The seasonal flood of bicycles is as sure a sign of Spring as tree buds, litter piles, and tulips. As with most things in life, this is heaven to some, and hell to others. Below are just a few thoughts, cautions, and insights for both drivers and riders as the ‘bike season’ gets underway.
Riders: If at all possible, take your first ride of the season on the weekend, or after work/school, when you’re not in a rush. Along with these other Spring tips, dust off the cobwebs, pump up those tires, test your brakes & lights, give your chain a little lube, and take her for a spin. You’ll be better able to enjoy your re-found freedom, and have the time to stop in at the local bike shop to solve any mechanical problems.
Riders: Yes, it really does feel amazing to ride a bike again for the first time since whenever. It’s easy to get distracted and caught up in feeling like you’re flying, but you must remember that traffic is still traffic and you’re part of it when riding your bike. Go ahead, enjoy the wind in your hair and the sun on your face, but stay focused on the task at hand; riding predictably, as part of traffic, to arrive safely at your destination. Save the joyrides for weekends and summer nights, not for the morning or evening commute.
Drivers: Please be patient. Many of the people riding along beside, in front, and behind you have either been cramped up in public transit vehicles, alone in cars, or car-pooling for the past 6months and they’re feeling exhilarated to be back out in the world moving around on their own terms. Just as you’ve got to get used to sharing the road with more bikes again, they’ve got to get back into the rhythm of the ride and sharing the road with you. Remember, bicycles are considered vehicles under the law and have as much right to use the roads as motor vehicles. And cycling is fun, maybe this is the year you’ll give it a try?
Riders: You also share most of the same responsibilities as drivers for following the rules of the road. Signaling your intentions, obeying signs and signals, riding predictably and with courtesy for other road users, using lights on your bike at night, and giving right of way to drivers/riders/pedestrians as appropriate, are all very important. These matter not just for your safety, but also (like it or not) for how bikes are perceived as part of traffic, and treated in turn.
City streets might seem fixed – they’re anything but. Many seasonal changes are a given – poor road conditions, wider variety of road users, attitudes, construction zones… and in the same way we adjust our wardrobe, changes to our driving/transportation habits and behaviours are a part of this seasonal shift.
Spring roads are usually in bad shape. This winter has been one of the roughest yet for most of North America, and our roads have taken a beating. Bicycles and their riders are much more susceptible to harm from uneven surfaces, wheel eating potholes, slippery gravel and debris.
Drivers: Please leave people on bikes as much room as possible when driving behind or passing them. Riders need about 1m/3ft on either side of them to safely maneuver, often quickly, around any obstacles that are present in the roadway; potholes, pedestrians crossing midblock, car doors opening…
Riders: Take it easy on your first few rides to and from your usual destinations. You’ll need to learn, hopefully not the hard way, where the rough spots are along the way. Some potholes are so wide for example that you’ll need to plan ahead and change lane position in advance so that you can get around them. Some parts of the roadway may have heaved because of the freeze thaw cycle, and there is a lot more gravel, glass and other debris in the road at this time of year. As always, pay close attention to everything happening around you on the roads/sidewalks, slow down and/or stop as needed/instructed, avoid squeezing between vehicles, pass to the left of a right turning vehicle, and stay back from trucks and buses.
Sure, we’re all important people hurrying to get to important places, but nothing is more important than getting there in one piece, and without causing harm/stress to our neighbours. The key thing to remember is that we’re all in this together and safely sharing the roadways is a shared responsibility. Whether on foot, by bike, or in a car, do yourself and everyone around you a favour by packing your patience when heading out onto the streets of your city. Regardless of the season, courtesy is always in style.