There is a great big paved world out there for you to ride your bike on. Though you can ride your bike just about anywhere - there are some places where you probably shouldn’t. Like just about any divisive topic there isn’t a one size fits all answer that always applies no matter what. At the end of the day though it all boils down to safety. So let’s get into it.
In most cases if there is a bike lane or bike path it is best to put it to use. It is generally safer than riding on the open road. Generally. I think it is no surprise that some tension tends to exist between drivers on the road and cyclist. We are not here to take sides and say one is right and one is wrong. We’ve all seen some drivers make some bad choices out there. And similarly I have seen cyclist make some cringe worthy and embarrassing decisions as well. Its not about assigning blame or righteousness its about co-existing. Lets take a look at a couple scenarios and see where it makes the most sense for the rider to be riding.
A common scene I see play out in Mpls goes like this. There is a narrowish road that has a bike path removed from the street running parallel to it. The bike path is marked with a 10mph speed limit on it. What will frequently happen is cyclists who want to go more than 10mph will opt to ride in the street because by law they have the right to occupy the street just like a car. The rider holds up traffic which pisses off the drivers. The drivers will then speed by to pass them (and remember this is a narrowish road so there isn’t a ton of passing room) and the rider gets pissed off. Now each side is justifiably mad at the other. Awesome.
Lets dissect. First off, the way I'm wired I don’t like the idea of one person (the cyclist) holding up 15 people (the drivers). It just feels a little selfish. I think the cyclist is better off on the path. They will usually say that they are in the road because the are going 17mph and that is over the limit of the path. I tend to be a fan of looking at the spirit of the law and not the letter of it. The spirit of the law is that the path has a 10mph limit on it so that if it is super packed on a saturday afternoon and you are on a Time Trial bike going 30mph you don’t go blasting by a family or young kid on his or her bike and scare the hell out of them causing them to crash. If the path isn’t super busy and you can be respectful of other people using the path, then I say by all means exceed the speed limit. I can’t imagine a scenario where you would actually get in trouble for this.
Furthermore, and this may be a bit of a stretch but stay with me. As a cyclist I want as much public support as possible when it comes to adding bike lanes and bike paths to our cities infrastructure. If I was a driver behind the cyclist in the above scenario I would be saying to myself “Why are we spending money installing bike paths if they aren’t going to use them?” Again, that may be a stretch or over simplification, but maybe not.
This is another common occurrence - riding on one of the busiest streets in the city. This is one I have never really understood. I see folks all the time riding on insanely busy streets proclaiming the same “by law I have a right to bike here” statement. Which again - you do - but why on earth do you want to ride on that street? I see safety not entitlement as the my driving force when navigating the city on 2 wheels. It is usually a far better idea to ride one or 2 blocks off that busy street on a calmer parallel side street. It won’t give you that Premium Rush adrenaline kick, but it will dramatically decrease your chances of getting hurt out there.
Riding against traffic. Usually a bad idea. It is confusing and dis-orientating to drivers coming the other way and the last thing you want is someone coming at you at 30mph in 3000lbs of steel to be dis-orientating. Furthermore, if we as cyclist are going to stand by the fact that we have the same rights as cars on the roads, that means we have the same responsibilities as well. We can’t have our cake and eat it too. Cars don’t get to go against traffic, probably not a good idea for you to either.
As stated before, safety is paramount out there. Let me leave you with 2 thoughts that if applied should help keep you safe(r). The first is be predictable. For the other cyclist on the road and the drivers if you are a predictable rider you will have a better chance of getting from A to B unscathed. By predictable I mean don’t swerve massively into the lane of traffic, or all of sudden decide to take a left turn and cut across traffic. Which dovetails nicely into the 2nd thought. Ride as if you are invisible. THIS DOES NOT MEAN YOU CAN JUST DO WHAT EVER YOU WANT. What I mean is assume the cars around you have no idea that you are there. Assume that you are always in their blind spots. This attitude will help you make choices that won’t put you in danger when riding alongside cars. Now get out here and have some fun.