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Lane Love: GOOD Busts Common Urban Biking Myths

March 5th, 2012

This story was originally posted on GOOD Magazine’s website in partnership with CLIF Bar’s 2-Mile Challenge.

Maybe it’s that story you heard once about a friend-of-a-friend who got hit by a crazy driver while biking? Or the nervous calculation when you compare a 25 pound bike to a several ton car? Whatever their source, there are plenty of urban legends and misconceptions when it comes to bicycle safety and how hard it is to share the road. We’ve talked to cyclists and experts alike to reveal what’s truth and what’s fiction in common biking myths.

Myth: Cycling on sidewalks is safer than streets.

Not so, says Santa Monica, California-based cycling and fitness coach, Riley McAlpine, a former Cat 1 racer for Trek/Volkswagen. “It’s called asidewalk for a reason. There are all sorts of hazards to be encountered on sidewalks including sign displays, slow moving people, children, planters, and dogs.”

Myth: Riding alongside cars is dangerous.

A big rule of thumb when cycling is to avoid major streets and thoroughfares. “If possible, plan your route choosing side streets or safe roads with designated bike lanes,” recommends McAlpine. Though streets with bike lanes are safer than those without them, says McAlpine, remaining alert is mandatory (see our story on road-savvy biking techniques). “Approach every ride as if you’re a driver by understanding rules and laws and don’t assume people see you.”

Myth: Helmets aren’t necessary on the bike paths.

Kurt Snyder, an avid bicycler and resident of Fairfax, Virginia, learned the truth about this myth the hard way. “While cycling on a bike path, I had a head-on collision with another cyclist and woke up in the hospital,” he recalls. Ever passionate about biking, now he always straps on a helmet and carries identification and a cell phone when cycling.

Myth: Cycling is too tiring.

“As with any exercise, you just need to start and work your way up,” says McAlpine.  “Start off easy, cycling once or twice a week to the grocery store. You’ll get used to the roads and get fit as you go along.”

Myth: Cycling to work will take longer than public transportation or driving.

Not necessarily. In fact, cycling may be the more expedient choice according to Ethan Spotts, director of marketing with Active Transportation Alliance in Chicago. “By cycling, you’re probably going to be about just as fast as someone who drives and maybe even a little faster than public transportation.” Another option he suggests? Combining public transportation methods: “Throw your bike on the bus or train for part of your commute, then bike the rest.” Another time saver is not having to look for a parking space.

Myth: Commuting to work by bike is too dirty.

“With a little bit of know-how you can safely, comfortably and cleanly bike to work,” says Spotts. He would know: Spotts commutes 10 miles to work each day. Beyond planning a route with bicycle support and infrastructure, he recommends choosing the right bike for the trip is important, too. “Choose one that’s not only the right size, but that’s set up to support your commute with fenders to keep wetness off and rack, panniers or bags to carry things (see Gear section).” As for wearing work clothes while cycling, Spotts is all for it, just make sure to place an ankle strap around pant cuffs. Says Spotts, “Biking in a suit one of the most amazing things you can do,” says Spotts. “Tails flying in the wind, tie back behind you and people waving at you as you ring your bell—it’s a blast.”

Read more about urban biking and the 2-Mile Challenge in GOOD’s Guide to Biking for the Planet.

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