Pacific Swell

Southern California environment news and trends

Want to start city biking? Here is your how-to

Recently, Los Angeles City Council Transportation Committee Chair Bill Rosendahl decided to take to his bike in support of bicycling safety. In this clip via Streetfilms.org, Councilman Rosendahl hops onto a bike to learn how to transport himself safely via two wheels and his own power. The 66-year-old councilman has worked to create a safer Los Angeles for bicyclists but hadn’t ridden a bike in 30 years. So he set himself on a beach cruiser (complete with a squeaky frog) and took a bicycling class through the Westside, as documented here.

Like the intrepid councilman, I am the first to admit that there’s been some time since a meeting between me and my bike. After all, biking in Los Angeles can be intimidating. Between irate drivers and cars that seem to come out of nowhere, you feel like you’re stepping onto a roller coaster at Six Flags without the comforting safety harness.

Still, we should step nonetheless. Biking is an extremely carbon-neutral way to transport yourself. Not to mention, it’s fun.

Who says? Chris Baskind, who lives in Pensacola, Florida, recently gave away his car after an experiment to park it for 30 days lasted for two years. Recently, I spoke with Baskind, 50, about city biking and how best to guide the reluctant out onto the roads.

Recently, you committed an unthinkable act for many Angelenos by giving away your car. What’s the deal with that?

In 2009, I decided to park my car for 30 days to see if it would be possible for someone who isn’t living in Portland or Amsterdam to get along in suburbia entirely relying on a bike for transportation. My month-long experiment has been running over two years now, and I finally gave away the car. Everyone’s situation is different, but the transition from motorist to car-free living turned out to be more a question of planning and mindset than anything.

What are your 3 best riding tips for someone who is interested in biking from the viewpoint of transportation cycling?

1. Start small. Try something like running all your after-work or weekend errands on a bicycle. Or set aside one day a week to be completely car-free. This is the best way to build skills and confidence.

2. Decide why you ride. Maybe it’s saving money. Perhaps you’re looking for a way to stay in shape, or you feel strongly about our planet’s limited resources. Distill your reasons to something the size of an index card, and post it where you can see it.

3. Ride a bicycle appropriate to your needs. Look for a solid bike with wider, sure-footed street tires. Most people find an upright riding position to be an advantage in traffic, so “sit up and beg” handlebars can be a great idea. If you’re carrying groceries, you’ll need a rack or basket. Your local bike shop can help you sort all the options.

What are your best biking tips for supreme safety?

1. If you’re new to cycling, spend some time with an experienced urban cyclist or sign up for a bike safety course. Cycling is a safe transportation activity (statistically, it’s safer than walking). But you can still learn a lot in a structured safety course. Your local bike shop or the League of American Bicyclists may be able to direct you to a course or cycling group in your own community.

2. Put lights on your bike. Most car-bike crashes happen at dusk or after dark. Reflectors aren’t enough. Buy the best headlight and taillight you can afford. It’s impossible to overdo reflective tape and stickers. Be seen.

3. Don’t hug the curb. Bicycles are generally required to right as far to the right of the road surface as is practical, but be careful of dangerous debris in gutters. You should give parked cars at least four feet of clearance to avoid running into an opening traffic-side door. Laws vary from state to state, and you should use some common sense. [Here is a list of California’s laws.]

You can follow Baskind and his car-free lifestyle at ChrisBaskind.com

Image: Chris Baskind and his bike. Courtesy of Chris Baskind.

 

 

 

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