Okay, I ride a bike and I wear a helmet. I don't consider myself a bike geek - sorry, no genitalia-in-relief bike shorts - but I do follow the rules of the road.
If you ride a bike in Chicago and you don't wear a helmet, stop reading. I can't help you. It takes a special kind of stupid to look at the traffic and the concrete and the comparatively extreme softness of your own brain container and think, "Nah - I'll take my chances." There is nothing I can say that will change your mind. Gravity, inertia and your face inserted into gravel will be the only persuader.
If you do wear a helmet, then, please, read on. There's hope for you. You're smarter than the average bike-riding bear (they don't wear helmets, either). But that doesn't leave you off the hook. I hope nobody finds themselves in any of the following categories, but, if you do, please consider this "friendly" advice.
- If you wear your helmet like it's a jaunty chapeau or on the back of your skull like an industrial-strength yarmulke, you're an idiot. You're thwarting the purpose of the helmet by trying to wear it in a way that looks cool. Bike helmets are not designed to look cool. They are designed to keep your egg from crackin'. Wear it properly. Flat on the top of your head and only a room for a finger or two between the strap and your neck. It should be snug, but not constricting.
- If you have your helmet attached to your handle bars or your backpack while riding, what the hell are you thinking? Are you telling the world, "I'm smart, but not THAT smart!" Are you going to try to whip it on your head as you're flipping over your handle bars? You have it, you bought it, now wear it.
- If you wear a helmet, leave the iPod at home or in your backpack. Don't plug your ears with music while riding. You're less likely to hear approaching cars, but you also won't hear other bikers coming up behind you. Bad enough we have to deal with the swaying roller-bladers and their iPods, we don't need the likes of you swerving your two-wheeler into us. To ride a bike safely in the city, you have to be hyper-aware of your surroundings. You can't do that while jamming to your Sweet Summer Jams featuring Foghat mix.
- If you wear a helmet, and your jamming Au natural to the environment, be considerate.
- Don't buzz other bikers or pedestrians. As you approach another biker that you are about to pass, let them know you are there. A simple, friendly "On your left" is enough. Unless you're on the right, then, you know... And that's another thing, as on a multi-lane highway in your car, favor the right so others can pass your more easily.
- Slow down at crosswalks and be ready to stop. It's okay to stop your bike. Really, it is. It seems some bikers feel they have defeated the purpose of riding their bike if they actually stop and put a foot or two to the ground. A bike has brakes for a reason. Don't roll into the intersection. Cars don't want to hit you, but they will if they have to. Especially be careful and considerate at crosswalks along the Lakeshore path, sometimes cars get backed up. It's okay to stop and let them through. Not all them. Just a few. Don't want them to get the wrong idea.
- If you're riding on the streets, follow the flow of traffic and honor stop signs and traffic lights. Being on a bike doesn't entitle you to ignore them. It's actually the law, but, really, it's just the smart thing to do.
- If you're over thirteen, stop riding your bike on the sidewalk. You're scaring people. Unless it's part of your paper route, get off and walk your bike or get back on the road.
- If you're riding with a friend, be careful about riding in pairs. Especially along the Lakeshore path, you're taking up a lot of space. And if it's busy, that means another biker has to move into the on-coming lane to pass you. I know you're probably having a very nice conversation, but better to ride single file.
- If you're riding at night, have a front and tail light. This is for the benefit of cars, pedestrians and other bike riders. It's amazing how invisible someone on their bike can be at night. And there's no engine to give you away. So, I recommend proper lighting and saying "Vroom-Vroom" a lot.
- Pace yourself according to how fast everyone else is moving. This is especially true along the lake. If it's crowded and things are slow, slow down. Better to be careful than cause an eight-stroller pile-up. I know his is counter to getting a good workout. If that's why you're riding, ride during less populated times, like late at night, early morning, mid-morning or mid-afternoon of a weekday. Better to slow down during peak times than to continue your workout at a physical rehab center.
The City of Chicago is very pro-bicycle and we should take every advantage of it. Unfortunately, with the influx of bikers comes an influx of unsafe bikers. Don't be one of them. Be kind. Be safe.
Check out the City of Chicago's website, www.chicagobikes.org. Great place for information on routes and safety. And definitely check out my friends at www.biketraffic.org, a great organization to get involved in and to support. They sponsor several really cool bike tours during the summer.