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Health, Opinion, Editorial, Transportation, Columnist, Biking

Don't Be Scared, Ride a Bike

Pedestrians and Bicyclists mingle on the bike path along Santa Monica Beach.
Photo by Parimal Rohit
Pedestrians and Bicyclists mingle on the bike path along Santa Monica Beach.

Cycling For Everyone

Posted Mar. 5, 2011, 2:30 am

Santa Monica Spoke

Editor’s Note: This column is the first of a series,written by Santa Monica Spoke, a bicycle advocacy group in Santa Monica, as well as other cycling advocates. This group plans to contribute occasional columns to the Santa Monica Mirror’s Health and Fitness section.

This is written for all of you who have wanted to try cycling to get around on those errands where parking takes as long as the actual drive. Maybe you’ve gone to the market and waited to find a spot in the parking lot while someone rode up on a bike, and locked it right in front of the electric doors. But you’re scared, both of riding in traffic and of looking like an idiot. Well, here’s some simple advice that might help you overcome at least some of your fears.

First of all, some basic psychology: many of us are too shy to be comfortable riding a bike in public. We’ve gotten used to our identities being tied up in our cars; and we’ve also become used to thinking of bicycles (like buses) as being something only for the poor.

It takes a certain courage to get on a bike and ride, especially when you don’t look like a fitness model, or the bicycle racer types in lycra covered in logos. But if you just get on and ride, you’ll be amazed first, at the positive response you get from neighbors and friends. And if you give it a chance, you just might enjoy it so much that you’ll want to ride. The shyness will disappear because you’re having so much fun. But start slowly, taking tiny rides, just a few minutes on quiet streets. Don’t think you have to leap in and go on big rides – just learn to enjoy little ones.

After you’ve overcome your initial reluctance by just getting on the bike and riding, take the next step and plan a short trip to someplace nearby to which you’d usually drive. But make some smart adjustments in your mentality. For example, don’t think that just because you usually would drive down Lincoln Boulevard you should go that way on the bike too. Unlike cars, bikes do well on slow, stop-sign-filled residential streets, and if you plan out a trip using such off-the-beaten-path routes, you’ll get to know your neighborhood better and have an enjoyable ride all at the same time.

I have two mental route maps for all over the area: one for bicycle travel, the other for motorized. They are very different. Driving on residential streets frustrates drivers and slows cars down; but bicycles suffer less from frequent stop signs and narrow, quiet streets.

Since it’s hard to avoid completely, when you do leap to riding in traffic, learn some strategies that keep you safe. Some of these are psychological, and some are behavioral. First, bicycles are smaller than cars, and don’t register on the senses of drivers in the same way cars do. To become a safe cyclist you need to get used to making sure you are seen while riding. Part of this happens when you learn to cycle predictably and visibly, instead of ducking in behind parked cars, then popping back out when another batch of parked vehicles gets in the way. While this “stay hidden” strategy feels safer, it’s not, because you are not continuously visible to drivers coming from behind, and your behavior is less predictable. If you pop from behind a row of parked cars, drivers have less time to react to your presence.

Just remember that paradoxically, a certain amount of assertiveness as a rider keeps you safe, because it keeps you visible and predictable. And don’t worry that you don’t feel assertive; as you get more experienced, you’ll discover that you become healthily assertive as part of your growth.

Finally, consider signing up for a class on urban cycling for support. Some local REI stores offer a class called “How To Ride A Bike.” Other institutions offer bicycle skills classes. There is a new Westside group called Grand Masters Cycling. Duncan Lemon, the group’s cofounder said it was formed based on the idea that "cycling is for everyone, at all ages." They have programs to support beginners of whatever age, but especially those over 50, and call it "cycling for the rest of your life." Grand Masters Cycling welcomes new riders jumping on the bike for the first time.

If you start slowly, you will find that cycling to get around adds to your enjoyment, and makes it so that you no longer need to plan your exercise. Instead, because you ride a bike to get around (and have a blast while doing it), exercise becomes a simple part of life.

Just remember that you didn’t acquire your driving habits (or any other set of habits for that matter) without it taking time. Give yourself time, work yourself up, and look for support from both individuals and organizations in what can become a lifelong change.

Over the next few months, this column will develop more fully the ideas in the preceding paragraphs on safe, sensible, practical cycling in an urban setting. I hope that you find them helpful. And if you have questions or comments, please send them on!

Finally, keep an eye on this occasional column for information about bike-related events from Grand Masters Cycling and other local groups.

This column was written by Peter Moore, of Santa Monica Spoke. For more information about cycling, visit, the website of Santa Monica Spoke, a local bicycle advocacy group.

Post a comment


Mar. 6, 2011, 9:58:01 am

Michael Everett said...

I just wish cyclists would observe stop signs, especially at night. I live at 4th and Idaho which is a 4-way stop and it's rare to see a cyclist come to a complete stop at our intersection. I understand Idaho has a slight grade West and if you blow past one stop sign after another, it can be an exhilarating ride. I know because I did it myself back in the 70's, but mostly I rode the bike path which was always a problem sharing with skaters and pedestrians. but I think it's more crowded now. I used one of those air horns with a bulb that you squeeze which usually got people's attention, but these days I'd use a real air horn like small boats use. That will get anyone's attention!

Mar. 5, 2011, 6:07:33 am

Stephen Abronson said...

Riding a bike in downtown with my kiddie trailer is scary. I'd rather risk a ticket or push the rig on the sidewalk then ride on the streets. No matter how visible or assertive one can be, it's no match for frustrated, aggressive drivers pulling out without looking or making illegal U-turns at will.

Mar. 5, 2011, 9:50:02 am

Bruce Hamilton said...

The title of this article, "Don't be Scared, Ride a Bike" is directed toward the alleviating the psyche of potential bike riders to reduce local car trips. Unfortunately, bike riders should be scared since the City of Santa Monica does not maintain bike lanes and especially the beach bike path. I got 20 stitches in my forehead due to a severe lack of maintenance on the bike path. City pointed its finger at the County and the County rightfully pointed its finger back to the City.

Mar. 5, 2011, 10:56:07 am

Mike Reilly said...

surely you jest -- have you seen the beach bike path lately? half covered with sand, lots of pedestrians walking. santa monica bike lanes fail

Mar. 7, 2011, 3:58:47 am

Deborah said...

I would ride my bike more often if Santa Monica had spots to lock your bike. There are very few bike racks for parking/locking your bike in the city. But if you use your bike in Santa Monica as a form of transportation there is a strong possibility of returning from an errand and finding your bike has been stolen. The bike path on the beach is similar to playing an aggressive roller derby game and not safe nor fun for biking. Sadly, Santa Monica falls short of being a bike friendly town.

Mar. 7, 2011, 5:27:18 am

Cris Ackel said...

I strongly disagree. It is dangerous. Look around. Outside of the hectic beach bike path, do you see kids riding their bikes in Santa Monica? It is a rare occasion. Now that children can get tickets riding on the sidewalks, there is no place safe for them to ride. Adult bicyclist are out of view of cars, can you imagine children on small bikes. As a family, we use to bike all around the city doing our errands. Since the crackdown on giving tickets to bicyclist using the safe sidewalks, we haven't biked at all. I will say that a few bike lanes in S.M. seem safe for children, but rarely can you get from point A to point B on safe bike lanes. Also, it unrealistic for bikers (especially children) to come to a complete stop every two blocks on residential stop signed streets. Residential streets are safer due to a lack of cars, but not from tickets. For children, it's difficult to come to a complete stop and then start up again. It's not as easy as pushing a gas pedal. And be warned, slowing down to an almost complete stop, looking in both directions for cars and then advancing again can get you a ticket. I will cherish the day when my family and I can return to biking.

Mar. 7, 2011, 5:29:54 pm

Barbara Filet said...

On October 13, 2010, 3,300 kids (a third of the total) walked or rode their bikes to school in Santa Monica. this was for a twice-yearly Bike It! Walk It! Day. This proves that kids are cycling and that they can do so safely. Yes, more riding skills would help them negotiate city streets with more confidence and we can do better to design bike facilities for all our community members. We are working on it.The Bike Master Plan for Santa Monica is being developed right now. That is a blueprint for how we will improve the system. If you have not already done so, get a bike map at city hall. That will show you where the bike routes and lanes are.

Mar. 10, 2011, 1:53:44 pm

Alison Kendall said...

Everyone in my family of four bikes to school, meetings, and errands, including my son who bikes from USC to SM every Saturday to his part-time job. We rarely use the car. My daughter bikes to Samohi. It is possible to pick quiet streets, with bike lanes and enjoy the ride. BUT cyclists need to know how to be visible and predictable, and where they need to ride and stop to avoid being hit. Sustainable Streets offers great cycling skills classes which have helped us all be safer cyclists. Email for more information on upcoming classes.

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