The Basics of City Biking

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I’m a college senior looking for some practical guidance. I’ll be graduating in May with a degree in sociology. I’ve been accepted into graduate school at UC Riverside, where I plan to continue my graduate studies in social psychology. I have the rest of this semester to figure out my living situation. Right now, I’m stuck on deciding on whether or not to get a car while I’m there.

My parents are opposed to the idea, since I’ll be in an area with almost everything I need within walking distance. I’m also concerned with how expensive it would be. I don’t expect to make much money as a grad student, but, at the same time, I’ll want to get around more efficiently than walking.

My older brother suggested that I buy a bicycle. I haven’t ridden a bike in ages and, to be honest, the idea of riding in the city full of cars makes me nervous. He said I was letting fear get the best of me. How dangerous is it to ride in a city like Riverside?

You aren’t the first, and certainly won’t be the last, to harbor serious reservations when it comes urban cycling. Sharing the congested city streets with countless distracted motorists and pedestrians certainly has its risks, but many choose to ride on a daily basis and live to tell the tale. The most important factors are understanding the context and developing a realistic mindset.

Relying on a bicycle instead of an automobile has a number of pros that most agree far outweigh the cons. Consider your present circumstances, and decide whether you stand to gain more with a car or with a bike. In most cases, it probably makes sense to at least experiment with biking first before pulling the trigger on a car. This will give you the first-hand experience necessary to reach a definitive conclusion.

The more you know about urban cycling, the better prepared you’ll be when the time comes to do it yourself. Andrew Small at CityLab wrote the definitive rules of the road for urban cyclists, which is a useful place to begin your research. More than half of his suggestions revolve around focus and perspective rather than specific behaviors or techniques. This might come as a surprise, but the majority of seasoned riders will tell you everything begins with confidence. That sage advice is much easier said than done, but you have to start somewhere.

Another factor to consider is what happens if and when you get hit while riding your bike. In 2013, NPR hosted a segment about the increasing deaths resulting from hit-and-run accidents. Unfortunately, the streets of Los Angeles and New York were the two most dangerous. In response, state officials have proposed implementing a new statewide alert system specifically to address hit-and-run accidents. Sanctioned efforts aside, the best strategy is to arm yourself with knowledge.

Those unlucky enough to be the victim of such an accident should know exactly what to do when hit by a car. None of the steps are especially groundbreaking, but you’d be surprised how a state of shock can very quickly undermine your rational thought process. Treating any serious injuries is always the top priority. Always ensure that emergency personnel is dispatched to the scene and be sure to collect contact information from everyone involved. The final step is to find a bicycle accident attorney who can offer legal guidance.

“One of the most important days of my life was when I learned to ride a bicycle.” – Michael Palin

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