Sometimes you can’t win for trying.
Layne Mitchell, who has been riding to and from work for the last three years as a means to keep fit and save money, came face-to-face with a cyclist’s worst nightmare when a vehicle turning into a parking lot didn’t see him and hit him square on.
“I was mowed over!” he jokes, but vehicle-bicycle collisions are no laughing matter. In fact, fear of being hit is one of the biggest deterrents to people who are interested in riding but are unsure of where to start.
But Sean Carter, owner of BikeBike, “Calgary’s everyday bike store,” says hitting the road isn’t as difficult as you may think, and it sure as heck shouldn’t be intimidating.
“Many of our customers concentrate on commuting,” says the ex-racer who has been “car-free” for the last 18 months. He uses a bicycle for everything from getting his son to school and soccer to picking up groceries. “All it takes is planning,” which he says is the key to successful urban riding, be it to work or as a leisurely ride.
Mitchell, an Edmonton radio show personality, agrees. Because of his afternoon drive-home-show air time, his commute falls outside the rush hour. But, he says, that doesn’t mean traffic isn’t a concern.
“My route can be a nightmare,” he says, explaining how his daily 40-kilometre round-trip route includes about eight kilometres of bike path, but also requires several blocks of navigating six lanes of traffic on one of Alberta’s busiest streets: Edmonton’s Gateway Boulevard.
“I try to avoid it at all costs,” he says but, because of the location of his job “in Edmonton’s majestic used hubcap district,” there are some streets that don’t even have sidewalks, never mind bike paths or lanes.
Despite the challenges of getting to and from work safely and enjoyably. Mitchell has done the right thing when it comes to assessing his needs. And while Mitchell is not a new rider, his experience demonstrates that planning is everything, for all levels of rider, says Carter.
Alberta’s Great Routes
|The River Valley Route, Edmonton
|Telford Lake, Leduc
|The Waskasoo Park Trail System, Red Deer
|The TransCanada Trail, Calgary
|The Banff Legacy Trail, Banff
“When you’re new to riding, it’s extremely important to test your route before you start; that’s one of the things that will help determine what equipment and level of comfort you need,” he says. “Treat it as a fun ride and you’ll avoid any nasty surprises.”
Another way to address concerns about getting to and from wherever you’re going is to consider some professional help—professional bicycling help, that is.
The Alberta Bicycle Association has two programs the ordinary rider can take advantage of. Can-Bike I is a course for inexperienced cyclists or those who haven’t ridden recently. Some of the aspects of the program include learning how to signal, stop, shoulder check and ride in a straight line. Students also learn to check their bikes prior to riding, route planning, obstacle avoidance, lane changes and other commuting techniques. Can-Bike II is geared towards increasing a cyclist’s confidence through building on the skill sets established in the first class, and includes emergency stops and turns, rock-dodging and lane positioning. The association also offers a weekend program for youth, where children learn how to signal, to stop, to shoulder check, and to ride in a straight line. The whole family can benefit.
So you know where you want to go, but how do you get there? In comfort, says Carter. That’s key.
“For the new rider, or someone who is interested in commuting, I recommend that the bike is comfortable and fulfils the specific needs of that rider. Some of the factors to consider when choosing a bike include the distance you’ll be travelling and whether, for instance, you want to wear business clothes to work.” Those types of decisions, he says, will play into whether you will need a pannier and a rack on the bike (for the office attire to stay crisp and fresh en route), a backpack or just a basket to hold your lunch.
While a helmet isn’t legally required for those over 18 in the province, St. Albert has a bylaw that extends the requirement to cyclists of all ages. And research has shown that wearing a helmet decreases the risk of brain injury in case of a collision or fall. There may be other bylaw criteria in your municipality, so check before hitting the road, Carter advises.
The most important thing, says Carter, is the vehicle; the method of transportation is crucial. “The most critical piece of equipment when deciding to ride is the bike. Picture this scenario: you decide you want to start riding after a long time. You have a 15-year-old mountain bike you haul out of the garage and want to use. The bike will need to be serviced and probably won’t fit that well, and it probably won’t be suitable to your needs. It’ll suffice, but it’s not the optimal choice.
“If you want to ride comfortably, you need a comfortable bike.” Carter recommends a European-style commuter bike with an internal gear system, full fenders and a built-in lock; that way, he says, “you could ride to work in a business suit” without worry about getting dirty.
As for Mitchell, he didn’t even let that collision (he wasn’t seriously injured) deter him. He continues to ride seasonally – as soon as the ice is off the road he’s on it – but he’s cautious. “Listen for cars,” he advises. “It’s easy to get sweat, dust or bugs in your eyes. But your ears are the best way to tell you when something’s coming.”