Joy of Cycling: Conquering risky urban environments confidently

Cyclists cross the Martin Olav Sabo Bridge on the Midtown Greenway. Photo credit: Benjamin Pecka

The beautiful and accessible trails around Minneapolis won’t always get you exactly where you need to go, and its important to stay safe while traversing the bustling downtown area.

Areas like Northeast and Uptown can even be treacherous, but with the right gear and the right know-how, these streets can be fast and safe.

First and foremost, your equipment is imperative to keeping safe on the streets.

Always, always, always wear a helmet. It can be a nuisance, or even dorky looking, but all the planning in the world will not stop a driver that does not see you. It may save your life one day.

Lights are also very important when biking at night or even during the day. You should be riding with at least one facing forward and backward, but having more than those is often beneficial. Consider having lights that face toward your sides as well. If you look like a Christmas tree riding down Hennepin Ave, you at least know you will be seen.

Leave yourself room in the lane or on the side of the lane. You don’t want to be boxed in by other cars for when they make unexpected lane changes or turns. This will also allow you to make unexpected turns to avoid potholes or debris in the road. Leaving room will also allow you to avoid car doors opening on your right side, which you should always assume will happen under any circumstances.

Be sure to make yourself visible on the road as much as possible. This ties in with having lights on your bike, but often times cars are not looking for cyclists, especially around tight corners where the cycling lane is not immediately visible. At times, taking the middle road where cars typically drive is the best option. Signal left or right well before you make this maneuver, check over your shoulder, and make your move. This should only be done when making turns, or avoiding obstruction in the road.

Pay attention to where drivers are looking. The best option is to meet eyes with somebody to know that they have seen you and acknowledge you. When you can’t see their eyes, pay attention to the positioning of the vehicles tires. This can at least give you an idea as to what kind of maneuver the vehicle might be taking. Looking at the driver’s hand positioning on the steering wheel can give you similar notice.

Another very important rule: if you can’t see mirrors, they can’t see you. Learn it, know it.

When riding in a group be sure to ride for yourself. Don’t follow the person in front of you, as their actions may not be looking out for the safety of the person behind them. Your friends aren’t jerks, they just don’t know what you’re doing back there.

General awareness on the road can be a lifesaver. Many cyclists tend to gaze at their front tire as they speed along, but this can be detrimental to their safety. Look forward to what’s happening in front of you, and try to anticipate the road ahead. Headphones can also detract from your awareness on the road, and are also illegal in Minnesota. Music is fun on the road, but lose them.

Finally, planning your route can potentially avoid many dire situations. Perhaps its five o’clock on a Friday, or bar close, and you need to get through downtown. Hennepin Avenue is not the way. Consider taking 3rd Avenue instead, which has a large sectioned lane.

Biking in an urban environment is unavoidable for those that live and/or work in Minneapolis. There are safe routes and dangerous routes, but this is all relative. If you follow these simple directions you’ll get to where you’re going on time, and probably have a little fun while you ride.

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