Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Risk and Trust

This isn’t about helmets, lights, reflective/high-visibility clothing, fenders for rainy days, or any of the rest of the gear list in an earlier post. It’s not Cycle Chic fashion advice telling you your closet is full of biking clothes.

Instead this is my take on the other essentials for bike commuting: the mental ones.

Willingness to take some risks–call it courage. I’m not talking about deliberately playing in traffic or riding the wrong way on a one-way street—no stupid risks.

I mean the willingness to swallow hard and take the lane when the road narrows and you need to keep going.

The drivers behind you can wait. They’re supposed to—it’s the law.

They’d have to wait if you were a big truck using both lanes to make a right-hand turn, a bus stopping to let off or pick up passengers, someone in a wheelchair crossing the street, one of those drivers you think is maybe a tad too old to keep driving waiting cautiously to make a left-hand turn, pedestrians using the crosswalk…. You get the idea. We aren’t “different”–we are traffic.

We all need to get over the notion that being in traffic somehow guarantees you the right to an unimpeded flow from starting point to destination. Never has, never will.

Traffic is a game of physics—or maybe pinball—with people bouncing around like particles pushed by various forces. Whether it’s a string of red lights as people jam on their brakes because of a collision, or a cyclist moving out of a bike lane and into the vehicle travel lane to prepare for a left turn, traffic will always move more like an accordion than like an arrow.

Trustworthiness. This is the flip side of risk-taking. This bears repeating: You’re safer when drivers, pedestrians and other cyclists can trust you to behave consistently.

Are you predictable? Can I count on you? If you’re biking in the right-hand tire track of the lane (a good position much of the time) will you stay there and not veer into the parking spots that are empty for a block, then dodge back out into the flow of traffic? Will you stay in the lane and not jump up onto the sidewalk for a stretch, startling pedestrians and disappearing from the driver’s view until you pop back out at a light?

Think about how can be as trustworthy as possible for other travelers around you. You’ll be safer and so will they.

————

Posts in our 30 Days of Biking Blogging Inspiration & How-to Series for Sept. 2011 30 Days of Biking

  1. 30 Days of Bike Commuting: You Can Do It!
  2. Why We Ride/Resolve to Ride–A Blogspedition
  3. Preparing to Commute by Bike: Get the Worry out of the Way
  4. Buying a Bike for Commuting: Some Questions and a Blogspedition
  5. How to Bike Commute: Getting the Gear Together
  6. Bike Commuting 101: Carrying Stuff
  7. On a Roll with Wilma Flanagan
  8. 30 Days of Biking: Week One Report
  9. Ride with your Community: SpokeFest Rocks!
  10. There and Back Again: How to Pick your Bike Commute Route
  11. Intro to Bike Commuting: Route Selection Part 2
  12. More Bike Commuting Route Selection Tips: Part 3
  13. Thinking Like a Driver vs. Thinking Like a Bicyclist
  14. Biking as Downtime and other Musings on Overproductivity
  15. 30 Days of Biking: Week Two Report
  16. On a Roll with Katherine Widing
  17. I Shouldn’t Assume
  18. Falling Down on Your Bike. It Happens. To Grown-Ups.
  19. Pretty Handy, Gloves. The Blogspedition Assumes You’ll Get ‘Em.
  20. What to Wear for Your Bike Commute? Clothes.
  21. How to Get a Dropped Bike Chain Back On, Grease-Free
  22. 30 Days of Biking: Week Three!
  23. It’s All in the Attitude
  24. Things I Now Do on My Bike Without Having to Think About It
  25. Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Risk and Trust
  26. More Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Friendliness and Openness
  27. Even More Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Tolerance, Humor, and Persistence
  28. Bicycling Rites of Passage, Spokane Style
  29. Dear Reader, I Chicked Him
  30. 30 Days of Biking: Final Report!

Your Turn

  • How has your attitude toward traffic interactions changed since you first started commuting?
  • Do you consider yourself a trustworthy rider/traffic participant?

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