Yell Like Your Hair's on Fire and 5 More Urban Cycling Tips

The urban biking battlefield can be brutal. Here are a few survival tips from Slava Menn, of Gotham Bicycle Defense Industries.

When I was seventeen, I watched my father get hit by a car. He recovered, but I've had a fear of cars ever since. Ironically, I love city cycling. I love out-running city busses, flying between rows of traffic, and parking wherever I damn please. City cycling makes me feel free.

To balance this love of biking and fear of cars, I started a company to protect urban cyclists and I've armed myself with skills to stay safe while biking aggressively. I learned these skills fighting Boston's Masshole drivers, and honed them living and biking on the mean streets of Manhattan and Tel Aviv.

1. Yell Like Your Hair's on Fire

Just because we don't have car horns doesn't mean we can’t get loud. When I ride, I shout like a madman. A pedestrian gets in my way? I scream, "LEFT!" A car's about to cut me off, I shout "HO!" In our civilized society, public shouting is weird. But on the urban biking battlefield, it's survival.

2. Remind Them You’re Human

A driver is stuck between a rock: cars in the oncoming lane, and a soft place: me. To a driver, I'm just a faceless obstacle he's semi-aware of. Until I look at him with an extended gaze. The simple act of eye contact reminds drivers you're a human and often they'll give you more space.

3. Bike Lane Paint Will Not Protect You

Just because there's a bike lane, doesn’t mean it's safe or you have to use it. Find the safest and fastest route, regardless of bike rules. I hop on the sidewalk during a congested stretch of morning commute. I piss off a few pedestrians, but it definitely beats risking my life or (gasp!) waiting patiently for cars to move.

4. Driving Hand Signals Are for Oldsmobiles

The hand signals you learned in Driver's Ed are stupid and unclear. Instead, just point to where you're going. If you're turning right, extend your right arm all the way and point right. If you're weaving between pedestrians in a crosswalk, point to the spot where you're headed to give them a heads up.

5. Don’t Get Doored

Most cyclists’ biggest fear is getting "doored" but it's easily avoidable. When you’re pedaling past a line of parked cars, look at their driver’s-side mirrors. If you see a face, assume they’re about to open the door and slow down.

6. Juke Left

When you ride past a wobbly kid on a bicycle, you give him more space because he’s "unpredictable." British psychologist, cyclist, and traffic analyst Dr. Ian Walker found the same is true for drivers. They give more space to unpredictable cyclists. When a car crowds me on the left side, I juke left: it's a sudden swerve that makes me seem unpredictable. The driver gives me more space every time.

Finally, always remember that the best weapon on the biking battlefield is a smile.

Slava Menn is the co-founder of Gotham Bicycle Defense Industries. GOOD and Gotham are collaborating on a project, called Product of the People, to create a new piece of crowdsourced urban cycling gear.

Photo (cc) flickr user pixietart