City Biking 101

This year, you’ve decided to do it. You’re going to buy a bike and, darnit, you’re gonna ride it. But wait a minute. There are a few things you need to know before you get peddling. Toronto streets are no joke, especially when you’re a cycling amateur.

  1. Avoid streetcar tracks. Streetcar tracks are just the right width to grip your wheel and flip you over. If you’re new to biking and are somewhat nervous, avoid streets with tracks. After you’ve warmed up and really need to make that left over the death traps, make sure to take them at a 45 degree angle. Never ever ever cross the tracks with your wheels aligned to them.
  2. Wear a helmet. For years, I was not of this mindset. Nobody wears a helmet in Amsterdam, I told myself. People there bike everywhere, everyday. Well, Amsterdam also has hellagood biking infrastructure. Toronto, not so much. We almost never have designated space on the road. Drivers will squeeze you out, not see you, open doors at unexpected times. You will have to slam on your breaks. You will take a tumble (eventually). While a helmet is not great for your hair game, it is great for your brain game. And I’d rather have a fully intact brain than fabulous hair.
  3. Use that bell. Let’s get some basics out of the way: a bell and bike lights are mandatory in Toronto. Some people don’t use their bells. Some think that your *ding* means, “Excuse me but you’re doing something wrong.” Not the case. The bell means, “Hey there! Here I am! Look! Don’t hit me! Really, please don’t hit me!” Use your bell whenever approaching a car, cyclist or pedestrian that looks like they might be about to jump into your path. No one wants to get hit, and the bell is just a friendly way to let them know you’re coming through.
  4. Practice. Chances are, you haven’t cycled in years. Can you squeeze between that parked 18-wheeler and the bus that has unceremoniously decided to come alongside you? Shit happens, and if you can’t balance/squeeze/maneuver on a dime, you aren’t ready for the road. Start off in no-car zones, like the West Toronto Railpath, and work your way toward streets with bicycle lanes, like Harbord.
  5. Remember: you are not a pedestrian. You’re a cyclist. And to be honest, a lot of cyclists act like jerks. I hate when I see cyclists flying past streetcar doors, texting on their bikes or cruising along the sidewalk at lightening speed. Such cyclists give us all a bad name. Don’t be that chick.
  6. Keep your cool. Surprise! A lot of motorists are hostile toward cyclists. It has to do with Point 6, but it also has to do with Toronto road culture. Toronto drivers tend to be, um, aggressive. You will get yelled at, honked at and generally shafted for no reason at all. Don’t take it personality. Road rage is a thing.
  7. Dress for the occasion. When biking, eye makeup tends to smudge and foundation tends to melt. Keep your makeup look minimal, and avoid dark shadows and liners unless you want to look like you’ve just gone for a swim. Similarly, your clothes need to be bike-friendly. Don’t wear long skirts or wide-leg pants. To your bike chain, these look like yummy treats what are ripe for the eating. If you’re wearing a short skirt, wear bike shorts underneath unless you want to flash the entire road. And as far as hair is concerned, you’re wearing a helmet (remember?) so ‘do it up in a braid to keep volume in tact. When you arrive at your destination, let that mane flow.

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