Nervous about commuting.

Discussion in 'Commuting and Road Safety' started by NuCommuter, Mar 10, 2006.

  1. NuCommuter

    NuCommuter New Member

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    I haven't ridden a bike much in over 10 years, but just placed my order for a commuter bike, as I can no longer park free at work. I did the commute a few times on my old aluminum-framed road bike, and it was just too harsh--plus the narrow tires skittered over the road debris unpleasantly.

    I was getting pretty excited about adding this new dimension to my life, but after reading a bit in the forums here, I'm nervous--so many incidents of problems with cars, bad falls, etc.

    If you can believe it, I've skateboarded to work quite a bit, but never felt unsafe, because you can just step off a skateboard and be walking or running instantly to avoid a hazard. You're a little more committed being on a bike.

    Anyway, my specific question: is there a proper way to fall off a bike?

    Thanks,

    NuCommuter
     
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  2. MidBunchLurker

    MidBunchLurker New Member

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    After a few rides you'll feel more at home in the traffic. The rule for falling - don't fall in front of a car. So if you have to panic brake because someone cuts in front of you, try to slide the bike in front of you towards the car. Usually easier said than done as you don't tend to get too much warning in these situations :)

    Other issues - try to be as visible as possible, especially when riding in low or no light. There's no such thing as too many lights and reflective things.

    And the reason you read about the falls here, is because they're a lot more interesting to talk about then your nervous ride through the smoggy traffic. They don't happen that often. In 5 years of bike commuting twice a week I've only had an accident once, although there's probably a near miss at least once a month.
     
  3. SEAcarlessTTLE

    SEAcarlessTTLE New Member

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    First, I have to echo Nick's remark... An experienced, careful cyclist falls very rarely, although nearly any frequent cyclist eventually does. Don't let the talk here discourage you. The good news is that if we all posted every time we had an accident-free week of cycling, we'd run out of disk space. :)

    I've stopped trying to figure out the right way to fall, 'cause my reaction time isn't fast enough when the unlucky time comes. I've fallen twice, and both times, it was my fault (e.g., taking a turn a bit too fast), and I had no serious injuries.

    Instead, I focus on ways of avoiding falls and injury. Here are some ideas to add to Nick's good advice about lights, etc.:

    - Pick your route for cycling. This often means finding a route that the cars *don't* normally take. Don't take the main car routes, unless you're in super shape, are carrying little enough that you can be very agile w/ starts and stops, and have superior bike control skills...and maybe even if you do! Find a quiet route, maybe just off the main roads, and remember to give yourself ample time to enjoy the ride...it's not a race. I often take a less direct route so I can enjoy the cycling, rather than dodge cars. I bet other Boston/Cambridge area cyclists would be happy to help you pick a good route.

    - Lighting and a brightly colored jacket help, but be *very* conservative about assuming that drivers see you. Obviously, the price of a bad assumption can be very high. I think of my bike as a magic, invisibility device. It's sad, but a lot of U.S. drivers still think bikes are just for kids and don't belong on the road. (Pfft!) :)

    - Be ready to brake hard. First, make sure your brakes and rims (esp. the front) are in good order and adjusted properly. Then, esp. if you carry a lot of stuff around like I do, get used to the feel and control of braking hard with a loaded bike. The handling and braking will be different. Remember that your front brake gives you lots of stopping power, as long as you don't forget to hang on to the handlebars. :)

    - If you ride in the rain, be very conservative! Even with wet weather brake pads, rim brakes lose power when wet. Don't find this out the hard way. I'm told disc brakes do well in rain, but I've never tried.

    - Wear gloves, always. If you do fall, it'll save your palms from getting scraped up.

    - Wear your helmet properly. I see sooooo many riders with their helmets too far back on their heads, cocked sideways, straps loose, etc. If you're going to bother wearing it, wear it right! Here's one of many web sites with fitting advice: http://www.bhsi.org/pamnhts1.htm

    There are lots folks here willing to help and encourage you with your new commuting mode. Let us know how you like the new bike, and enjoy the ride!
     
  4. NuCommuter

    NuCommuter New Member

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    Thanks for the encouragement and advice. I've got some familiarity with "back" routes from skateboarding--but the emphasis there is on finding routes with mild hills and smooth asphalt, so I'll have to think differently about bikingm where carlessness is more important. I did buy a Boston area bike route map, and I've got a neon-type jacket I use when skateboarding, so I'll use that. I was fascinated to read the advice on the back of the bike route map, about "claiming one's lane," about using the front brake mainly, and about specific ways to properly handle intersections, etc. So I will read and re-read that. I also appreciate the point about bike skills. I'm sure mine are not that great. I'm a skilled kayaker, and I know that I'm probably safer in 10 foot waves on the ocean in winter than a novice paddler is on a quiet river in the summer, because of the judgement and physical skills I've spent years honing. I expect to have a learning curve for biking too, and will take it easy starting out.

    BTW, I ordered a Surly Cross-Check with drop handlebars, 105 drivetrain, and 32mm wheels. That statement makes it sound like I know what I'm talking about, but I don't : ) I hope it's a reasonable choice for commuting 8-20 miles over potholed roads. Fortunately, my worksites have bike lock areas that are monitored by the parking lot attendant. I already left a big lock at work. And I ordered a pannier that's like a garment bag, since I have to wear suit and tie, and can't see rolling them. So far, while it's cold, I've just ridden in my work clothes, but as it gets warm that won't work anymore.

    NuCommuter
     
  5. SEAcarlessTTLE

    SEAcarlessTTLE New Member

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    Nice to hear that someone in Boston is helping make the city bike-friendlier! That map published by the city?

    Re bike skills, I'll mention a book I got as a gift that I liked: Robert Hurst's The Art of Urban Cycling. It covers some basic, urban commuting safety strategies and skills, along with a few fun stories.

    Re front brake, here's the famous Sheldon Brown's two cents, which basically convinced me to learn to love the front brake, although on the wet streets of Seattle, I use the back one lots, too!

    http://www.sheldonbrown.com/brakturn.html

    Re your new ride...mm, I'm jealous. :) From everything I hear, that's a great frame for commuting, and a 105 group should be pretty reliable. 32 mm tires seems like the right place to start, riding over crappy, New England pavement. (I used to live in RI, so I remember!) I wonder, though, if you decided to get cantilever brakes... Cantilevers will give you more clearance for bigger tires, fenders, etc., and better stopping power.

    Sounds like you've been doing your homework if you already have the savvy to leave a big U lock at work. No offense intended to your lot attendant, but cable up your wheels and lock as if you're on the street!

    BTW, let me know how you like that pannier garment bag when it arrives. I could use one of those...
     
  6. NuCommuter

    NuCommuter New Member

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    Hey, my favorite ocean kayak was made in Seattle: an Elan by Mariner Kayaks. The Broze brothers have retired, however, so the kayak community is anxiously waiting to see if someone buys their business and reopens it. And boat designer Nigel Foster, whom I've paddled with a few times, also lives in Seattle.

    Re: that book--thank you, I will find it.

    Re: the map--I've misplaced it and can't remember who puts it out--I think it was a bicycle advocacy group in the city.

    Re: locking the bike--I will take that advice to heart. My very first bike was stolen when I was 10, and I'll never forget how bad that felt.

    Re: the bike--I read a little and talked with two bicycle shops. I figured if I'm really going to use it year-round, I'll save so much car and gas money that it'll be worth the cost to get a quality bike that fits.

    In addition to posting here, I really ought to be contacting my own brother-in-law Niko, who was president of the Bay Area Bicycle Coalition a few years ago.

    Thanks,

    NuCommuter
     
  7. NuCommuter

    NuCommuter New Member

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    P.S. I checked the parts list and yes, unbeknowst to me, I will be getting cantilever brakes. I'm glad that's good. I really didn't have the judgement to know what I was being sold, but I did check the prices of their build list against on-line prices, and they were comparable to retail on-line, which seems fair, since they're also building the bike.

    As for the map, it's put it right here in Cambridge: Rubel BikeMaps, www.bikemaps.com

    NuCommuter
     
  8. buckybux

    buckybux New Member

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    I have commuted to work for years, and needed to wear either a suit or sports coat. I have rolled them into a bag, strapped it with bungee cord to the rack. Also carried a plastic trash bag, which I used when the roads were wet. I found rolling the suits was the easiest and it packed quickly.

    I ride about 10 miles and found riding in trafic was best when I avoided the busy streets. Watch out for the cars that pass, then make a right turn in front of you, they are lethal. As mentioned earlier, always ride as if the autos don't see you (because they don't). I also ride about 2 feet from the curb most of the time to give myself room to dodge debris (the autos won't let you move into the lane if they are passing you).
     
  9. poweredbysweat

    poweredbysweat New Member

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    As a rule, most commutes are fairly uneventful. The stories you read on these are some of the exceptions to the rule.
     
  10. riptide

    riptide New Member

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    I note that I am something of a "Retro Man", I switched from 10 speeds to 3
    speeds for commuting 6 years ago, and I am a firm believed in having more than
    one bike, both for variety and so a mechanical problem doesn't throw you off.
    Regarding visibility in cooler weather I wear blaze orange garments, I also recommend light yellow-green.
     
  11. NuCommuter

    NuCommuter New Member

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    I picked up my new bike yesterday, and took it for its maiden ride today--to the university police, where I registered it--and registered my laptop too, while I was at it.

    Then I tore all over Cambridge on it. I'd forgotten how much fun it is simply to make a bike go. The softer frame and tires absorbed the bumps, and all my fears about falling from debris or a pothole vanished--this bike actually seems to enjoy bumps. I had an interruptor brake put on the right side only, running to the front brake, so I can easily turn left and look behind me (duplicating my goofy-footed skateboarding posture) while maintaining brake-ability. Unlike with my road bike, I felt safe taking my eyes from the road, since small pebbles and bumps no longer seemed to threaten my life.

    All sorts of skills seemed to come back from my real biking days in my late teens and early twenties, when I would ride from McLean VA into D.C. and in the hills around Charlottesville VA. In some ways, the ride reminded me of my old steel Schwinn ten-speed from those days. But this bike is far more responsive than that old one, and its gears go both higher and lower. I like the nimbleness of the steering compared with my old road bike, and I love the bar-end shifters. Also, it didn't seem much slower at all. I think I accelerated more slowly, but I outran traffic with ease, even on legs that haven't biked in 12 years.

    In other words--I'm psyched! My garment bag pannier arrived by mail today too. Maybe it will turn out to be a mistake, but I think my clothes will look better after being in it than being rolled. I'll certainly report back about how well it works.

    So how abnormal is this? It's Friday night, and instead of looking forward to the weekend, I can't wait for my Monday morning ride to work!?

    NuCommuter.
     
  12. NuCommuter

    NuCommuter New Member

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    Here's the 3-month update:

    I am no longer nervous about commuting.

    I used my bike for nearly everything now, to the point that my car, when I have to use it, has regained its new car smell, from sitting idle.

    Instead of locking the bike outside, I simply carry it up to my office. No one has said anything yet, and I'm not asking. I decided this because I read that the mile radius around Harvard Square is the 6th worst place for bike theft in the country.

    I am totally loving biking around, and my daughter loves it too (on an add-on bike, or on her own, found-in-the-garbage mini-mountain bike that we refurbished).

    Perhaps my most fun bike project was when my wife found a 1963 Raleigh Sports in the trash, and I cleaned it up for her for Mother's Day. I felt like a "real man" pulling out the bearings with tweezers. She loves it, and it rides beautifully. The only parts I had to replace were the seat (a Brooks B72) and the handlebar grips (I got reproductions at Harris Cyclery).

    Thanks, all, for your encouragement at my start. I now anticipate many years of happy commuting by bicycle. I've made friends along the route, and the bike is an instant conversation starter at work and at home. Plus I've lost 5 pounds (and I was already pretty athletic--it seems cross-training does this).

    --NuCommuter
     
  13. buckybux

    buckybux New Member

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    Glad to hear it is working so well. It is interesting because most people think that you just get on a bike and ride. It takes a while to learn how to ride in traffic and to handle the weather issues. Sounds like with your prior experience and the help you are getting, you are well on your way.

    I have been commuting on a bike for about 14 years now. Not every day, as I often need a car, but I ride whenever possible. You will find your own shortcuts to the problems.


     
  14. NuCommuter

    NuCommuter New Member

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    Wow, 14 years--impressive. You've probably saved thousands of gallons of gas. I feel guilty now every time I think of all the wasted, boring car trips, which should have been memorable bike trips. Sigh...

    You mentioned about rolling clothes--I've found I alternate between rolling them lightly in a large pannier (if they are wrinkle-free) and laying them out neatly in the Two Wheel Gear garment pannier (if I have a jacket or cotton stuff that wrinkles). The garment bag is a bit more cumbersome, but it works--clothes arrive less wrinkled than if worn in a car.

    Re: cars--this site, bikeforums, and Hurst's "Art of Urban Cycling" seem to have me feeling pretty comfortable. I've been practicing panic stops, bunny-hopping, etc. I like how rear panniers keep your rear wheel down in a sudden stop (having gone over the handlebars twice long ago). Visibility has been a major issue for me because I am deaf. I got 4 lightman strobes--a red for the back, ambers for the sides, and clear for the front. With those on, cars avoid me like I'm a UFO.

    NuCommuter.
     
  15. buckybux

    buckybux New Member

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    I haven't gone with the pannier system, but then that is probably because I haven't changed the method for 10 years. When I need to replace, I will look into the system. The problem with the the backpack/rack system is that when it is wet, it really soaks the bag (thus the reason I carry a plastic bag)(but it doesn't rain much in Spokane). So the system is not perfect, but does seem to work. I used to have to wear suits, but now I mainly wear sports coats, and even then in the hot weather often the coat is left home.

    My main problem was the amount of work I have to carry between home and work. But with computers and the internet access, that is getting to be less and less.

    Five years ago I had an auditory neuroma (brain tumor on the hearing nerve). Lost both my hearing and balance on the left side (right is fine), that has impacted my ability to hear cars coming from behind (which is one of your big issues) and lost all directionality (so if even if I hear the vehicle I don't know where it is). Night riding can be tricky due to lack of visual cues for balance.

    Visibility is the one area I have worked on and improved. At night or in the
    dusky hours, I use the strobes. In light, I always wear a high visibility top.
    That has substantially helped with autos allowing space. Still have the occassionally driver that thinks they own the road who passes with inches of clearance to their mirror.

    Enjoy the commuting. Each of us has differences, and you will learn the process over a couple of years. It is not something that works perfect from day one, but one that we learn and improve over time. Soon you too will have the 10+ years experience, and then share with others your tricks.

     
  16. 8200rpm

    8200rpm New Member

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    What kind of distances are you guys commuting???

    I'm considering bicycle commuting but my ONE-WAY trip will be 22 miles. The geography is 16 miles of coastal highway (virtually no elevation gain) then 6 miles inland with rolling hills... climbs and drops.

    BTW, that Surly is a SWEET bike.
     
  17. poweredbysweat

    poweredbysweat New Member

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    8 miles one-way, but I often do some other additional riding.
     
  18. buckybux

    buckybux New Member

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    I have two work sites, one is 22 miles one way, the other is 5 miles one way. I have at least one 500' hill to climb, usually on the way home.



     
  19. rayhuang

    rayhuang New Member

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    Good reading, especially with a 3-month update!! I am going to drive my route I planned and see how it is at 8:30am and 5pm. Ive ridden portions of many times, but only on weeknights and weekends. Where I work is in an industrial park, so theres metal, concrete debris, big trucks, semis on the last 3 miles of the ride (no sidewalks, busy street) all the time. As bicycle unfriendly as you can imagine. I could do the 20+ mile commute on a mountain bike which would alleviate the no sidwalk thing, but it wouldnt be long before I quite commuting if I had to ride my MTB. I just like riding my road bikes!! NOw to see how cheaply I can build up a commuter bike, cost IS AN OBJECT!!
     
  20. pspurr

    pspurr New Member

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    Thanks for the information. I have read thru the entire thread and was happy to see the transformation. I love two things about biking. The freedom and the bikes themselves. Art science and a little individualism makes each person's ride a fun extension.

    One warning that I have. Pedestrians. If someone mentioned them in the thread, I overlooked it. They will cause you trouble because for the most part they don't register a bicycle as a danger, and often have no idea how fast you are going.

    I have a new bike coming soon. My ideal commuter was trashed on a Sunday ride a while back, and I have waited to fund the new ride. I had a Rivendell Atlantis which took the brunt of a head on with an inexperienced bike rider who made the same mistake I see in folks walking around. She crossed in front of me on a bike path when I was in top gear spinning along. Good luck and keep on riding!
     
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