a sound-cocoon on its own, with NPR on, I can't hear anything outside of my vehicle, sometimes not even emergency vehicles like ambulances, police cruisers, and firetrucks. D.C. is a rich city: everyone has an amazing stereo and a sound-sealed fine automobile, to say nothing of the white noise hiss of climate control.

Picture every pedestrian as a deer-in-the-headlights

: I like to use my honed bike courier mind to anticipate the vector and acceleration of everyone around me on the street. From pedestrians to other bikes to vehicular traffic. Pedestrians are unpredictable. They tend to freeze, like a deer in the headlights, or double back or change their rate of acceleration. Cars, taxis, bikes, and buses have enough mass and momentum that one can easily make assumptions -- buses are slow to start, taxis dart, and cars don't blink.

Sadly, it's getting worse. When I was a courier in the late '80s and early '90s, there were very few distractions -- really only Walkmen and big Nokia cellphones. Some people would read-while-walking. Now, however, your garden-variety ped is using his or her attention span to do everything outside navigating, allowing their autonomic autopilot to convey them home. They're plugged into music with in-ear sound-isolating buds or are so invested in conversations that they're far off in a much different brainscape -- the cloud? -- and aren't even paying attention to city buses, potholes, or even street light poles.

You need to anticipate outcome -- and, if you've studied any quantum physics at all, consider all the possible outcomes about to spawn into new multiverse forks -- and be sure to cover your brakes, be ready to panic stop or swerve, and balance your body to the read to help keep upright as you come to a halt. More information about the program is available on the web site at