Tips for bicycle commuters in Miami

I love my bike. She’s a beautiful silver Trek, Urban style. I first got it to commute to and from school in Ohio, and I’ve recently started riding it to and from grad school here in Florida. I’ve accumulated some experience, and wanted to share some tips for anybody who is new to commuting by bike.
Note: I say some mean stuff about car drivers in here. Not ALL of them are idiots, and to those of you who are GOOD drivers, who OBEY the traffic laws, and who look for motorcycles, bikes, and pedestrians, THANK YOU. Please keep making us safer on the road.

1.) WEAR A HELMET
No really. Think you’re too cool to wear one? Then you’re too cool to be biking anywhere. You absolutely must have this, and not some ancient thing you found back in your garage. Like most other things, helmets have an expiration date, and you want one that’s going to protect your gourd. (There is some contention about this, but for me, I would rather spend $20 on a new helmet once every 1-2 years than be at risk.) My understanding is that sunlight can wear out the protective shell, and so helmets need to be replaced. And of course if it has sustained any damage, replace your helmet right away. Check out this site for more info: http://www.livestrong.com/article/362543-when-do-bicycle-helmets-expire/
Helmets aren’t just for car accidents either. Ever seen someone mowing their lawn? Ever suspect that a big rock might happen to get popped up right at your head as you pass by? What if you just wipe out on your own? (Hey, it happens to the best of us.) There are all sorts of injuries that can occur, so you should wear your helmet even if it’s just a short distance.

2.) Ride on the sidewalk in busy areas.
I know, technically that’s not the law. But quite frankly if you want to be safe, the less time you spend on the actual blacktop, the better. There are always some quiet roads where you’ll be able to ride on the pavement, but until then, try to stick to the sidewalk. *Disclaimer: Ahem. Don’t break the law. That is a bad thing to do. I did not tell you to do it… Now carry on.*

3.) Watch out for driveways and business entrances/exits
If you’re new to your route, pay special attention to any entrances to the road you’re on. Even on the sidewalk, you can easily get hit by someone who isn’t paying attention. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll know where these places are and you’ll be able to slow down as you approach. Don’t think that you can speed on by! I’m always tempted to speed by this exit that I pass on my way to school, right at the bottom of a hill after I pick up speed. But you know what? DON’T. Cars can go faster than you. And if you zoom out in front of them, you’re not giving yourself a good chance of being spotted.

4.) Give cars the right of way.
I know, I know. Bikes and pedestrians are supposed to have the right of way when they’re on the crosswalk. But you know what? 95% of drivers don’t care, especially Miami drivers. They want to turn right, and they’re going to do it whether you’re trying to cross or not. Your pride won’t do you much good when you’re in the hospital from a hit-and-run. Swallow your pride and take some time. Just be patient- there are SOME good drivers out there who will signal you across, which always makes me feel a little better. This leads me to my next point:

5.) Make eye contact
Do you think that guy at the stop sign saw you? Are you SURE? Is he texting? Is she on her cell phone? If you aren’t sure that someone sees you before crossing the road, assume that they DON’T see you! Wait to make eye contact, or for the driver to wave you on, some kind of acknowledgement. If you have to, then yell, “Do you see me?!” I have done this numerous times. It will work if it’s not drowned out by traffic. Many, many people are talking on their phones while driving, and they are not looking for cyclists AT ALL. Make sure that the driver is clear: You are crossing right now, and that’s ok with them.

6.) Be considerate to pedestrians
After all, they technically have the right to the sidewalk more than a bicycle. If someone is walking but has their back to you, don’t zoom on by, brushing them and generally scaring the s**t out of them! A bike horn or bell works great for this, or even just your voice, “Passing on your left!” I’ve never had someone turn around and defiantly stand in my way. If they know you’re coming, they’ll take a step to the side. You don’t have to wait behind them, and they don’t get sideswiped. Everyone is happy.

7.) Give clear signalsDo you know your bicycle hand signals? You should. How will a car know that you’re turning? Or stopping? Be clear: communicate! And when you’re on the corner waiting for the crosswalk light, make it clear if you don’t intend to cross yet. Put both feet on the pavement; nobody is going to bike away with both feet on the ground. This shows drivers that they can turn safely without cutting you off.

Another site that has some really interesting tips is here: http://flyingpigeon-la.com/2012/06/taking-the-lane-by-any-means-necessary/ I haven’t tried these techniques yet, but they sound reasonable.

In conclusion, be careful out there! If you are a driver, please take a second to think about where bikes might be. Even take a minute to bike down the road and back, just a mile or two. It might change your perspective. And if you are a cyclist who has never driven a car, get a buddy to help you find the blind spot. The more you know about how everyone else’s transportation works, the better. Stay safe!

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