Bike Smart; Find your place on the road

7 minute read

Bike Bloc during the People's Climate March in NYC | Source: AP

Last week’s terrible news in New York City of the death of Jill Tarlov resulting from a bike-pedestrian collision - whatever the cause - found the usual corners of the biking debate. Regardless of the actions of both of those involved, no doubt in countless conversations off of social media and the internet at large, cycling as a community took a hit far larger than the NYC bike community itself. From the successes that the Climate Action grassroots movement achieved this past weekend with the People’s Climate March, the urban biking community interweaves a large subset of this now mainstream visible movement


You yourself may find that the community you are in, whether topologically challenging or road width / bike accommodation deficient, have a role to play in your community about promoting bikes far beyond a cute obsession but a sustainable mobility alternative. Much like other social phenomena, bad experiences lead to social prejudice, and rightfully or wrongfully affect judgement when you are out on the road. Bicycling Magazine last year put together a great list of staying safe in traffic written from an ultra-cyclist’s (first North American man to wear the yellow jersey in the Tour de France in 1986) perspective that actually captures great tips to be on the road.  I will add one, here:


  • Just Bike, leave entitlement at home. (Don't be a ____)

Far too often I hear from conversations or the tones of many cycling related articles or comments that bike riders people encounter act entitled to the level of a “me-first” attitude. Because as I stated before of social phenomena, this attitude becomes a prejudice that many times over ruins the gains the cycling community makes in local communities and eventually into the national spotlight.

How this changes is a better awareness on the road that can only happen with large events aimed at bringing the largely non-riding public with the cycling community through civic sponsored events, non-profit organized rides with police, and local bike shops being elevated into the community spotlight as partners in moving forward toward this social change and encouragement of car-less trips.

How do we start, you may be asking. Like any grassroots event, start with existing local events that feature space to table and an audience of non-bikers and bikers a like that would find a social ride interesting: maybe you coordinate with a local group and start with the local police to integrate a skills-based class with a larger fun social ride to take over a few city streets in coordination with an existing event. Farmer’s market (if those are regular in your area) are a good place to start, because they often attract a diverse audience who is amenable to social gathering and experiencing new things.

For all of this work, bike riders, non bike riders, city planners, and local law enforcement can have positive conversations and better understanding between sometimes opposed groups, while also helping to address cycling’s paradoxical racial and socioeconomic divide again born from cultural prejudices towards bikes as a “toy”, cars still considered as status symbols as wealthier people in urban settings reduce their car dependencies, and “white, entitled” “cyclists” - who may happen to be riding expensive bikes - giving little courtesy to others.

[caption id=”attachment_284” align=”aligncenter” width=”600”]Share the Road : A Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition's program to educate cyclists and motorists. Share the Road : A Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition’s program to educate bike riders and motorists.[/caption]

A helpful way to avoid entitlement is to keep an idea of your place on the road and more importantly, keeping an idea of the social goodwill that you as a bike rider hold for everyone else in your community. As a bike rider grows more comfortable with the area, it may feel easy to take control of the road and go about your way as we feel equal to a car driver on the road. What we should keep in mind towards the overall goal in the sentence above, is that we are sharing the road with other traffic, or sharing a multi-use trail / sidewalk (where permitted) with pedestrians. Just as you in a car wouldn’t cut someone else driving a car off, or tailgate, or hold up traffic, the same applies to you as a bike rider on the road. If I am going up hill (which is often here in Knoxville), I know that my speed is going be to rather substandard to flowing car traffic even on the quiet roads that I actively seek on my commute to school twice a week, so I will try to be as far to the side of the 2 lane road as I can be, looking ahead for any obstacles (glass, potholes, manhole covers) that may need me to navigate around. On downhills where I will be approaching the speed limit of the quiet road I have chosen, I will move slightly to the left - still no more than 3 feet away - to just ensure that people do see me and that when they do I can feel good that I have helped to raise the social capital of the burgeoning bike community here in Knoxville.

Another useful tip highlighted in the Bicycling article is that road awareness should always be on your mind. Even if you are rightfully able to ride through the green light while a pedestrian tries to cross or a get nearly cut off by car turning in front of you, always keep in the mind that just as driving a car, being defensive rather than always opportunistic keeps not only you safe but others as well. With modern distractions taking away pedestrian and driver attention from the activity they be should concentrated on, as you are riding think about those situations that could arise and give yourself options if you need to make an evasive maneuver. While the facts that led to Jill Tarlov’s death still remain unclear as the investigation continues, and I will avoid any speculation, it serves as a critical message of what can happen even if all of the steps I have outlined here are followed.

  • Be predictable

Overall, if anything is to be surmised from this reminder, it is that the social chain of the advances of the biking community as a subset of the greater climate action movement depends on each and every bike rider. To keep that chain growing and unbreakable really does take care and thought, even if it slows you down by 30 seconds. No one wants to be involved in a bike accident, and while as seen recently these steps in themselves can’t prevent everything, when a future incident like this unfortunately occurs, the story headlines won’t be “Cyclist kills pedestrian” but rather an “Accident Involving a Cyclist and Pedestrian results in death.” And don’t get wrong, 1 death / injury is 1 death /injury too many no matter who is involved, but our nation’s urban mobility lies in the balance of this social chain that we as bikers must uphold to reduce the barriers to entry and have a lot of fun with a growingly diverse set of fellow bike riders to enjoy the ride with.


A Vision for what bikes could do for urban mobility: A New concept for the Urban Tricycle


[vimeo id=”103315894” align=”center” mode=”lazyload” autoplay=”no” aspect_ratio=”16:9”]


Now, one concept that I think will end up being great towards seeing bikes as highly usable mobility mode comes from the added benefit of another wheel: a tricycle. Much like the 3-wheeler article I wrote several weeks back this concept uses two wheels in the front and one in the back, greater for carrying a payload that usually justifies why you would want to take a car rather than yourself. As showed in the video, however, it has a cool trick like the Toyota i-Road we shared 2 weeks ago in that the front wheels tilt, delivering a turn-in feel of a bike that we would normally ride. We’ll keep on eye on this project to see if it is able to make it to market, but for more info for now, check out this great CityLab article on it.

[caption id=”attachment_288” align=”aligncenter” width=”620”]<img class=”size-full wp-image-288” src=”” alt=”Payload Capability of the Kiffy Agence 360” width=”620” height=”519” /></a> Payload Capability of the Kiffy Agence 360[/caption]


As Sheila mentioned Wednesday night, we have switched days, so expect to see my columns now every Friday, and these next weeks I’ll be giving some more insight into the project of the Copper Basin in SE TN / N GA. Please like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter, if you haven’t already.