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Calling All Cycling Amnesiacs: An 8-Step Bike Refresher Course
Take time to prepare. "It's the same as if you were renting a car," says Clarke. "Make sure you know where the gears are, you know where you're going, and you have all the maps you need." Before taking off, adjust the seat to your height. Clarke says that when you're sitting on the seat with the pedal at the lowest point, your knee should be slightly bent, not locked straight. Riding with the seat too low or too high can make you feel wobbly.
Go for a warm-up ride. "Don't plunge into a busy five-lane thoroughfare. Find a parking lot, a wide plaza or another area clear of pedestrians."
Remember the rules of the road. Ride with traffic, and slow down and stop at red lights and stop signs, even if other bikes are blowing through intersections. "If you're at all unfamiliar with the city, or with bike-riding in general, you should definitely follow all the standard rules," Clark says. In some places, police issue tickets to cyclists for disobeying traffic signs.
Don't hide. Timid cyclists may make the mistake of riding in the sidewalk or hugging the curb. "Statistics show that riding on the sidewalk isn't safe, as they're designed for pedestrians traveling at 3 or 4 miles an hour, not the speed you're going on a bike," Clarke says. "In addition, you're invisible to motorists." Cars won't see you if you're in the gutter, either, and you also risk getting sideswiped by a car door or rolling over debris that can cause a flat. "You're much better off riding in the designated bike lane or in the road, where you're visible to all vehicles," Clarke says. "Don't get nervous if a car needs to wait to pass you, even if they honk or yell that you don't belong there. You do."
Communicate. Remember those hand signals we were told to use as a kid? (L-shape, and upside-down U-shape...and something else?) Like the old rule that required cars to honk when passing riders, those semaphore signals have mostly fallen out of use. The most important thing, Clarke says, is to communicate your intentions to other cyclists and drivers in a clear, easy-to-understand manner. "If you want to turn right, make eye contact and point to the right. If you're stopping or slowing down, pull over to the right and wave on riders the behind you with your left hand. Let the people around you know what you're doing."
Recognize the new road hazards. "The biggest thing that's changed for cyclists over the past few decades is the amount of distractions car drivers have. They're talking on the phone, texting, and using other devices. Always assume that the driver isn't paying attention to you."
Beware of left turns. Crossing traffic lanes to make a left turn can be tricky even for experienced riders, Clarke says. "There's no disgrace is pulling over to the curb and crossing in two stages, or walking the bike across the street with the pedestrians."
Stay sharp. It sounds obvious, but Clarke says that getting on a bike makes some people feel like they're ten years old again--and with that comes a youthful recklessness. "I've seen people riding on crowded trails with both hands in the air like they're Lance Armstrong crossing the finish line of the Tour de France," Clarke says. For amateurs racing through downtown D.C. or St. Paul: brake, then celebrate.