The deafening din. The stench. Wheel-swallowing potholes. Congestion. Parking cars and opening doors. Turning traffic. Speeders and lane hoppers. Cell-phone users. Trucks on steroids. Treacherous oil patches. Incessant stoplights. Deadly grates and threatening curbs. These are just a few of the hazards bicyclists face on busy city streets.
So, why are you riding there? Even though it might seem like the logical place to pedal because it's the direct route or the way you drive, there's almost always a better route for bicycling. And when you take it, a wonderful thing happens: The trip becomes scenic, stress-free and fun.
Find The Good Roads
The trick is discovering the bike-friendly routes. Often, it's as simple as looking for an alternative as soon as you find yourself on a bad road. In most cities, there are parallel roads to the busy ones with much less traffic. While these might sometimes meander through neighborhoods, meaning a longer ride, the improvement in riding conditions, sparse traffic and solitude is well worth the extra few minutes you have to pedal.
You might also study maps looking for smaller and safer roads. Be creative and keep in mind that bicycles can go where cars can't, so almost any road will work - even packed-dirt paths and alleys (as long as they're safe; explore the area first if you're not sure).
Local bicycle shops will be able to point out the best biking roads, too. Shops are staffed by cyclists who know the ideal ways to get around on two wheels and are happy to share the information.
Some cities even have special maps that show safe cycling routes. You can usually get these from the bike shop, a cycling club, the town hall or the transportation department.
Time Your Trip
Another tip for safe city cycling is timing your trip to avoid peak commuting hours. While this might not always be possible, you'll find that the streets lose their bite once everyone reaches work or home.
If you can arrange your day so that you can ride before 8 AM, between the hours of 10 AM to noon, 1 to 3 PM, and/or after 6 PM, you'll find that even busy streets aren't nearly as bad.
Seek Out Special Bicycle Facilities
If you're really lucky, your city might have dedicated paths and thoroughfares for bicyclists. These will be known by experienced cyclists and bicycle shops and also marked on cycling maps. If you're new to a city or area, remain alert and look for signs of these havens because they're so pleasant to bicycle on. For example, bicycle/pedestrian paths often parallel heavily trafficked arteries.
It's not illegal to ride with the four-wheelers, but the fact that it seems dangerous and that there are no bicyclists, should tip you off to hunt for a possible bike detour on either side of the busy road. In this fashion and with a little luck, you'll often find much better biking. You might even enjoy cycling around town so much that you drive a lot less and save oodles on fuel, car maintenance, parking and stress-reduction strategies. Wouldn't that be nice?