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For many people, the biggest hurdle to bike commuting is simply committing to getting on your bike every morning – after that, the rest is relatively easy.
However, there are a few details that every bike commuter should know, like how to handle themselves on the road when commuting and how to plan a route that gets you where you need to go both quickly and safely.
Taking time to research the roads between your home and work is one of the most important steps you can take to ensure that you have a safe and enjoyable commuting experience.
Not all roads are equal when it comes to biking – some are rough and spotted with potholes, some have no shoulders to ride in, and others are choked with traffic or involve riding alongside cars speeding by at more than 50 miles per hour.
To start planning your commute, the best thing to do is to use app like Google Maps to identify the shortest path between your home and work.
From there, check to see whether these roads are frequented by cyclists – either by asking around at your local bike shop or by checking the heatmap of cycling routes on an app like Strava.
If you can find colleagues or neighbors who also commute to work, ask them about their experiences and favorite roads in the area. Keep an eye out for bike paths in the area, which are often faster and safer than roads even if they go out of your way slightly since they have fewer intersections and no cars. Drive the roads that you are planning to ride before settling on them for your commute.
This is the best way to see whether there are blind curves that aren’t easily identified on Google Maps, or whether the road surface is so bumpy that you would need to add padding to your bike seat to ride comfortably.
For an even more realistic experiment, drive the routes at the same time you would be commuting each morning and afternoon – this can give you a better idea of how heavy the traffic will be during rush hours.
Experiment! Especially when you are trying out a new commuting route, plan to take a slightly different route every day for the first week or two. You may find that the most direct route is not necessarily the best route, that one road is much less windy than another, or that another road has other cyclists riding on it frequently and that this improves your safety.
In the case that you have a significant hazard that you don’t feel comfortable riding on and can’t get around – a narrow bridge or a major highway crossing, for example – consider combining driving and riding in your commute.
Driving part of the way to a place where you can park and from which it is safe to ride can greatly reduce the stress of bike commuting, even if it means you won’t be able to get rid of your car totally.
This strategy is especially helpful if you can drive to a bike path and follow the path on your bike for the rest of the way into work, thus avoiding on-road traffic and having to park your car in a congested area around your building.
Road positioning seems basic, but a surprising number of cyclists get it wrong. When riding your bike, the rule of thumb is to be on the right side of the road – in the shoulder if it is wide enough, or to the right side of the lane if there is no shoulder.
However, there are times when you need to take the entire lane or move to the left.
Taking the full lane is particularly common on roads that have no shoulders, or when the road narrows – as in going into a bridge, for example. Roads that have a stretch of continuous hazards like potholes or road debris can also be a reason to take up the entire lane.
Of course, taking the entire lane is sure to anger vehicles behind you, so try to move quickly when riding in the middle of the lane and get back to the right as quickly as possible.
If you encounter hostile drivers when taking the full lane, the best practice is not to engage or even to give a friendly wave so as not to enflame drivers further.
Whenever you are approaching an intersection, it’s important to reconsider your road position as being all the way to the right is not always the correct, or safest, position.
At intersections that have a dedicated right turn lane, you need to move to the left if you plan on going straight. Otherwise, you risk drivers sideswiping you as they attempt to turn right from your left.
Of course, if you are planning to turn left, you need to carefully move into whatever lane is designated for turning left – which often means planning to take the full lane briefly ahead of the intersection.
If you need to make a left turn on a heavily trafficked road with multiple lanes, it’s better to stop on the shoulder and wait for traffic to pass before trying to move over.
While some drivers will see your signal and allow you to get over, it is never safe to assume that all drivers will interpret your hand signals correctly or that they will be willing to allow you to merge into traffic.
Roundabouts present a particular challenge for cyclists, in part because many drivers struggle to navigate roundabouts. This is especially true in roundabouts with multiple lanes and multiple potential exits.
Ahead of any roundabout, it is a smart idea to take the entire lane and to sit up in your bike so that you can be seen. If you need to be in the left lane in a two-lane roundabout to get to your intended exit, move to the left before entering the roundabout – do not attempt to change lanes within the roundabout.
Just as you would in a car, yield to oncoming traffic that is already in the roundabout before proceeding, but doesn’t stop unnecessarily once you are in the roundabout since this can cause you to be hit from behind.
Carefully researching and planning your bike commute route can make a big difference in the safety and enjoyability of your daily ride.
Once you’re on the road, remember to practice good bike positioning to keep yourself safe when sharing the road with other cyclists and cars.
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