City riding takes special skills and sensibilities. Here are six things you won't learn from Transportation Alternatives:
Keep Your Shirt On. Literally.
Yes, it’s hot here in New York right now. Crusty top-tube hot. However, that is not an excuse to cycle shirtless. I’m not concerned with the potential for unsightly skin abrasions. That’s your problem. I’m just concerned with the fact that it’s unsightly, period. Now, there’s always going to be the shirtless guy in the baggy shorts riding around on a department store bike with both v-brakes unhooked and a wet towel on his head. I’m not talking to that guy--that is not a cyclist, that’s a guy on a bike. I’m talking to the person on the IRO with a Chrome bag on bare skin. Or the roadie wearing bib shorts and nothing else. Or the chemiseless man I’ve been seeing on my commute every morning for the past week with the giant backpack and the conversion who leans on cars instead of putting his foot down at red lights. Yes, I realize some people scribe their thermometers at 90 degrees and write the word “shirtless!!!” next to it in purple sharpie, but the fact is a cycling jersey of some kind will actually keep you cooler than nothing at all. It’s called “wicking,” and it has nothing to do with candles. (And there will be no extra points to the first person to comment that women should be excluded from this rule. This is a family site.)
Sacrifice Others So That You May Live
In New York, traffic lights are widely considered optional for cyclists. The police will periodically enforce the law (as many messengers can tell you), but for the most part you can blow right through a red right in front of an officer in a Cushman without fear of reprisal. However, some riders blow lights more wantonly than others. Slowing down, making sure nobody’s coming, and then slipping through is one thing. Charging straight ahead at 30 and hoping the cars will align themselves in some Tetris-like fashion that allows you to pass is another. The thing is, sometimes you’re riding with someone more aggressive than yourself who might test your comfort zone. Of course, the smart thing is to just let them go. But come on, we’re cyclists. Admit it, for many of us, letting go of a wheel is like letting go of an alpine axe on Everest. So here’s a tip: if you’re riding with someone who’s an aggressive light-runner and you absolutely must stay with him, do what I call the “intersection echelon.” That is, when you approach the intersection, imagine oncoming cars are the wind and get on the leeward side of him. That way, he will bear the brunt of any vehicular impact. (This is particularly useful on group rides. Hey, it’s a cruel world.)
Avoid the Glacial Creep Track Stand
I don’t care whether or not you put your foot down at a light. But for some riders, dabbing a foot during an urban ride is an unspeakable humiliation. (Either that, or maybe they’re afraid their shoe might melt if it contacts hot pavement). Naturally, these riders as a rule will do a track stand at a red light. (They seem to be under the mistaken impression that pedestrians and onlookers are impressed). However, some of these people have not quite mastered the art. As they adjust their weight distribution and pedal position to stay upright, they slowly yet inevitably creep forward, eventually winding up in the crosswalk and, ultimately, in front of oncoming traffic. And by then it can be too late to unclip. That’s when the glacier falls victim to sudden and disastrous global warming.
Avoid the Crosswalk Figure-Eight
A counterpart to the Glacial Creep Track Stand is the Crosswalk Figure-Eight. While the GCTS is mostly a freewheel phenomenon (since the rider is ratcheting with his pedals to stay upright), the CWFE is more of a fixed gear thing. This happens when someone refuses to put a foot down but can’t track stand very well. So, instead, they ride around in little circles or figure eights until the intersection is clear. The danger? Well, apart from looking stupid, you might Lance Armstrong a Chanel handbag with your flop-and-chops and go down, looking even stupider.
Save Your Breath
Some riders shout at every little thing. They yell at every cab that cuts them off. They yell at every clueless tourist on the bridge who stands in their way. They yell at other riders who pass them by surprise while they’re busy yelling at someone else. If this is you, relax. Save your breath. Trust me, you need it. Not for that big hill, or that strenuous bridge crossing. No, you need to save your breath so when you’re confronted with that huge transgression—you know, the driver or pedestrian whose stupidity is radioactive enough to strip the paint from your frame—you can attack them with everything you’ve got.
Be Aware That Cyclists Shoot Death Rays From Their Eyes
If you’ve been riding for awhile, you may have noticed that you shoot death rays from your eyes. The fact is, most of us do. This can be observed when you’re riding across a narrow bridge crossing or bike path with two-way bike traffic. (Or also off-road on narrow, two-way singletrack.) What happens is this: you’re riding along and a newer, less-seasoned rider is coming towards you. As the rider approaches, he or she suddenly and inexplicably starts shaking and wobbling. (While this is most likely due to that cyclist’s fear that he or she may not be able to fit between you and the guard rail, I prefer to attribute it to death rays.) Obviously, this is dangerous to both parties, because the nervous, quivering cyclist is now effectively taking up twice as much lateral space. So if you shoot death rays yourself, learn to recognize potential victims. And if you’re still susceptible to death rays, learn the width of your bars and acquire confidence that you can fit through small spaces. (Or wear dark glasses, grip the bars, and hope for the best.)