The Portland Mercury bikes. We bike to Mercury HQ, to City Hall, to interviews, to NIMBY throwdowns, to movie screenings, to book readings. We even use bikes to deliver the Mercury! So we know as well as anybody: In an overgrown city constipated with traffic, and on an overheated planet on its deathbed, bikes aren’t just a healthier, greener, faster way to get around Portland—they’re a fundamental part of the city. So if you’re already biking, good on you! If you haven’t? This summer’s the perfect time to start.
ON THE OTHER HAND.
Unlike driving—which requires anyone doing it to actually learn how—any inept dummy with a bike can wobble into the street, aimlessly pedal in confused circles, and fuck shit up for everybody. And as anyone who’s been on any Portland street for two minutes can attest, this happens all the time.
So to kick off Portland’s prime biking season, here are a few tips from the Portland Mercury Bicycle Gang! Sure, they’re mostly for the inept dummies—but chances are, there are a few things here that’ll be useful even for those of us whose hobbies include both biking and re-adjusting our messenger bags so we can self-righteously pat ourselves on the back for biking.
WEAR A HELMET
We all know the real reason you’re not wearing a helmet: You don’t want to look stupid. And that’s legit! Science has proven that no matter how expensive it is, every bike helmet always makes the person wearing it look stupid. Counterpoint: No one has ever looked cool riding a bike. Yes, this includes you. You do not and cannot look cool when you are riding a bike. So you might as well wear a helmet and not die! (Meanwhile, if it’s cost and not vanity that’s keeping you from biking safely, don’t get a used helmet—instead, check out the City of Portland's “Bike Resources on a Budget” or ask around at Portland’s friendly co-op or non-profit bike shops.)
LET THERE BE LIGHT
Bright ones—white in front, red in the back. Whether or not you want them to flash is up to you and depends on how paranoid and/or gaudy you are.
KNOW THE GODDAMN RULES
Along with biking maps and other resources, the Portland Biking Guide is online, as is the Oregon Bicyclist Manual. Read them—both to know your rights as a bicyclist and to learn about tricky biking moves like “taking the lane.”
GOOGLE MAPS IS YOUR FRIEND
Sure, Google is an exploitative behemoth that’s hell-bent on annihilating our privacy for its own financial gain. But! Unlike other map apps, Google Maps provides clear, bike-specific directions to anywhere in town, giving you the fastest route while sticking to bike-friendly streets.
RIDE IN THE SAME DIRECTION AS TRAFFIC
What are you, British?
Like, with real hand signals, not the half-assed ones where you keep your hands on your handlebars and just point. That doesn’t mean shit to drivers, bikers, or anyone not intently staring at your hands. (You have nice hands, but they aren’t that nice.) Before you argue that hand signals are not cool, see above re: no one ever looking cool while riding a bike.
Yelling is fun and great! Look at all these exclamation points! But shouts can be legitimately jarring for bikers—and then they crash, and then everyone behind them crashes, and it was all your fault.
THE BELL IS FOR PASSING, NOT FOR SAYING “HELLO!”
We’re looking at you, Biketowners.
The bell is for passing, not for saying "Hello!" (We're looking at you, Biketowners.)
OH YEAH, LET PEOPLE KNOW WHEN YOU’RE PASSING
Have a dorky bell? Ding-ding away, dork! If not, say “On your left” before you speed by someone on their left (and always pass on the left).
STAY OFF THE SIDEWALKS
This goes double for downtown, and it goes quadruple when you’re riding on a sidewalk right next to a bike lane. If for some reason you have to bike on a sidewalk—say, if you are a small kindergartner who’s getting used to their training wheels—always yield to pedestrians, who shouldn’t have to deal with your bullshit.
AVOID BUSY STREETS
Yes, sometimes you have to use a crazy-busy street. But you know what you don’t have to do? Teeter up Hawthorne at .003 MPH at rush hour, justifiably infuriating every single person in an entire quadrant of the city. Most busy streets in central Portland have roads set aside for bikes that run directly parallel to those dominated by cars. Maybe use one of those? Maybe reduce the level of frustration and unhappiness in the world by just a smidgen of a fraction?
Ugh, why do you spit so much? What’s wrong with your mouth? Check if someone is behind you before you excrete your slimy tongue-juice out of your defective mouth.
ON DARK, RAINY NIGHTS...
Everyone on the streets, whether they’re bikers or drivers, should drive like their vehicles are made of goddamn nitroglycerin. For all of Portland’s efforts to make streets safe at night, things still gets dodgy as soon as it starts to rain.
STOP DOING TRACK STANDS
Track stands are more commonly known as “that dumb thing that dudes (and it’s always dudes) do where they try to balance on their stopped bikes at a red light.” Wow! So cool, dudes! Please see above re: no one ever looking cool while riding a bike.
“BUT I NEED TO DO A TRACK STAND BECAUSE MY SHOES CLIP INTO MY PEDALS!”
Well, Armstrong, maybe it’s time to consider the fact that shoes that attach to your pedals are perhaps not the wisest choice for bicycling in a city, where you have to stop a lot.
Riding in a straight line helps drivers and other bikers better predict where you’re going so they do not hit you. You know what does the opposite of that? Swerving and veering around like a kindergartner with training wheels.
DON’T ASSUME ANYTHING
Don’t expect drivers—or other bikers!—to know or respect Portland’s biking and traffic laws. This city is constantly flooded with newbies, and by all indications, none of them saw a bicycle before they moved here.
AND FOR DRIVERS...
• Bike lanes are for bikes.Drive a Lyft or an Uber? Don’t park it in the fucking bike lane, and don’t think that turning your hazard lights magically exempts you from the law or oh, we don’t know, getting people killed and shit.
• Use the right roads.
You know how bicyclists don’t bike on freeways? Because those roads are for specific vehicles and specific purposes and everything works better because of it? That’s something to keep in mind when you’re trying to do 50 down a neighborhood greenway. If there’s a sharrow (or “shared lane” arrow marking) painted on the road, that’s a clue that you should (1) be cool with bikes or, (2) use one of the 80 million roads that haven’t been specifically designated for use by cyclists.
• Don’t tailgate.
You’re sitting in a two-and-a-half-ton SUV. The biker in front of you is balancing on a 25-pound bike. Don’t be a dick.
• Remember that...
the vast majority of the time, Portland’s bikes and cars get along great—which is truly remarkable, and shouldn’t be understated, and makes the city better for everyone! GOOD JOB, EVERYBODY. But if there’s ever a point when you forget this—which happens to all of us, especially at rush hour—maybe just chill the fuck out for five minutes. Tune to 89.9 All Classical Portland. That usually helps.