I’ve been riding my bike in the City for over 25 years. When I started, urban cyclists were weirdos. The streets had just a bit of 1970’s legacy infrastructure. To be safe on the road, you acted like a car, meaning become aggressively visible or get the hell out of the way. Drivers may not have liked that very much, but they knew it would inconvenience them to kill you—paperwork, insurance, missed appointments—so they generally were cooperative, if you were.

It’s not that way anymore. The City’s impressive population growth over the past twenty years has put more of everything out there. While even a curmudgeon like me has to admit there’s a lot to like about the explosion of cycling in the City, it also means there’s a lot more interaction, both positive and negative, between cyclists and other transportation modalities. We cyclists like to complain about the stupid things we see drivers and walkers do, and believe me, I’ve seen some doozies. But in my experience the most serious hazard for cyclists on the streets is other cyclists.

You’d think that shared two-wheeled-i-ness would generate oodles of kind empathy, but no. Something important is getting lost here; understanding how your own behaviors impact others around you and making accommodations. Maybe it has to do with entitlement, or the degradation of political discourse, or the rich getting richer, or feminism, or originalism, or social media, or isolating yourself in the echo chamber of people like you. Why is it that the grooviness of being on a bike can extinguish basic civility? So here’s what I hate about our developing bike culture.

  1. No one says hi to you anymore. We cycle commuters used to be tight-knit clan. We’d wave to each other, maybe talk a bit at a stoplight. Now people hide behind their earbuds and sunglasses and specialized city bikes and give you the hairy eyeball if you say hello, like you are some kind of pervert ready to drain the air from their tires at the slightest provocation.
  2. What’s with the weird hand gestures? The fist by the thigh with one finger extended is not an adequate left turn signal. Use your whole arm, folks—stick it out there so everyone see. Draw attention to yourself! It’s the civil thing to do.
  3. Wobbling and weaving. Don’t do it. Ride in a straight line. That inspires confidence in your fellow riders and the operators of the two-ton death machines cohabiting the road with you. The bike goes where your eyes go. Look ahead, not at your front wheel, your phone, or your coffee cup.
  4. Taking up the whole bike lane. It’s unconscious at best and selfish at worst. Ride to one side of the bike lane. Let people pass you. Yes, lanes are wide so you don’t get doored, but a much better way to avoid getting doored is to see the driver in the parked car. Proactivity equals Safety.
  5. And don’t overlap my wheel, OK? If I have to swerve or make a quick turn, you’re on the ground and I’m feeling guilty, bad outcomes for both of us.
  6. Practice anticipatory traffic-oriented behavior; look down the road! DO NOT ever get into a position where you have to slam on your brakes in front of me. DO NOT pass cars on the right at an intersection! DO NOT ride between busses on Market Street! DO NOT claim the right of way from a delivery truck, even if you have it!
  7. And that’s some of the problem with the separated bicycle infrastructure. I’ve already lost this battle, but really. The thing to do is slow down the cars. Those traffic islands on Oak and Fell can be dangerous when riders have to funnel into them. That bike lane on JFK, between the curb and the parked cars? You’ve got no where to go when the tourist busses disgorge their occupants at the Hall of Flowers.
  8. On the other hand, riders, use the f-ing infrastructure! Why antagonize drivers by riding down California Street when there is a lovely and peaceful bike lane a block away on Lake? And MTA? If you want us to use the infrastructure, finish it.
  9. Ban the Blinkie! They are annoying, dangerous and illegal. A blinkie draws the driver’s eye, and where his eye goes so goes his car. Right into your rear wheel. Everyone knows what a fixed red light means, but is that blinking one a bike, a road hazard, a stopped school bus, a cop or a kid with those LED shoes? We don’t have a special exemption to blink–the law requires a fixed light fixed to your vehicle, so get with it, folks.
  10. And the blinking front lights? OMG. Blindingly horrible and distracting. Especially those thousand lumen LED’s. Morse code burned into my retinas. Yes, folks, I’m the one who’s yelling at you on the Golden Gate Bridge to Turn That Damn Blinkie Off!

I love my bikes. We have waaay too many cars in the City. I’m all in favor of tax-based car ownership disincentives. But one thing you can say for drivers is they all follow the same rules, both of law and custom. There is a long standing set of bicycling customs, too; learn them, use them, and we’ll all be better off.


Bike Commuting Wisdom