Thursday, August 9, 2007

It's A Jungle Out There: Six Tips For Urban Cyclists

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.)


sometimes I'm ignorant said...


I had to look it up. So, not only am I entertained, I am also learning...

Thanks BSNYC!

Dr. Logan said...

"This is a family site" - priceless.

bikepennst8 said...

save your breath:

so true. in a race there is always the guy who keeps yelling for people to "hold their line" or something equally doltish. odds are he also has the most road rash scars, the torn jersey, and that nervous twitch. odds are also on your side to move away from him and closer to the guy he is yelling at.

Anonymous said...

Re: saving your breath

Thank god someone else is saying this. None of us are saints - we do stupid shit and cut people off or whack a loose bag buckle on a car (sorry man, hope I didn't fuck up your custom paintjob). Everyone needs a little compassion.

-n00b in San Diego

Anonymous said...

"so true. in a race there is always the guy who keeps yelling for people to "hold their line" or something equally doltish."

Haha. I loved how when I raced cat4/5 there was always someone who had to utter that phrase going into EVERY corner of a crit. The trouble was the rare occasion when it wasn't said and someone forgot...

The Car Whisperer said...

Preach, brother! I will spread your gospel in Chicago. You are linked!

Izzy said...

First time I'm reading your blog. I definitely abide by #1-5, but I know I've let a few "death rays" loose in my time. I just try and aim them at cabbies, motorists (2 distinct classifications) and pedestrians who think getting hit by a bike doesn't sting a bit. I try and keep them away from my fellow cyclists. :) This is very funny stuff, thanks.

bikesgonewild said... glad i'm a hick from the sticks cuz it just seems so darn hard to be CORRECT in yer town.

Silas said...

Instead of Tetris, don't you mean Frogger???

That makes a lot more sense to me.

Great post!

BikeSnobNYC said...


I thought of Frogger first but that was already in a "Seinfeld." It's also Tetris-y if you think about when you get one of those long pieces. The best analogy I think is when they shoot atomic particles through pieces of lead or whatever (especially since not all the particles make it through), but I don't know enough about physics to be accurate.


You have no idea. Count your blessings.


Anonymous said...


Jim said...

What the *&$^ is wrong with yelling at people? What is wrong with you (*$&@#$ers? I don't get it. What's your ##%$*^&ing problem with yelling and cursing people out??


Anonymous said...

"Crosswalk Figure-Eight" LOL

I've done this more times than I'd care to admit. But, from now on I'm putting my foot down!

Anonymous said...

I don't shoot death ray beams. I shoot jets of urine.

28c said...

goddamn it i have the motherfucking right to bike shirtless and shoot death rays out of my nipples if it pleases me....

Ronald said...

never have I seen a blog strike a chord with so many people so quickly-don't quite know what to make of it-I just know it's made my morning coffee -my despatcher is getting even MORE used to "shit,I'm running late but time got away from me 'cos...."than he was before....fukn addictive shit...but isn't anything good.........

Ronald said...

Hey, Silas-ya nailed it-I been calling messengering an "endless game of TERMINAL Frogger" for years....after 19 years and at 40 years of age I have to ride brakeless fixed to keep myself awake while playing......sometimes I worry about myself...I got no idea children....40-60 tags a day...sometimes Ifeel fifteen....others eighty........

Ronald said...

Just as well that I was the crusty,old messenger who took my now despatcher out on his first day all them years ago...means I can get away with practically never been so goooooood.........plse don't show him this post though.....sorry-derunk-it's friday night here........

Ronald said...

Issues-who-me.....never...whatever do you mean.......?

Art said...

Death rays... I never knew it was my fault. It seems every time I pass an oncoming cyclist on a bike path bridge it seems like they turn pale and start weaving while I squeeze over to the right and try not to shred my knuckles on the guard rail. Next pair of sunglasses are going to be mirrored on the inside.

Anonymous said...

I am Deathrays. I am the man with the multilayered tan. Let your friends be donors while blowing the light. The best girlwatching in the city is from the whiteline.

Tetris, aka Stupid Squares. Frogger is for Donors.

bikesgonewild said...

RE: Keep Your Shirt On, Literally
A very serious subject was neglected that needs to be addressed here;

This may be one of the most egregious acts perpetrated by 'guys' who indubitably wish to view themselves as cyclists.

So visibly offensive as to make real.......i..i..i just can't go on. I'm overwhelmed with disgust. Jeez, stop this madness.

Sean said...

Instead of Frogger...I might also compare it to the old Asteroids table when you would recklessly fly from one side of the screen to the other blasting away and hoping you made a straight path through the oncoming asteroids...though instead of lasers, we are equipped with the death rays.

Mr C said...

Over here in Sydney, Aus. we call the the intersection echelon, the "shepherd". The name comes from our local football, where the player with the ball hides behind another. Pedestrians are the best when one needs to shepherd. There's no need to look left if there's 2 jaywalkers that have got you covered.

12cherryhillst said...

may i respectfully disagree with the GCTS and/or CFE? i do either in order to have the momentum to make a break in traffic should one materialize (except at the few lights that i know i'll never make); arguably, i'm less able to make the gap if i'm starting from a standstill.

Big_Ric said...

I put a proud foot down today instead of the Cross Walk Figure Eight.

What can I say? Fixed gear and flip-flops with no straps dont make for good track stands.

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