Bike advice

For new cyclists, Brian Lehrer suggests a rearview mirror, and Alan Cumming says "Don't look up." We say, be like a deer in the forest.

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Premium Rush
Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Premium Rush

On Monday, the city’s long-awaited bike share program will debut; clean new sturdy Citi Bikes will be loaded into docking stations across Manhattan and Brooklyn, and adventurous early adopters will be yanking them out (apparently it takes some force) and happily pedaling them around town.

WNYC and Transportation Nation have started to collect audio clips from regular riders to help prepare people who aren’t familiar with riding in NYC. (You can contribute your own wisdom via this link.)

A sample of their sound clips are embedded at the bottom of this post. Brian Lehrer’s suggestion for a mirror is good, but if you’re using a Citi Bike, you’d need to attach it to the bars yourself — is that likely? Alan Cumming suggests ‘don’t look up at buildings’ — that’s reasonable. I do sometimes look up at buildings, so I’d instead suggest acquiring a general heightened awareness in every dimension, like a deer in a forest. If you ride on Flatbush Avenue, Canal Street (which is more or less impossible), Houston, or 23rd Street, your body will produce this hyper-aware state automatically.

Other observations collected over my lifetime as cyclist in the city: the opening curbside door of a taxi becomes easier to anticipate over time. The sudden opening of the street-side door of a car or taxi is less common, more surprising and more dangerous.

Be aware of roadway features like giant potholes and the metal plates covering excavations. Metal plates are slick when it rains.

When riding in a bike lane, and especially on the busy bike paths running along the Hudson, assume another bicyclist is right behind you, and don’t stop suddenly. This is also true on the exhilarating downhill runs on the bridges across the East River.

Buses and trucks with long wheelbases are scary when you’re trapped between them and the curb, especially when they make a turn. Stay out of their way, and don’t try to pass them on the inside.

The city is big, and traffic accidents happen for everyone, including cars, pedestrians and bicyclists — but the city is safer than the suburbs simply because we’re not in automobiles all the time, and a mix of users on the streets makes everyone safer.

A bike is faster than being on foot, more open than a taxi, and has more continuity than a trip by subway — which shuttles you from one neighborhood to another, without the feel of the streets between changing; cycling is the quintessential way to experience the city.

(It’s true, he doesn’t look up at buildings.)