A survival guide for the streets

Why ride? Well, that’s easy. It‘s all about the experience. Whereas a car insulates you from the sounds, smells, and sights of a city, a bicycle puts in the very thick of it. Without the barrier of glass and sheet metal, you can feel the wind on your face, revel in the tang of the salty air, and lose yourself in a city’s frantic energy. To put it another way, bicycling turns a commute into an adventure and converts the cityscape into a playground.

But, there be challenges and dangers in that playground. Hell-bent motorists threaten to cut you off, and shady characters caress your ride with jealous eyes. It’s a jungle out there, and if you’re to survive, you have to acquire certain skills. Luckily, urban cyclists are a close-knit tribe always ready to offer guidance to those new to their ways. Here we – your go-to resource for all things single speed – offer some advice to keep you safe on the streets.

Master the basics

The most important and basic city cycling survival skill is the straight line emergency stop. To come to a quick stop, use both brakes but focus your braking power on the front brake while also shifting your weight towards the rear to prevent the rear wheel lifting. Then, to avoid scenarios in which you have to rely on this technique, practice looking further ahead to anticipate changes in the traffic before they unfold right in front of you. Be particularly aware of vehicles reversing into parallel parking bays and car doors. Look for passenger on the left side of stationary or slow moving cars. The same applies for the driver’s side of vehicles which have just pulled into parallel parking.  

Ride defensively

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be assertive in the way you ride. You should. What it does mean, though, is that you should anticipate the unexpected and give yourself the room needed to perform an evasive maneuver in an instant. Enough experience on the road will teach to predict motorists’ behaviour with a certain amount of accuracy, but don’t for a second be lulled into thinking that you’ll always guess their next move correctly. Sometimes you won’t, and when a driver crosses three lanes without indicating, you need to be prepared to swerve into open space and out of harm’s way.

Earn the respec

You want to be able to anticipate motorists’ moves, but you also want them to be able to anticipate yours. When you signal your intentions (usually an arm out in the direction into which you are going to move), you help avoid an accident and you show respect for the rules of the road. And that’s important because respect begets respect. It’s hard to stand up for the rights of city cyclists when you’re running red lights and cruising two abreast. On that note, also try stay off the pavement unless it’s totally unavoidable and be courteous towards other road users. Think of yourself of a bicycling ambassador and take the higher moral ground even when others are burning through red lights.

Claim the lane

Many cyclists stay as far to the left as humanly possible, thinking that they are doing other road users a favor. The problem with this strategy is that it gives drivers a reason to think that they can squeeze by on the right, increasing the likelihood of an accident. It’s actually safer if cyclists stay at least  a car door's distance from parked cars or a stride's distance from the pavement. This way drivers will have no choice but to treat a bike like a vehicle and pass only when they can venture into the next lane. The distance from parked vehicles will also reduce the risk of you connecting with a car door if one should unexpectedly swing open.

Dress for visibility

A cyclist is inherently much less visible than a vehicle, and if you want other road users to see you, you need to wear clothes that help you stand out. Cycling-specific apparel is often made of bright material or uses reflective strips to increase visibility. But your pack (if you wear one) should also be highly visible. If it isn’t brightly colored, you can improve visibility by attaching a tail light either to you pack or your seat post. In low light conditions, both a headlight and taillight are essential to ensure that motorists see you when you are both ahead of them and behind them – in their mirrors.

Securing your bike

Of course, surviving the urban jungle also means preventing thieves from making off with your pride and joy. Ideally, you’d never have to leave your bike outside, but if pedal power is your primary means of getting around, there will be times that you will need to chain beloved to a pole or bike rack. You might think that a hefty cable or U-lock would offer enough deterrence to a would-be bike thief, but it’s only true if their intention is get away with a whole bike. Many thieves are happy to just make off with a saddle or wheel set, and quick release components make it all to easy. To ensure that you don’t find beloved stripped bare, consider swapping out those quick release parts for the good ol’ bolt-on variety.

At Rook Cycles we build bikes for the streets, and that’s why you’ll only find high quality, durable bolt-on parts on our fixies and single speeds. To experience one of these thoroughbred street slayers first hand, visit us at our workshop.

Words by Jean Paul de Villiers

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