Mastering Your Bicycle on NYC Streets


So you've considered commuting to work on a bicycle. Now you're worried about the logistics -- between congested sidewalks, aggressive drivers and unpredictable weather, can you make it to work in one piece?

Absolutely, says Bicycling Magazine editor Emily Furia. In response to some common concerns about navigating the city on your bicycle, here are some tips:

How to ride on a rainy day

Don’t Be a Jerk
Sudden movements, such as grabbing a handful of brake or being aggressive in corners, will surely land you on your butt. Instead, stay centered on the bike and look far enough ahead that you have plenty of time to slow down for corners or react to slippery spots (be especially careful when riding over wet manhole covers or painted lines). If you do encounter a slick patch, level your pedals, point your bike straight ahead, relax your upper body, and exhale as you cross. If you have to pedal over a larger patch, keep your stroke extra smooth with steady, even pressure on the pedals—no quick stabs.

Fenders are Your Friend
Showing up to work with a mud stripe down one’s back is generally frowned upon, but full coverage fenders on your bike’s front and rear wheels will help keep road spray at bay. Planet Bike and SKS both make a range of quality models.

Mind Your Machine
Mix road salt and grit with a little water and you get a crunchy solution that chews through bike parts. To minimize damage, clean and lube your chain after wet rides:

  1. Put the bike in a work stand or have a friend hold up the rear wheel.
  2. While turning the pedals backwards, grasp the chain with a clean ride soaked with degreaser (Dawn dish detergent also works well).
  3. Apply a drop of chain lube (available at any bike shop) to each chain link as you slowly backpedal.
  4. Wipe off excess lube with a rag so you don’t attract more dirt to your chain.

How to deal with aggressive drivers
Signal all turns, and make eye contact with drivers at intersections. This not only helps ensure that you’re seen, but also reminds motorists that there’s a human being underneath that helmet and glasses.

This general script is pretty effective (though not perfect) for defusing heated confrontations with drivers.

  • First, introduce yourself and put your hand out to shake. If you rolled through a stop sign or did something even remotely wrong, apologize.
  • If the driver cites an incorrect belief about road rules, point it out, with empathy: “Actually, it is legal to ride two abreast in this state. But I know it can be frustrating to wait to pass.”
  • Cite the bottom line: “It’s extremely dangerous for cyclists out here when people lose their tempers. Two cars can have a minor fender bender but if you and I collide, I could die. It’s not worth it for either of us.”
  • Cut off the interaction to avoid further escalation: “I have to take off now. I hope that next time we see each other it can be on better terms.”

How to tote around groceries and other items
For major hauls, you can use panniers attached to front and rear racks. First, double check that your bike’s frame has mounts for racks (your local shop can help you determine this if you’re unsure). For smaller loads, a backpack or messenger bag will do the trick—and make for easier bike handling.

For impromptu shopping trips, you can make an in-a-pinch messenger bag out of three plastic grocery sacks:

  1. At checkout, fit all of your items into one grocery bag.
  2. Tie an empty grocery bag to one handle of the filled bag.
  3. Tie a third to the other handle.
  4. Tie the second and third together at the top to create a plastic messenger bag.
  5. Sling it over your shoulder and ride.

RELATED: What Everyone Should Know About Bike Commuting

Emily Furia is a Senior Editor for Bicycling magazine, where she has worked for nearly 10 years. As the main contributing editor to The Big Book of Bicycling, Furia is one of Bicycling’s top experts on beginner, commuter, and women’s content, as well as editing feature stories, contributing service pieces and reviewing bikes.

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