More people riding bikes is great. But as people who have been driving or busing or walking all winter haul their rusty two-wheelers out of the garage, I think we could use a quick lesson in basic Portland biking etiquette. I find people are sometimes intimidated about riding a bike because they don't know the rules of the road, and I also find that people are sometimes just dumbasses who ride dangerously (this guy, who ran a red light in front of me on Sandy last Friday because he was juggling while unicycling on his way to work, is exempted from that statement).
I asked a couple smart (attractive) long-time Portland bike riders to toss in some advice for people who are just getting back on a bike after a long hiatus. Here are our tips:
1. Don't run red lights. In addition to greatly improving your chances of getting run over, running lights adds to a stereotype of "lawless cyclists" who self-righteously consider themselves "above the law." Don't add fuel to the flames of anti-bike arguments. Don't run red lights (unless there's no cars for blocks and it's the middle of the night, then it's maybe okay, but you should still feel sheepish about it). There are some lights in the city that don't register bikes. If you know of any of those, report them here—the city is trying to get around to make all signals responsive to bikes.
2. "Always, always, always give the pedestrian the right of way," says cyclist and advocate Elly Blue. "Always!" If someone is crossing the street or even looks like they intend to cross the street from a corner, you should stop and let them go. I'm bad at doing this, but it's the polite thing to do.
3. Ride predictably. When you're driving, it's a terrible idea to swing across multiple lanes without signaling. The same goes for when you're biking. Ride in a straight line and signal with your arms if you're going to turn or change lanes. And be wary of drivers and cyclists who aren't predictable. "Never expect the person bicycling in front of you to hold their line. Also, only pass other bikes on the left," cautions Blue. "Understand that 'daily car drivers' may be surprised to see so many new bicyclists on the roads as the days get sunnier and warmer," says champion cyclocross racer Molly Cameron. "While it is not our responsibility to make sure cars are not hitting us, I like to remember that drivers are people too."
4. Pump up your tires and lube your chain. This basic bike maintenance will keep you rolling all summer. Here, you can follow these insanely detailed tips on chain lubing with this video as a soundtrack. If you're a motivated type, definitely also take your bike to a bike shop at the beginning of the season and get a tune up.
5. Don't be a dick to drivers. A good rule for anywhere, but especially on the road: Don't yell at strangers. Though it's scary when people cut you off or drive aggressively, really the best idea is to flash a peace sign rather than a one-finger salute. Getting physical with drivers can get you in trouble. "My tactic is to simmer commute tension with a smile and wave," says Molly Cameron, who is more hardcore than you will ever be. "Heck, I give cars the right of way when we both come to a full stop at an intersection at the same time! Being generous goes a long way."
6. Actually, don't be a dick to anyone. Be courteous when you're riding on busy routes like the Hawthorne Bridge, Springwater Trail, or Waterfront Park. This isn't the Tour de France—ride slower and give pedestrians and other cyclists a heads up by ringing your bell or shouting "On your left!" if you're going to pass them.
7. Have front and back lights! It's pretty absurd that most bikes don't come with lights—a bright white front light and a red back light is essential to riding safely in the city, since it's hard for people to see you on the road at all if you're not lit up. (Note: State law only requires a front light and red back reflector, but a light is an excellent idea.)
8. Buy a solid lock and always lock your bike. When I first moved here, I bought the cheapest cable lock in the store. Somehow, my bike managed to remain unstolen for the month it took me to shape up and shell out for a Kyrptonite U-Lock. Cable locks can be easily snipped with wire cutters, so a beefy U-lock is definitely worth the pricetag. Also, always lock your bike through the frame (not just the wheels), because thieves can often just unhook your wheels and walk away with your bike. Flickr has a whole photo group of how not to lock your bike.
OTHER ASSORTED ADVICE:
• If you want to learn how to fix your own bike, the Community Cycling Center has great wrenching classes. I took the women-only one last winter. It was a hoot. And also educational. Citybikes, North Portland Bike Works and Bike Farm all host "open wrench" nights where you can bring in your bike and fix it up with help from a trained mechanic.
• The city runs a bunch of bike rides in various neighborhoods, if you want to hit the streets with a group of people rather than alone. There's also the Shift calendar where anyone can post fun rides.
• It took me about six months to get a good grip on the best bike routes around town and I still wind up lost in unfamiliar neighborhoods. Google Maps allows you to plan trips by bike and there's also this nifty site for planning routes. Also, check out the city's bike maps. (alert alert: Does anyone know of a good mobile bike route planner? I have yet to see a bike route map for phones, since for some reason Google Maps doesn't offer a "bike" option on its mobile version.)
• People often ask me about where to buy a bike in Portland. I'd say: Poke your head into a bunch of bike shops and see which makes you feel the most comfortable and has the sort of bike you're looking for. Some shops only sell new bikes, some are more focused on racing bikes or city bikes, some make you feel intimidated for asking questions. Choose somewhere you'll want to go back to, because it's great to have a good relationship with a mechanic when you need maintenance. But, for the record, I've always had great experiences buying commuter bikes or parts at the CCC and Citybikes; family bikes and the prettiest, girly-type city bikes are at Clever Cycles; annnnd 21st Avenue Bikes makes the best YouTube videos. So there.
Please add your own spring biking advice and insight to the comments.