When I was a kid, riding bikes was something you only did until you could get your hands on the keys to a car. Because, face it, you were never going to get laid on the back seat of a Schwinn. Back then, you could buy a jalopy for only a few hundred bucks, and gas cost 36 cents a gallon. Not only that, you could actually fix your own car, in your own driveway, especially if you were friends with a few motorheads who had nothing better to do on a Friday night than rebuild a carburetor.
But now, my generation is beginning to see the wisdom of returning to bicycles as a primary form of transport. Today’s bikes are lighter weight, with better gearing, and the ride features big cushy seats for our big padded butts. Biking provides a good cardio workout, is good for the environment, and, thanks to dedicated activists, there are many more bike lanes, racks, and port-a-potties (essential for aging bikers).
But since I started biking more, I realized that a lot of born-again bikers don’t seem to remember the rules. So here are a few best practices for modern biking:
1. Helmets are essential equipment. In fact, I’ve come to appreciate my helmet so much that I often wear it when I am hiking in the woods, since I am prone to misjudging the height of tree branches and thinking that I am capable of bending down much further and more quickly than I am apparently able to duck under them.
2. Although there are a lot more bike lanes than when we were kids (when there were zero bike lanes), they aren’t always in the best condition. For some reason, people in cars seem to think that bike lanes are good places to toss their beer cans, fast food refuse, used hypodermics, and ex-boyfriend’s dry cleaning. Often, you will be forced to use the car lanes to dodge this crap in order to keep from finding out how well your helmet protects your head. It is always best to look and signal vigorously to drivers when you shift lanes because, for the most part, they won’t notice you until you are splayed across their windshields.
3. Yes, there are a lot of assholes on the road. You probably already knew this, but being on your bike puts you considerably closer to the hard metal edges of the Cadillac SUVs and four-wheel-drive Chevy Suburbans that they travel in to get their nails done, or score another six-pack before picking up the kids from school. Being in the right will not compensate for the permanent damage they can do to your body. So just expect them to do stupid, selfish things, and then be pleasantly surprised if they quit looking at their iPhones long enough to stop at the stop sign.
4. Spandex is not something anyone over thirty-five should probably ever wear. Really, no one of any age should ever wear these form-fitting get-ups, especially if their butt is bigger around than a medium pizza. You don’t want to ride down Main Street looking like you just returned from anchoring the Olympic bobsled team.
5. That being said, it’s not a bad idea to dress in neon colors: orange or yellow, embedded with flashing red lights or lapels that shoot sparks: anything to make you noticeable to the many people who spend their days driving around town shaking their fists at anyone going slower than they want to go and reading text messages from the hottie they met last night at Club Tarantula.
6. If you have a bike lock that only opens with a key, make sure you have a spare key someplace. Because they make these locks nowadays so that you can’t just saw them off with a hacksaw like we used to when we forgot our combinations. I know because I tried. Do you have any idea how much it costs to have a locksmith make a key for a bike lock? While standing around in orange spandex pants and a bicycle helmet, watching over his shoulder to see how he does it?
7. Always carry a full water bottle with you. It is one of the essential fuels you’ll need to power your pedals, and if you have to stop to buy some, it’ll cost you more per gallon than unleaded gasoline.
8. No, riding a bike home drunk is not a better idea than driving your car home drunk. And enlisting a “designated rider” to lead the way will not make the trip any safer.
9. If you think it’s necessary to carry your bike inside with you everywhere you go, including the bank, Starbucks, and the dentist’s office men’s room, maybe you should consider getting a different bike.