How to Ride Your Bike Around Town
For some people, the idea that we’d need to do a blog post on how to ride your bike around town is laughable, but trust me when I say that I have people coming up to me all the time asking if there are classes they can take to learn how to bike commute. Outside our spandex-clad fiefdom, there’s a massive population of bike-curious adults who’d love nothing more than to hop on their bike and ride to the library, or the grocery store, or a restaurant. The only thing stopping them? They don’t know the rules and don’t want to do something stupid that might get them injured or a ticket.
After talking to them, it totally makes sense. They weren’t raised riding bikes, they never really had an interest in riding bikes, but now they find themselves wanting to ride. That's great! These people don’t know what they don’t know, so it’s really cool to be able to help these folks understand their rights and responsibilities as cyclists and welcome them into our community of two-wheeled badasses. In this post, we’re going to try to make clear the responsibilities and rights riders have as cyclists, some useful tips, as well as provide some resources for further reading.
What is a Cyclist?
You can go down a rabbit hole of what constitutes a cyclist, but for simplicity’s sake, we’re going to define it as a person riding a two-wheeled vehicle that is human-powered or powered by a non-internal combustible engine. Yes, eBike riders are cyclists the same as you and me. If you’re going to make fun of eBikes, stick around to the end of the post and I’ll change your mind about them. Promise.
Most importantly, it’s crucial that people understand that, as a cyclist, you’re not exempt from the laws governing motor vehicles. Every law that applies to you as a motorist applies to you on a bicycle. You have the same rights and the same responsibilities, but some people new to cycling see other cyclists practicing poor, and very illegal, habits and think it must be ok for them as well. It ain’t. So don’t.
This is something we all need to do better at; new riders and experienced riders alike. When I see riders going the wrong way on a one-way street, riding against traffic, running stop signs, I totally get why some motorists get upset with cyclists. We may be avoiding the use of fossil fuels, reducing congestion, and setting healthy examples for our young people, but that image all goes out the window when we violate basic traffic laws in the eyes of motorists.
Basic Rules of the Road
Cyclists should ride on the road , not on the sidewalk, and have every right to be there. Don’t listen to anyone telling you otherwise. With that being said, cyclists are instructed to hug the right side of the roadway as close as it’s safely possible. Riders should always ride with traffic and never against traffic. Just as in a car, cyclists should use hand signals to indicate turns and lane changes. When making a left turn, cyclists have the right to assume the entire lane as to make the intention of turning clear to all road users.
At stop signs, cyclists need to come to a complete stop. Now, this is a point of contention with some of my cycling friends, but some feel that it’s ok to “roll” the stop sign if the intersection is clear. You can totally go ahead and do this. However, I’ve heard of police officers writing cyclists tickets for failing to stop at a stop sign even though they did a track stand and didn’t put a foot down. If you’re willing to bet a $50+ ticket that a police officer isn’t bored enough to stop you and write you a ticket, go ahead and roll it.
If you’re riding at night, please be sure to have a light on your bike or on your persons. There’s simply no way to defend yourself to motorists or law enforcement officials when you’re completely invisible to other road users.
If you want more information on the rules of the road for cyclists, the League of Michigan Bicyclists is the single most valuable resource we have. You should go to their website to read an absolute treasure trove of information on the laws pertaining to riding bikes in Michigan.
How to Deal with Aggression from Motorists
It’s important to realize that when you’re on your bike, you represent every other cyclist on the roads in the minds of motorists. With that in mind, act and behave as generously and respectfully as possible to all other road users.
Unfortunately, you’re never going to make everyone happy. There’s a fundamental misunderstanding held by many motorists that cyclists shouldn’t, or in some cases, aren’t allowed on the roads. You never know what kind of day someone has had, what they’re going through at home or at work, and it always amazes me to see the levels of vitriol some drivers express towards cyclists who have done nothing wrong. There are over 9 million displaced persons in Syria, income disparity is at all time highs around the world, but having to slow down for 5 seconds to safely pass a cyclist on Old Mission Peninsula is worthy of horn blaring, engine revving, and expletives shouted out a window at 65mph. I don’t get it. I never will.
But to meet aggression with aggression only serves to increase hostility for everyone. In my many years of bike riding, the most marked impact I’ve noticed when dealing with road rage dingleberries is to simply wave and smile. After all, clearly, the person behaving like a moron needs a little kindness. Also, other road users will see a moron honking and acting dangerously, while simultaneously seeing a cyclist acting calmly and respectively. In that moment, drivers will make a decision; do I want to look and act the dingleberry in the car, or the kind and considerate cyclist? It’s a simple, effective way to win a point for the good guys.
It’s a recommendation we hope you never have to take us up on, but it’s important to know that if you’re assaulted, endangered, or involved in an accident, you have options. Even if you’re given a citation and you feel you didn’t actually break a law, you can (and should!) take legal action. Our rights as cyclists need to consistently be fought for in the courtroom and in Lansing. If you need to protect yourself in the courtroom, specialized lawyers like cyclinglawyer.com can help determine how to proceed with litigation.
A Quick Note on eBikes
With help from the League of Michigan Bicyclists, eBikes are now legally allowed on the roads and bike paths. This is only good news, people. Class 1 eBikes are allowed everywhere that normal bikes are allowed, and I can’t express how this is good for cycling, the environment, our cycling community, and probably our economy as well. First, how awesome is it to see a couple in their 70s on the TART trail on their way to the farmer’s market downtown? It’s awesome! This couple would have normally fired up their Cadillac (they’re 70, after all), parked downtown, paid for a space, rushed to get their shopping done, then went home to avoid paying a huge parking bill. Their Caddy took up space, burned dinosaur juice and pumped pollution into the air. Instead, they rode their bikes, getting their heart rates up, spent extra money on honey and lavender and tomatoes instead of feeding the meter, and then walked around town and ended up buying a new book from a local shop since they weren't in a rush to leave before having to pay for more parking.
Listen, hypothetical couple aside, whatever gets more people off the couch and on two-wheels is a win. Who cares if they’re getting a little help? If you had an injury, a health issue, or were just old, you might want a little help getting home on an 80 degree day too.
The League of Michigan Bicyclists is your advocate for all things two-wheeled in the Mitten.
Want to teach your kid to be safe when riding around town? Local groups like Norte Youth Cycling and Velo Kids help to teach kids the rules of the road so they can be safe, independent, and responsible road users for life.
Your area likely has a non-profit that advocates for and maintains the trails and commuter infrastructure you use or see every day. In TC, Traverse Area Recreational Trails is the first place to go to learn more about how to use the trails and pathways already established so you can be comfortable and confident on your rides.
Cycling clubs are way more beginner-friendly than you might think. Check online to find the group in your area to connect with. We’re really lucky to have the Cherry Capital Cycling Club to welcome and orientate new riders and cyclists here in TC.
If you want to learn more, Wes is leading a beginner ride at the Pancake Ride on July 6th at Elmwood Township Park at 8am. We’ll go over some basics before rocking out a 20-mile ride, then get back for some pancakes.
Thanks for reading. Sharing is caring. Tailwinds.